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Jazz in the Valley celebrates its 20th year

July 27, 2017 GMT

After providing a mid-summer soundtrack in downtown Ellensburg for two decades, there’s a changing of the guard underway at Jazz in the Valley.

At 4 p.m. Sunday, when the last note has been played, festival Grand Poo-Bah Larry Sharpe will be calling it a career.

Sharpe, who has been with the festival since the beginning, will be handing the reins to Tony Swartz, a local attorney who plays trumpet in the Ellensburg Big Band.

“I’ve been kind of learning the ropes and figuring out all the things he does and shadowing him through the year,” Swartz said.

Sharpe said he’s proud of watching a two-day festival that started out with eight bands in six venues transform over the years into a full three-day festival with 27 performers.


“We went from 800 people — which surprised us — to pushing 3,000 tickets sold for this weekend,” Sharpe said.

Along with Sharpe, Jan Callahan and Mike and Deb Brunner also are retiring. Longtime board member Sydney Moe stepped down after last year’s festival, but is still helping with volunteer recruitment this year.

In recent years, there has been an effort to recruit younger members to its board.

“We lose one or two or three people every couple years, and we try to bring people in that have been volunteers who show a real strong interest in the festival,” Sharpe said. “We don’t just drag people off the street on to the board.”

Sharpe said he’s leaving the board in good hands and with money in the bank. The operation has around 200 volunteers, with the only people being paid being the box office workers and the bands. He also said despite people asking them to add venues, he doesn’t foresee the festival getting any bigger.

“I’m looking forward to (this weekend),” Sharpe said. “I’ll still be a volunteer and if they need me. … I’ll be an unpaid consultant, but they know what they’re doing. We don’t have to worry about anything.”