Marcia Gill and Ron Thompson came up of Alameda, Calif., to take to the dance floor at the Inn at the Commons festival venue. - Julia Moore

Rain can't dampen spirits at Medford Jazz Festival

Ron Thompson and Marcia Gill had rolled through Medford plenty of times but never stopped for much more than to grab a bite to eat.

This changed Saturday when they shared the dance floor at the Inn at the Commons while Dave Bennett & the Memphis Boys rocked Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis tunes.

"It's been nice to see what Medford has to offer," Thompson said.

The Alameda, Calif., pair discovered the Medford Jazz Festival after seeing a link on fiddle player Tom Rigney's website.

"We didn't know about the festival, but decided to come check it out," Thompson said.

Meanwhile, Rigney led his band Flambeau through a jazzy set shot through with Cajun two-step and American roots music.

"It's so great to be back here," Rigney said before setting his violin bow to work at Howiee's on Front.

The weather might have kept some of the five venues lighter than usual. A steady rain fell most of the morning and well into the afternoon.

Martin Randal, of Grants Pass, stepped out of the showers and shrugged water off his coat in the doorway to the Imperial Event Center on North Front Street.

"Hey, where better can you get out of the rain?" Randal said.

Randal arrived in time to catch the last half of the High Street Band's set.

The three day festival continues today throughout downtown. The Imperial Even Center will host a champagne breakfast at 8:30 a.m. with sets from Cornet Chop Suey and Dave Bennett & the Memphis Boys.

The bands dedicate themselves to a full day of breaking down, setting up and schlepping equipment. Each group plays multiple times per day at various venues.

If it sounds like grueling work, it's not, according to bassist Jennifer Leitham.

"It's a labor of love," she said. "I live to do this."

Leitham thumps the stand-up bass as part of Vince Bartels' Best of Swing Quintet.

Leitham, who lives in Pasadena, spent decades on tour with the likes of Mel Torme and Doc Severinsen, so she's accustomed to the work it takes to put play a gig and move onto the next one without rest.

"I enjoy these smaller town festivals because the audience is closer to us," Leithman said. "It's a social event for the audience and us."

Kevin Freeman, a singer for the Coos Bay classic rock outfit Young Bucs, said the constant moving from gig to gig can get tiring, but he draws energy from the audience to keep going.

"You have to give everything on stage," he said.

Thompson and Gill plan to make the festival a permanent part of their calendar.

"We'll definitely be back," Gill said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or

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