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Montreux Jazz Festival 1996


    Merchant Street Rowdies


July, 1996


ROWDIES RULE IN MONTREUX by "Toomey" Bonardelli


Montreux (APS) The Merchant Street Rowdies, a popular Dixieland band from central Illinois, received laudits from jazz aficionados attending the world-famous summer jazz festival. The band performed a series of shows in Montreux before continuing on to other cities on their summer tour. The Rowdies stopped passers-by during their afternoon show by Lac Leman, subsequently thrilled an upscale audience at Duke’s Bar late one evening, and met the people of Montreux from their float in a jazz parade one Saturday morning.

One could not ask for a better setting or better weather. Montreux, a town in wine country on Europe’s largest lake, located at the base of several mountains, hosts this two-week jazz festival. The juxtaposition of the lake and the farmland, itself intertwined with vineyards provided awesome scenery as the Rowdies drove into the town from the airport at Geneva. The forty-five mile trip along the side of a mountain took the band through the haunts of famous composers, writers and artists, such as Charlie Chaplin, F.S. Fitzgerald and Stravinsky.

The band arrived at their hotel just up the hill from the festival site along the lake. From the hotel room, one could see the Chillon Castle, made famous by the book The Prisoner of Chillon by Lord Byron. The Rowdies lost no time in exploring the sites of the area. After a welcoming dinner, the band made it to the Stravinsky Auditorium to catch the Phil Collins Big Band. They were treated with a 40-piece jazz band and special guest Tony Bennett over the course of the evening. The next day provided the band with other sightseeing opportunities including a boat ride on Lac Leman and a train trip to the Gruyere cheese factory.

The following day was the debut of the band to the visitors of Montreux. The Dixieland style is not very common at the festival, where big bands are the order of the day. The band proceeded the Peoria Big Band, which gave an outstanding performance. Then the Rowdies took the stage and began their set of upbeat Dixieland standards. The passers-by slowed down and stopped to listen. The swell of the crowd around the bandstand caused a minor pedestrian jam as people could not resist the Rowdies sound. Clapping and cheering turned into dancing as people heard the unique New Orleans sounds: songs like "Dr. Jazz", "South Rampart Street Parade" and "Struttin’ with some BBQ". The audience was captured by the Rowdies’ sound. After the show, Harlan Gieser, the trombonist and leader of the band said "Wow, this is much more than we expected. We thought that the crowd would enjoy the band but I feel that we received a great response here."

Elated by their afternoon success at the bandshell, the Merchant Street Rowdies were looking forward to the next night at Duke’s Bar. The bar scheduled an evening of jazz bands at two-hour intervals. The Rowdies performed at the shank of the evening, at 11 p.m., to a full club anticipating some great music. And they were not let down! The Merchant Street Rowdies performed an enthusiastic set from ballads like "St. James Infirmary" to their toe-tapping dance tunes like "Black Bottom Stomp". Their finale consisted of the famous walk through the crowd during the song "When the Saints Go Marching In". The audience reacted by rising to their feet to give handshakes and other accolades to the band.

A Saturday morning parade was scheduled to celebrate the 30th year of the festival. The Rowdies were asked to participate as were several other bands. Each float represented a time-period of the festival of which the Dixieland sound represented the early years. Included on the Rowdies float, was a tap dancer that would interpret some of the Rowdies tunes as they performed along the route. Dancing on a moving float was truly an interesting experience to view!

The parade was comprised also of big band, rock, gospel and a variety of acts. As one local newspaper described it: "30 années de jazz dans la rue". The parade winded its way through the length of the Montreux, from the festival area to the Casino area and then back to the festival grounds where all were treated to the dancing of the Brazil entourage. The day provide an excellent end to a whirlwind tour of Montreux, its famous festival, and its friendly people for the Merchant Street Rowdies.


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