Cranston Fire spotlights the community’s unity
The Cranston Fire affected lives on the Hill. It burned seven homes. It also threatened the Hill’s biggest entertainment and education event of the year.
But the 25th Jazz in the Pines festival did go forward, just as John Newman, chief operating officer for the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, and so many others had planned. Those months of work, frustration and elation proved valuable as thousands of people — locals and visitors — enjoyed one of the best jazz festivals yet, Newman suggested.
On July 25 and the immediate few days after, many thought the festival may only be a paper promotion. The Cranston Fire burned hundreds of acres near the school. Firefighters back-burned right up to the rear of the Holmes Amphitheatre Stage — the main stage for the festival.
Performers, vendors and audience were all worried that Idyllwild Arts would have to cancel or, at least, postpone its renowned jazz festival.
But firefighters, including air attack that dropped thousands of gallons of fire retardant behind the school, saved the buildings and eventually contained the fire soon enough that the festival could still open its gates and jazz aficionados could relish the sweet music.
Still announcing that the festival would occur was not sufficient to assume the result and attendance would return to normal. Throughout Southern California, people were aware of the fire and its path of destruction. National news agencies reported on it, too, so performers in New York, Louisiana and elsewhere were worried about the special event.
“I enjoy playing anytime in this place,” said saxophonist Azar Lawrence. “We’d miss this environment in the pine trees where music is good. I worried it was going to happen. This is a gift of God.”
Caltrans worked hard to open roads, but days before the Friday Patrons Dinner, drivers on Highway 74 still had to rely on escort vehicles to get from the mountain to the desert or Hemet. Further, Caltrans advised festival goers to use Highway 243 from Banning, not an incentive for San Diego residents.
Still, many did accept the inconvenience. Jackie White and Cindy Brown of Oceanside heeded the Caltrans advice and came Friday through Banning. They are dedicated jazz festival fans. Brown said she missed the first festival and the last two because of teaching assignments, but no more.
Providence or something was shining on the 25th Jazz in the Pines. Minor inconveniences may have been experienced, but the worst fears were not close to being realized.
“We exceeded expectations,” said Newman. “At the end, there was an uptick in sales. More than 2,000 people passed through the entrance, and we only had 10 25th celebration T-shirts left.”
Throughout the festival, performers expressed their pleasure to be able to share the weekend with so many faithful music lovers and the gratitude to firefighters for helping ensure these moments.
“I have prayed for my friends before, but never prayed for a place before,” performer Yves Evans said when she learned of the conflagration.
Many thought attendance would be dampened, perhaps considerably, because of the fear of driving through burned areas or the inconvenience of highway openings. But jazz lovers never hesitated once the message that the “show will gone on” was circulated.
The fire’s effects cannot be hidden. As people such as Ronald Harris from Desert Hot Springs, who was first in line Sunday, said, “It was devastating to see all the damage.”
Vendors such as Debbie Lawrence of Floradora near Santa Monica and Thomas and Amara Alban of MazAmar Pottery in Pioneertown, both were worried as they drove here. But they happily said their results were similar to past years and maybe slightly better.
“I was nervous this year, but the people were joyful and that made it more enjoyable for me,” Lawrence said.
And everybody, independently, commented on the community spirit so noticeable throughout the weekend. To this reporter, four different people expressed similar, if not identical, interpretations of the feelings manifested this weekend.
“This is a wonderful place. The people are so friendly and peaceful,” Brown noted.
“It didn’t matter if it was the public or tourist, everybody rallied to be here. It was reason to celebrate,” said Evans, describing her perception of the town and people at the festival. “Idyllwild is the prime example of how a community prepares and gets its act together.”
Lawrence said she saw people “here to celebrate. They are happy to be about community spirit. The people really pulled together.”
On Saturday, as Evan Christopher was introducing Clarinet Road on the Holmes stage, he made the same observation, “This is a rallying point, as Congressman Ruiz said, our community has a rally point.”
“Our message to everyone in Idyllwild was that this would be the reunion. A time to celebrate,” Newman opined. “We set out to honor Marshall Hawkins, and it included first responders, firefighters and the whole community of Idyllwild.”