Funny how things work out.
Musician and businessman Steve Westerman signed up the bands for the Jazz’N the Street festival Saturday. He booked big-band singer Jack Muiccio and his orchestra Saturday, and Muiccio entertained the crowd that filled two blocks of First Street, closing the night with a Bobby Darin standard and a rendition of “Jump, Jive and Wail” that had festival-goers dancing.
Westerman “discovered” Muiccio by surprise — though the singer’s known by many in Chicago. How many? On Sunday, Muiccio was scheduled to sing the national anthem before the Chicago White Sox game and “God Bless America” in the seventh inning.
“I manage Sherman’s (appliance store). Jack is our Frigidaire and Electrolux supplier,” said Westerman. “We knew each other for a year before we knew each other did music. I told him I’ve got this festival you might be perfect for.”
Westerman said it took him a year and a half but he finally booked Muiccio for the show.
Funny how that worked out.
The entire weekend worked out well for bands, food vendors and La Salle Business Association, said organizers including La Salle Business Association officers Bart Hartauer and Leah Inman.
Last year, rain soaked BBQ-n-Blues and a raccoon caused a power outage at Jazz’N the Street. This year, clear skies and comfortable weather showed up.
“I think (Friday) night was our biggest crowd ever for BBQ-n-Blues,” said Inman, who estimated the crowd at 2,500 or more.
Hartauer said when she and Inman were making announcements from the stage Friday, all they saw for more than two blocks was a “sea of people.” Longtime LBA supporter Dan Burke agreed.
“I think the event continues to pick up steam,” Hartauer said.
Another good-sized, but slightly-more-formally-dressed, crowd was forming Saturday night at sunset, too.
Inman and Hartauer noted that they work to set up slightly different atmospheres for the Friday BBQ-n-Blues crowd and for the jazz-and-wine crowd. Some vendors feature different food items and beverages, and Friday’s easy-to-clean checkered barbecue tablecloths and flowers are swapped out Saturday for white tablecloths and mums.
“We want people to come both nights and experience something different,” Hartauer said.
Inman was pleased to meet three ladies from Joliet who took a road trip just to enjoy both festival nights. They checked into a Peru hotel and enjoyed the show Friday and were back, more dressed up and wearing quite a bit of jewelry Saturday.
Spring Valley Mayor Walt Marini came to La Salle on Saturday to check out the music on the main stage, but he also was there to try to book a band next year that was playing on the street at intermission.
That band, NBT Experience Funk Inc. (NBT stands for “Nothing But Trouble”) performed old funk tunes, new ones like “Uptown Funk” and had Westerman join in with a B.B. King-style guitar solo on a blues song.
Westerman also was pleased that his band that performed for the nightcap Saturday — aptly named Gene-n-Tonic — showed up Friday to enjoy the festival experience. The six-piece band from Rochester, Mich., near Detroit took in the whole blues fest and sampled the food.
Gene-n-Tonic leaders included lead singer Shuga — just Shuga — and Nic Cocco.
Cocco said one of his reasons for attending Friday’s event was to watch New York blues hall-of-famer Dave Fields, who attended the same Boston institution as him — Berklee College of Music.
Smoke, Fire & Brew (Jerry Spitz of LaMoille) took first place in this year’s BBQ-n-Blues rib cook-off.
Hartauer said he’s hearing more of a buzz in recent years from people who looking forward to returning for the festivals the following year. Inman said she’s been seeing more friendly trash-talking among the master rib smokers prior to the competitions.
Second place went to Smitty’s Smokehouse BBQ, third to ex-champions Team Apple Smoke, from the Quad Cities; fourth to Two Drunks and a Smoker; and fifth to Big Foot BBQ.
Winning the right to taste all the ribs as judges were Sally Van Cura, Rod Thorson, Chef Sarah from Hy-Vee, Hartauer, Zack Giovanine, Joe Jeppson and Chris Safranski.
Giovanine said in an effort to keep the contest fair and to remain impartial, the judges did not talk during the tasting.
“I am not sure what the other judges voted as the best,” he said. But he enjoyed everything. “It was fantastic! Definitely a great experience.”
Lucas said judges rated each entry for appearance flavor and tenderness. The scores were then tallied and the winner is announced.
“I have done this before. I was the first woman judge. I’m pleased to see that women are involved in this now. We too like ribs,” Lucas said when asked for a comment via Facebook message. “We judges don’t know whose is whose barbecue we are judging so I can’t really say what was my favorite. I can say that the competition was fierce I don’t know the final tallies, but I feel certain that like my score sheet, the numbers were close. The different flavors and aromas are very interesting. We judges came hungry, but we left full, and satisfied.”
Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_NewsEditor.