Hurricane or not, there was a lot to like about the 1st Camellia City Smooth Jazz Festival.
I am a big music guy and also a big sports guy. The festival this past weekend in Slidell gave me both of those favorites.
Naturally, a music festival with awesome musicians and talent on stage is something that appeals to me. I’ve very open to all kinds of music in the rock, jazz, country and even pop genres.
While the hurricane got the best of the festival by Saturday afternoon, there was enough smooth jazz to let me know that the music ranks right up there with other forms of music I was familiar with. And now that organizers Will and Diane Bias have announced they are doing a make-up of sorts, back at the Northshore Harbor Center on Sunday, Nov. 12 with headliners Gerald Albright and Alex Bugnon, you would do well to mark your calendars and be a part of what I believe will be a packed crowd.
But more on that in the coming weeks as details get settled.
Another aspect to the festival is that they included a sports component that was held at Beau Chene Country Club in Mandeville on Friday during the day. It included a host of former NFL stars in the field such as Dan Marino with the Miami Dolphins, Art Still of the Washington Redskins, Hugh Green of the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Bucs, Beasley Reese with the Dallas Cowboys, Fred Williamson with the Pittsburgh Steelers and others.
Most of them showed up at the meet-and-greet on Friday night and I got a chance to talk to several of them about their years playing, but also about other aspects of their life besides football.
I must say that Williamson had one of the most fascinating stories. He developed the nickname “The Hammer” for his years in football when he was known as a very hard hitting player. But he equaled his fame on the football field when he made it into TV and movies, eventually playing parts or producing over 40 projects.
The way he got his break in TV was quite a story. It was the early 1970s when Diahann Carroll got the starring role in a program called “Julia,” playing a nurse in what I’ve read as a “non-stereotypical role for an African American woman.”
Williamson said he watched the show for a couple of years and decided “I’m good looking and should be her boyfriend on the show. Besides, she is dating a different man every week.”
So he drove his car onto the Hollywood lot where it was being produced and told the security guard at the gate that he was there to see Hal Kanter, the man who created, directed and produced the show. Naturally he was turned away since he had no appointment so Williamson said he drove around the corner and called the guard, telling him, “this is Mr. Kanter, let Fred Williamson in.”
Williamson went back around the block and pulled up a second time, immediately getting waved in and finding Kanter’s office.
“I told them to tell Mr. Kanter that the Hammer is here,” he said.
Williamson got in and convinced Kanter he was the guy. He was written into the storyline as a pro football player who retired and began dating Carroll.
Williamson made a step into movies when he met famous director Otto Preminger and was given a script after he was told “we’re looking for a tall, dark African American. We like you.”
Williamson read the script and disliked it so much he tore it in half in front of Preminger, then lifted him up by the collar before setting him back down. He kissed Preminger’s wife’s hand and walked out.
“Otto called me and asked me to come back and said, ‘I want you’ in the movie, a famous production called “Tell Me You Love Me.” It was one of many films Williamson has played in.
Williamson said the secret to make it in anything in life is to “learn the business of that business.”
The group of players created quite a scene on Thursday night when they went out to eat at Hooter’s in Slidell on Gause Boulevard.
Of course with someone like Dan Marino in the crowd there were plenty of photos and autographs that needed to be signed.
But you must say that when Will and Diane promised they would make the Camellia City Smooth Jazz Festival something special for St. Tammany Parish they certainly got out of the gate doing that, and still had a very successful event considering they had to battle the issues of an approaching hurricane all the way through Friday and into Saturday.
I am happy to hear them say unequivocally that the festival will return next year and I certainly hope to see more corporate support. This was a first-class production, and they did it mostly on their dime. But thanks to businesses that sponsored many different aspects of the festival with trade outs and in-kind offers it helped things to get done and flow smoothly.
Next year I hope many corporations and public officials will get on board in a bigger way. This festival can truly became a big thing for St. Tammany Parish and the first year was clear they are coming through on everything they have promised.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.