Festival lures “jazzheads” to Medicine Hat

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 Pop by cafes clubs and taverns to hear some cool jazz in The Hat.
Photos provided by the Medicine Hat Jazz Society


MEDICINE HAT, AB - Jazz music usually evokes images of smoky nightclubs on big city streets rather than sunny skies and prairie hospitality, but great things often things happen in unlikely places.

For 20 years, Medicine Hat has hosted one of Alberta’s most vibrant jazz festivals, offering a full week of concerts aimed at both true jazzheads and members of the community just looking to get out and enjoy the city.  Share this page on Twitter.

This year’s festival takes place from June 19 to 26 in venues throughout Medicine Hat and organizers have taken pains to create programing that will appeal to all levels of music fans.This includes a number of free events like lunchtime shows at the downtown Tim Horton’s location to more serious workshops and soft-seater concerts in various spaces within the Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre (a beautiful expansive venue, also located downtown).

The line-up is comprised primarily of Canadian artists like boogie-woogie piano phenom Michael Kaeshammer, and rising jazz star Laila Biali. Visiting artists include Chicago pianist Ryan Cohan and Cuban dance bandleader Wil Campa.

Explore downtown 

With the exception of a special dance party in an airplane hangar at the Medicine Hat Airport, part of the beauty of Jazz Fest is that the performances take place in venues scattered throughout Medicine Hat’s city centre, meaning concert goers can often walk from one show to another, enjoying the picturesque historic downtown.

Passes are $139 and as long as pass-holders show up at least 15 minutes prior to the start of a ticketed show, they’re guaranteed a seat. The Esplanade is Jazz Fest central, with shows taking place in various spaces inside, including the soft-seat theatre, and shows also take place at hot spots like the Station Coffee Co., Inspire Café, and Twist Wine & Tapas Bistro. All of this creates a sense of buzz that makes Jazz Fest more than just a series of shows in individual venues.  

The Jazz fest is all about intimate settings and great music. 

“You can’t be in Medicine Hat during that week and not know that there’s a jazz festival going on,” says Jazz Fest’s producer Lyle Rebbeck. “It’s much easier to create that festival feeling just because of the size of the city.”

Parkade dance party

In what is perhaps Jazz Fest’s signature event, the Saturday evening concert featuring local Medicine Hat band Kool Ray and the Hip Katz along with Calgary rockabilly combo the High-Strung Downers takes place atop the Downtown Bus Terminal Parkade. Both bands are well-seasoned crowd-pleasers that know how to keep a party going. While the setting is a bit unorthodox, this free show attracts up to 2,000 music fans looking for a good time.

“It’s one of those venues that people didn’t get at first, until they go up there and experience it,” Rebbeck says. “You’re up so high and you can see over the rooftops of the city and the cliffs of the South Saskatchewan River are visible in the distance behind the stage, the sun sets on these beautiful Medicine Hat nights and the cliffs light up with this orange glow and it’s magical.”

Combine the Jazz Festival with a visit to some of Medicine Hat’s unique attractions. Stop in at the Historic Clay District and discover the history of clay manufacturing while strolling through the contemporary artist studios. Or, visit the 20-storey high Saamis Tepee, then hike down into the river valley to explore some of the 90 kilometres of walking trails through the city.

For more information on the Medicine Hat Jazz Fest, visit medicinehatjazzfest.com. Tickets are available online at tixx.ca.

For ideas on what else you can do in Medicine Hat during Jazz Fest week, visit the Tourism Medicine Hat website at www.tourismmedicinehat.com.

Check out our festival overview for more information.

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