From 1940s hipsters to ’50s beat poets, ’60s hippies, and beyond, there’s always been Americans eager to flaunt their appreciation of underground arts and culture. And whether or not you feel artisanal beer-swilling Westchesterites are a worthy modern analog, most observers would agree that this past Saturday’s 10th Annual Peekskill Jazz & Blues Festival testified to that eclectic spirit. The event—produced by Downtown Business Associates of Peekskill and supported by the city’s Downtown Business Improvement District—also reflected bustling North Division Street’s resurgent nightlife, while allowing local businesses to show what they’re all about.
“It’s our biggest day of the year for all the local businesses,” confirms Jeannie Credidio, who along with her husband Rich, co-owns the popular 12 Grapes Restaurant and plays a big part in organizing the fest, particularly when it comes to selecting performers. “Everybody has such a good time,” she adds, “and every year it’s been growing.”
Vocalist Alexis Cole, a Peekskill native and active-duty Army staff sergeant, introduced a growing crowd to the festival with her jazz trio’s polished rhythms. After Cole closed her set with a cover of Bruno Martino’s “Estate,” the Jessi Mason Band took the stage, led by its eponymous frontwoman, a 19-year-old Westchester native who has already released her debut EP, Hollow, and is in the middle of a summer residency at 12 Grapes. Guiding her fellow musicians through several well-executed covers, including Radiohead’s “High and Dry,” as well as a few originals, Mason made a clear impression on the crowd, even though she later admitted, “I was actually kind of thrown in at the last minute. But when Rich needed one more band I knew I could do it.” It was an opportunity that, in Mason’s words, left her feeling “super honored.”
The stage’s true size was made clear when 18-piece ensemble The Westchester Swing Band thrilled spectators with a high-energy cover of Weather Report’s “Birdland.” Not long into their set, the floor began to fill with swing-dancing couples grooving to Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman.
Before two-time Grammy Nominee Michael Tate ushered in 3D Rhythm of Life‘s “Latin-Tropical-Soul,” Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina stepped onstage to thank the audience for supporting the local community, and was treated to a crowd-led “Happy Birthday.”
The real party began to take shape as the sun set behind the stage, when 10-piece Afrobeat purveyors The Brighton Beat unleashed horn-heavy jams reminiscent of Herbie Hancock, opening North Division up to frenzied footwork among the audience. “I literally could not be happier,” Brighton Beat drummer and bandleader Sammy Wags remarked following their set. “We were super lucky to be on right when the sun went down, everybody was getting cooler and getting looser. We feed directly off of their energy.”
Joe Louis Walker and his keyboardist taking the crowd for a ride
That enthusiasm carried over when headliner/2016 Blues Music Award-winner and Blues Music Hall of Famer Joe Louis Walker delivered what he characterizes as “no-nonsense blues.” Walker’s performed and recorded with the likes of B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix, and his fiery licks left revelers weary but applauding for more.
If you missed out, don’t fret: The Downtown Peekskill Summer Music Series will continue every Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day. But in the meanwhile, you can at least feel like you were at Jazz & Blue Fest by touring through our exclusive photo gallery below.