BY TOM LAVIS
Jazz Along the River will be back again this summer.
The monthly jazz event has become a fixture at St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church pavilion, Fifth Avenue and Power Street in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.
The series of concerts will feature a different jazz group on the fourth Friday of each month through September.
Jazz Along the River series will kick off at 6 p.m. Friday with the Frank Filia Orchestra, which has performed at the event every year since 2004.
As the popularity of the series grows each year, organizers are sticking to a winning formula of offering hot jazz and sumptuous food.
“Our lineup is pretty well set year after year,” said Monsignor Raymond Balta, pastor of St. Mary’s and series organizer.
“When you have a winning team and a lineup that people come to see, there is no reason to look for a free agent and trade performers.”
Balta said he gets visitors from as far away as Latrobe and Ligonier.
“This series is basically for our area residents,” he said.
“Unlike the Ethnic Festival, Thunder in the Valley or PolkaFest, these Friday night concerts aren’t intended to draw thousands of people into the region.”
Instead, Balta is looking more for a small-town appeal, where neighbor meets neighbor to share music, ethnic food and engaging conversation.
“These evenings resemble what Sundays used to be when people visited and shared time together,” he said.
“Fridays are perfect because when Saturdays and Sundays roll around, the schedules are all booked with everyone attending children’s or grandchildren’s activities like baseball or soccer.”
The Harold Betters Quartet will be up next on June 28.
Betters, who is from Pittsburgh, is known as Mr. Trombone and plays a rhythm-and-blues style of jazz.
His quartet has toured with Ray Charles and appeared at New York’s Apollo Theater.
Other performers in the series are Cajun Norm and the Jam Session Band on July 26, Jazz in Your Face on Aug. 23 and Flood City Brass on Sept. 27.
Drummer Mike Bodolosky will bring his 16-piece Jazz in Your Face and its signature interpretations of jazz, swing, Latin and bebop sounds.
Flood City Brass is an eight-member band known for its horn section and plays rock, soul, funk, ballads, pop and rhythm and blues.
“The performers like the casual, overall outside atmosphere, and each of these groups want to come back year after year,” Balta said.
Adding to the festivities is the food.
Ethnic foods such as haluski, stuffed cabbage, pierogi, kielbasa and sauerkraut, as well as hot dogs, hot sausage, hamburgers and gobs will be available for purchase beginning at 5.
“We offer good food at a reasonable price,” Balta said.
“It’s also a wonderful opportunity to see friends you may not have seen since last year’s jazz concerts.”
Members of St. Mary’s make the food, which Balta said is prepared throughout the year and frozen.
“Our kitchen is busy continuously preparing the foods people have come to love,” he said. “When you are cooking thousands of pierogies and stuffed cabbage, it’s something you don’t do overnight.”
Admission is free for each performance, and the shows will go on rain or shine.
“Ironically, the intent of building our pavilion was to protect people from the sun,” Balta said.
“So, no matter what the weather, we are prepared to present each concert without interruption.”
Balta said the pavilion can accommodate as many as 500 people and another 300 people can be in the church’s adjacent hall.
Chairs will be set up, and those who attend also are invited to bring their own chairs.
All that jazz
What: Jazz Along the River series.
When: 6 to 9 p.m. fourth Friday of each month – May through September.
Where: St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church pavilion, Fifth Avenue and Power Street in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.
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