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Southern Oregon Music Festival returns to downtown Medford

The annual downtown Medford music festival is back with a new name this fall. The three-day dance fest — formerly the Medford Jazz Jubilee, then the Medford Jazz Festival — is back for its 26th season with a lineup of 15 bands from the nation's festival circuit.

Look for jump blues, rockabilly, swing, zydeco, R&B, funk, Latin, rock 'n' roll and — most of all — jazz of all styles to keep your feet movin' throughout each day at five venues: The Large Ballroom and Petite Ballroom at Inn at the Commons, the Imperial Event Center, Howiee's on Front and KOBI's Studio C.

The festivities begin at 2 p.m. and run into the wee hours Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10-12. See Page 10 or see www.somusicfest.org for a comprehensive schedule of performances and information about lodging and volunteer opportunities.

A three-day, all-event pass costs $80; an all-day Friday pass costs $30, Saturday passes cost $50, and Sunday passes cost $25. A prime-time pass for 5 p.m. to close on Friday or Saturday costs $25. A student all-event pass — ages 12 through 23 — costs $20. Kids 11 and younger get in free if accompanied by an adult. 

Tickets can be purchased using PayPal at the website, at the Inn at the Commons or by calling 866-448-1948.

Known in its early years for hosting primarily Dixieland and swing jazz bands, the Southern Oregon Music Festival strives each year to include new faces. In 2013, Dave Bennett and the Memphis Boys introduced their rockabilly sound — a mix of blues, hillbilly, bluegrass and country with a rock twist — to festival patrons.

Bennett is a musical prodigy from Michigan who picked up the clarinet when he was 10, the same age "King of Swing" Benny Goodman started playing clarinet. He played Goodman's "Clarinet a la King" until he wore out the cassette tape and mastered the clarinet. Within another four years, Bennett had also conquered piano and guitar. 

As a precocious 12-year-old, Bennett once approached jazz trumpeter and bandleader Doc Cheatham at a dinner club in New York City, introduced himself and asked if he could sit in. 

Bennett played professionally by the age of 14. He joined the New Reformation Band and played the Medford Jazz Jubilee in 2000 and again with Wally's Warehouse Waifs in 2004. By 2008, he was playing Benny Goodman tribute shows with dozens of pop symphonies. Last November, he performed a Goodman tribute with the New York Pop Symphony at Carnegie Hall.

Bennett will put his clarinet aside for the piano and join drummer Hal Smith, guitarist Gino Meregillano and bassist Joe Jazdzewski, aka The Memphis Speed Kings of San Antonio, for shows this weekend in the ballrooms at the Inn at the Commons, the Imperial and Howiee's.

The New Orleans Racket Makers will debut its New Orleans-style traditional jazz at the festival with three shows on Friday.

Highlights of the festival's featured bands — some who have been performing at the festival since 1995 — include Tom Rigney and his band Flambeau, Gator Nation and the High Street Band.

Fiddler and composer Rigney and his band — guitarist Danny Caron, pianist Caroline Dahl, electric bassist Steve Parks and drummer Brent Rampone — play an original mix of eclectic American roots music: Cajun, blues, New Orleans grooves, boogie-woogie, waltzes, ballads and rock 'n' roll. 

Rigney — son of New York Giants' infielder Bill Rigney — was more or less discovered by Vassar Clements, a Grammy Award-winning jazz, swing and bluegrass fiddler known as the "Father of Hillbilly Jazz." The two met in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Clements was playing a club with Jerry Garcia and happened to catch Rigney's show with his band Skunk Cabbage at another club. 

When Clements' stint with Garcia was finished, he asked Rigney to play backup for his band. It was a turning point for Rigney. He performed his first sold-out show with Clements at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

Rigney and Flambeau will perform throughout the weekend at Inn at the Commons, the Imperial, KOBI's Studio C and Howiee's.

Those with tastes for more traditional jazz will enjoy Bob Draga and Friends, Blue Street Jazz Band, Cornet Chop Suey, High Sierra Jazz Band, Lena Prima Band — who will pay tribute to composer Louis Prima — The Midiri Brothers, Oregon Coast Lab Band, Professors Lite, Sister Swing and Titan Hot Seven.

Music prodigy Dave Bennet and San Antonio band The Memphis Speed Kings will perform classics by Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Mickey Gilley and others at shows throughout the weekend at the Southern Oregon Music Festival. Photo courtesy of Comnet Marketing Group