Exit 0 Jazz Festival rocks Cape May this weekend

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Friday at Cape May Convention Hall.
Dee Dee Bridgewater, Friday at Cape May Convention Hall.
Posted: May 30, 2014

The Exit 0 International Jazz Festival launches its third go-round this weekend in Cape May. But it didn't have the most promising of beginnings.

After living in New Orleans for 13 years, Michael Kline moved back to his longtime home of Cape May in 2005, just in time to avoid the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. He wasn't quite so lucky in 2012, when he launched Exit 0 that November, less than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the state.

"It had a big impact," Kline admits. "It affected us economically because we lost half of our audience. . . . Half of my production team was working out of cars leading up to the festival. But we got to a point where it almost became liberating, because we decided we'd shoot for what we could do and 'If we don't get it done it's OK.' "

Despite the obstacles, the inaugural Exit 0 was successful enough that the festival is returning for its third iteration, the first to take place in spring. Another edition is planned for this November: The festival is adopting the biannual model of its predecessor, the Cape May Jazz Festival, which produced spring and fall events for 16 years.

The three-day festival will feature headlining artists in a 600-seat theater in Cape May Convention Hall, with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater on Friday, trumpeter Roy Hargrove on Saturday, and a fund-raiser for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities on Sunday featuring New Orleans greats Kermit Ruffins and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Other artists, including pianist Gerald Clayton, saxophonist Tia Fuller, harmonica virtuoso Grégoire Maret, vocalist Roberta Gambarini, and Mississippi bluesman Johnny Rawls, will perform throughout the weekend at six other venues. On Saturday afternoon, the historic Emlen Physick Estate will be the site for a "festival within the festival," featuring four concerts on an outdoor stage surrounded by local food, crafts, wine, and beer.

Kline has had ties to Cape May since his childhood growing up in Reading. "When I was 3 or 4 my parents bought a little bungalow about five miles from Cape May along Delaware Bay, so we were one of those families that piled in the car on Friday night, drove down for a 31/2-hour trip to Cape May, and piled back in the car on Sunday to go home."

After graduating from Albright College in 1983, Kline relocated to Cape May full-time, where he worked a variety of jobs, including a stint at the Old Shire Tavern, where he saw local jazz names like Pat Martino and Michael Pedicin. He headed to New Orleans in 1992 and founded his jazz booking agency, Michael Kline Artists, continuing his ties to the Shore by booking his artists at the Cape May Jazz Festival.

But the festival folded in 2011 because of a feud between its founders and its board of directors. Kline calls it a shame: "I thought it was a great thing for Cape May and selfishly, as a booking agent, I didn't want to see another jazz festival disappear." He says he was "very excited about putting my own stamp" on Exit 0.

That stamp is evident in Sunday's "Night in New Orleans" concert featuring Ruffins and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

"We'll just get everybody up dancing they butts off and partyin' New Orleans style," says Ruffins, the trumpeter, singer, and keeper of the traditional New Orleans jazz flame. He's now best known for his appearances on the HBO series Treme.

Ruffins hopes his music will have an effect on those still recovering from Sandy like the one it has had on the victims of Katrina: "Losing yourself in the music, if even for a few hours, really heals the soul and the spirit. It makes you forget everything that happened for that little time. Music makes you feel better about life. I don't know what I'd do without music, I'll tell you that."


Exit 0 International Jazz Festival

In Cape May. Shows start at 4 p.m. Friday, noon Saturday, and 11 a.m. Sunday. Headline shows at Convention Hall; others at venues throughout Cape May.

Tickets: A range of single-act, single-day, and three-day passes; hotel packages available. Information: 888-943-1864 or www.exit0jazzfest.com.

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