The Keystone Wine and Jazz Festival kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday with a concert by saxophonist and composer Will Donato at the Quaking Aspen Amphitheatre in Keystone followed by the first of four wine seminars, "Pinot in the Pines," which will look at contrast between Old World and New World pinot noirs. Wine sampling commences at 1 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday and features more than 300 wines from around the world. Wines have good vintage years and so do festivals - and 2006 and 2007 were among the best years for Keystone Wine and Jazz, according to Maja Russer, Keystone Neighborhood Company's passionate new director of events and entertainment. After suffering what she calls "an identity crisis" over the past few years - during which time the festival was alternately called "Uncorked" and "Keystone Jazzfest" - organizers decided to bring back the original name this year and all that "Keystone Wine and Jazz" has implied since the event's inception more than a decade ago. By all accounts, 2011 promises to be a year to rival the best ones, when the wine flowed freely thanks to a partnership with Republic National Distributing Company, the second largest distributor of premium wine and spirits in the nation. A renewed partnership with Republic for 2011 means this year's festival will have more than 33 tents with anywhere from six to 10 different wines per tent. "We're kind of saying 'it's back' because ... we got R.N.D.C. back on board as a partner," Russer said. "They're the ones that bring all the wine and work with us hand-in-hand." For $60/day or $100 for the weekend, participants receive an official Keystone Wine and Jazz tasting glass to use for unlimited sampling. There will be four wine seminars for in-depth exploration of high-end varietals, and food vendors will offer sample-size servings ranging from $2 to $5 a piece. "Keystone is known for its food," Russer said. "Hopefully this (festival) will be known in the future as a wine, jazz and food event."
Musical performances will take place at three different Keystone venues, all of which are free of charge. The lineup for the River Run Events Plaza includes The Sideguys, Big Sam's Funky Nation and Dotsero.Anything but a side act, the Sideguys' accomplished collective features members with solo recordings dating as far back as the mid 1980s and 1970s. When they are not out with their main bands or employers, they join up to push the boundaries of traditional live entertainment with a panoply of sounds combining R&B, rock, jazz and more.New Orleans-based Big Sam's Funky Nation is widely hailed as one of the driving forces behind urban funk, known for its "ability to incite a huge dance-a-thon," according to Wesley Hodges of Jambase. Big Sam played trombone with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at age 19 before striking out on his own to create the Funky Nation. He earned consistent reviews as a star soloist while touring with Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint in 2006 and 2007 and has played with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Dave Matthews, Ozomatli, and Widespread Panic, as well as shared the stage with U2 and Green Day live on Monday Night Football for the Superdome's reopening. In addition, Dotsero returns to Keystone with its no-nonsense sax and guitar that represents smooth jazz at its best.The Max Wagner Quartet, featuring an individual approach to modern jazz by the accomplished tenor saxophonist, including "soulful bebop, Latin jazz, classic jazz and romantic ballads," will play in a relaxed atmosphere at the smaller Quaking Aspen Amphitheatre venue, as will national recording artist Will Donato, who has performed with Al McKay of Earth Wind and Fire, Bruce Conte of Tower of Power, and Steve Reid of The Rippingtons, to name a few. The late Saturday night show takes place at Warren Station, where Denver's Byron Shaw Projex presents a solo effort described by his website as "an eclectic exploration of dub, jazz, funk, hip hop and soul ... a funk junket through years and genres that drifts past only once in a lapis moon." Attendance is almost mandatory when it's put like that.
KidZone activities for the festival include free face painting, arts and crafts and performances as well as paid activities such as scenic rides, a climbing wall, gem panning and boat rentals, among others. "This is a very good time," wrote commenter Sherrie Del Grego Rau on AllBreckenridge.com. "Great jazz and wine. You just don't want to drive home afterwards." It's a good point, but not to worry - the organizers have you covered on this one as well. Keystone Hospitality is offering lodging for $107 a night or $198 for two nights, including the price of the wine-tasting. The Keystone Wine and Jazz festival is billed as a sophisticated event. Classy as it may be, however, keep in mind that if the vino gets you a little wild as you dance to a Big Sam-inspired Bacchanalia, it's for a good cause, with proceeds benefiting the Summit Foundation.