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A jazzy goodbye

July 22, 2013

Ken and Flossie Coulter, producers of the Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee for 25 years, last week stepped aside from many of the hands-on duties the festival has demanded. Photo/Susan Morning

Ken and Flossie Coulter step away from Jazz Jubilee

Two days after the last trumpet blew at the 2013 Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee, Ken and Flossie Coulter were still at it.

“This morning I found a bass amplifier that someone forgot to take home,” said Ken Coulter as he made his rounds through Sam’s Woodsite (“The Holler”) and the other venues that featured last weekend’s 25th annual festival.

“You wouldn’t believe how long it takes to wrap things up,” he said.

This past week, though, the post-event routine was different.

The Coulters were wrapping things up for the last time, having produced 25 Jazz Jubilees in spite of never having a permanent venue, never having a paid staff, never having a permanent office and never receiving any guarantees about much of anything, from the weather on down.

Suddenly, like an evening summer rain, Flossie Coulter just could not take it anymore, and she began to weep and dab her eyes.

“Up to now,” she said, “I’ve been really good [about not crying].”

Ken Coulter, whose humor and dry wit are well known around Mammoth, also copped to being caught up in the emotion of the moment.

“What was it like the final day?” he asked rhetorically. “I was crying.”

They were not alone.

From members of jazz and zydeco bands, to friends and family, emotion hung thick in the air last Sunday as the final day of the festival drew to a close.

Volunteers, dressed in costume as a prison chain gang, asked Flossie Coulter to tell them what to do, one last time. For one last time, musician Tom Rigney led a salute to the veterans from the stage, and for the first and only time, the Coulters sat in chairs that were decorated like thrones, in Jazz Jubilee colors.

It is not as if the Jazz Jubilee is going away—not by a long shot.

The six-member board of directors—the Coulters are on the board—was to meet tonight, July 18, to discuss the future of the event, and who might run it.

For Flossie and Ken Coulter, all they knew by Tuesday was that it was not going to be them.

“We won’t be in the limelight like we have been for 25 years,” Ken Coulter said. “I don’t know what that will be like. It depends on whom they hire to replace us. We have a couple of suggestions, but we can’t divulge anything.”

One strong suggestion the Coulters say they will make, however, is in driving a younger crowd to future festivals.

“The biggest problem I see,” Flossie Coulter said, “is that the older generation that has enjoyed this event are having more difficulty at altitude, so we need to get younger people in.”

The main thing, though, is to keep the weekend festival going.

Produced each year on the weekend following the Fourth of July, the Jazz Jubilee generates about $7 million for Mammoth and Mono County, according to a recent analysis by the International Festivals and Events Association.

This, for a festival that Ken Coulter said had a limited vision a quarter of a century ago when real estate developer Tom Dempsey, ski area owner Dave McCoy, and others threw their weight behind a summer music festival.

In those years, a Mammoth summer events calendar included the motocross in June, the Fourth of July, the Sierra Summer Music Festival, and the Labor Day Arts Festival. That was it.

The organizers of the jazz festival asked the Mammoth Chamber of Commerce which weekend was the slowest in the summer, and the chamber members universally said it was the weekend after the Fourth of July.

But the future still wasn’t that bright, in spite of the open weekend and Dempsey property upon which to produce the event.

“We didn’t think it would last even two years,” Ken Coulter said.

The festival not only survived, it spawned a variety of sideshows that have been directed toward music education, in the form of instruments and music for Mono County’s kids, and the annual Jazz Camp during the festival.

It also staged three weddings, innumerable family reunions, marriage proposals, and friends’ get-togethers.

Last February, the Coulters were honored with a Rotary Club fundraiser at Canyon Lodge, and at the Fourth of July Parade, they were grand marshals.

But now the curtain has closed for the 2013 Jazz Jubilee, and the up-front, center-stage presence of the Coulters.

“We would like to go out on top at 25,” Flossie Coulter said. “We said to the board, at about year 17, when people started asking us how much longer we were going to do this, we’d take it through 20; we’d guarantee that as long as we’re healthy and can do that, and then we’d take it one year at a time after that.”

That time has now come, although both are in fine health.

The routine, they said, has gone something like this:

Flossie gets an idea and tells Ken what to do.

“But,” Ken Coulter said, his eyes twinkling, “I always get the last words.”

Which are?

“Yes, dear.”

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