Sunday, September 18, 2016

It's COTA Baby

Photography by Paparazzi Paul.

I've began serving The Delaware Water Gap, PA Celebration of the Arts (COTA) Festival as a member of their Security Staff in 2003. It was during the 26th Annual event did I meet one of the founders, Phil Woods, while I was hurriedly on my way to my shift. He stopped me on route.

Where are you going?” he asked.
To my next shift.” I replied.
Why are you in a hurry?” he asked.
Because I'm a little late.” I responded with a desire to leave the conversation quickly as not to be more late than I was.
It was to this did Phil say, “This is a festival to relax and enjoy. Don't rush. You'll get there when you get there.”

These words not only encouraged me to embrace the mood of that festival and the many that followed more fully, but they proved to be a life lesson from which my days spent living were enhanced by my adherence to them. Phil Woods has taught many such lessons throughout the decades of his life. This was not only through the words he shared and the instruction he gave to his music students who later became teachers of great renown themselves, but through the music he composed and performed as their communiques were of the language of the heart that echoed the melodies of the soul.

Phil Woods passed away on September 29th, 2015 which was shortly after the 38th Annual Celebration of the Arts Festival on Sunday September 13th. The 2015 festival honored the life of co founder Rick Chamberlain who passed away a few months prior. So, a profound sense of loss touched the hearts of those who planned and attended the festival marking its 39th year of existence as all three of its founders (co founder, Ed Joubert, passed away in 1981) had left us. Yet, the music and memories Phil left behind filled the multitudes who attended the 2016 festival with an overwhelming sense of joy and appreciation that transformed the sadness of the times into something truly wonderful.

The 39th Annual Celebration of the Arts Festival began on Friday September 9th and continued until Sunday September 11th throughout the town of Delaware Water Gap, PA. Although the event officially commenced with the Artists' Reception at The Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery for their Music Motif Show, I began my festival experience at The Castle Inn Gallery which is located within The Shoppes at The Castle Inn Complex An Artists' Reception featuring the work of Andrea Robins Rimberg, James Chesnick, Kari Nespola, Shary Maloney, Tanya Little McCoy, Jeannie Dempsey, and Gallery Curator Jose Santamaria was a well attended one and showcased a number of abstract pieces along with some still life compositions that easily flowed gently throughout the gallery to create a sensation of oneness within the viewer. The music and cuisine that was provided enhanced the extraordinary qualities of the exhibit and the work presented in it. I also meandered around the complex to explore its other offerings and discovered the Live Inspired Gallery that was being prepared for their October 8th opening, but one could already tell it would be a wonderful place to visit as the images that were hung had the element of love in their hues.

It was after some time of enjoying the art and conversation that abounded at the Castle Inn Gallery did I venture over to The Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery (aka The Dutot) where the official beginning of the festival took place. The sounds of Classical and Americana melodies met my ears as an ensemble known as Calliope consisting of Gina Bertucci and Barbara McMahon on Flute along with Laura Goss on Bassoon performed in the Dutot's the parking lot for those waiting for the gallery to open. Upon its opening, I ventured in and became enchanted by the variety of pieces that were created by local artists, photographers, and sculptors for the festival's Music Motif Show. The gallery filled to capacity as each piece sounded a visual note that later became a symphony of images accompanied by inaudible voices found in the choir of the heart.

The 39th Annual Celebration of the Arts Festival's Music Motif Show at The Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery was a juried one with awards given to those whose creative endeavors proved to be the brightest of all the stars that shone their inspiring magnitudes. The jurors for the show were Andrea Robbins-Rimberg, Bud Nealy, and Katherine Lockwood. Congratulatory applauses rang out as each recipient of the prizes awarded were named whose joy combined with that of the gathering until a crescendo of love engulfed the event. The exhibition will continue to be on display until September 18th. The next exhibition will feature the work of Bev Abel, Lurene Nakielny, and Dawn Whatley. An Artists' Reception is scheduled for Friday September 23rd beginning at 7pm. The exhibit will continue to be on display until October 9th.

The first day of the festival also offered an evening of Classical Music, Literary and Poetry Readings, and Dance at The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain which is located across the street of the Dutot. It began with some welcoming remarks given by The Reverent Sherry Blackman who is the minister of the church followed by an introduction of the show's host, Dave Hymes. The comedic talents of Mr. Hymes delighted the sizable audience and enhanced the enjoyment of the performances.

Classical Guitarist Eric Falcao performed a number of times throughout the evening and wooed the gathering with his remarkable interpretations of each piece he rendered. Dancer Laura Buzzard of The Totts Gap Arts Institute located in Bangor, PA wonderfully performed pieces titled, “Gravity” by Sarah Bareilles as choreographed by Angeline Gloria and “Regards” by Tracy Chapman as choreographed by Jennifer Muller. Author Greg Back appeared on stage to share a reading of some intriguing passages from his novel titled, “Incarnate” which is the first book of “The Dwindling” Series.

Poet Jerry Grealish shared some thoughtful words with the gathering that allowed them to see the world anew and was later joined by Upright Bassist Joe Michaels whose musical accompaniment added a textual dimension to the work. Guitarist Marty Wilson enchanted the audience with a resonant magic as he began his set with the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which was written for the movie “The Wizard of Oz (1939)” by Harold Arlen E. Y. Harburg while accompanied by the vocals of Denny Carrig. He concluded his set with an instrumental version of the song “In My Life” by the Beatles and is found on their 1965 album titled, “Rubber Soul.” The event came to a close with a Finale in which Jerry Grealish shared his words as Joe Michaels, Marty Wilson, and Laura Buzzard utilized their talents to improvise their music and dance to the poetry. It was after this did Dave Hymes bid the gathering farewell and invited them back for the remainder of the festival.

I arrived the next day at the festival site at 8am with the temperatures already in the 80s with a humidity that matched to learn what duties were to be performed in my capacity as a member of the COTA Security Team. The Security Command Center was filled with my fellow Security Team members with many of whom I became friends with during the years. It was a delight to see them as well as meeting those who were new to the festival. It was after a time did I learn of my first assignment which was in the area known as The Back Gate which is an entry point to a number of people closely associated with the festival. These include musicians, members of COTA's Board of Directors, food vendor owners and workers, Special Guests, and so on with many of whom I've come to know during the years. I was partnered with another member of the Security Team named, “Fran” of whom I have enjoyed sharing Security Duties in previous years.

When our shift ended and we were relived by fellow members of the Security Team, we ventured back to the Security Command Center before exploring the festival that was about to begin. My eyes and ears were greeted by the lively music of The Dixie Gents who were the days strolling musicians and consisted of Paul Hubbell on Soprano Saxophone, Ben Mauger on Trumpet, and Ray Schweisguth on Banjo along with Gary Risner and Paul Scott on Trombone. After a while, I ventured to the food court to purchase my customary festival breakfast of a delicious egg, ham, and cheese sandwich on a croissant at The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain’s food booth. I then strolled back to The Rick Chamberlain Stage to witness the first band to perform on it for the festival.

The Celebration Jazz Quartet consisted of Jay Rattman on Baritone Saxophone and Neil Wetzel on Tenor Saxophone along with Nelson Hill and Matt Vashlishan on Alto Saxophone. A number of the compositions they played were written by Phil Woods and their exemplary renderings of the pieces honored the composer and the music. I ventured back to the food area where Bryan Cowan's Second Take Quintet were performing on the Rising Star Stage which features “exceptional young players who were nurtured and developed through COTA Programs.” The band consists of Bryan Cowan on Saxophone, Spencer Sivco on Trumpet, Taylor Davis on Keyboard, Miles Gilbert on Upright Bass, and Packie Cronin on Drums. Their performance was lively and proved to be beyond exceptional as their rhythms and riffs captivated the large crowd that gathered.

It was after their set did I venture back to The Rick Chamberlain Stage to partake of The David Liebman - Expansions Quintet Group consisting of David Liebman and Matt Vashlishan on Saxophone, Bobby Avey on Piano, Tony Marino on Upright Bass, and Alex Ritz on Drums. Their combined sounds transformed the essence of jazz as many instruments not associated with the form were employed to the audience's contemplative delight. It was after this did I stroll to my next assigned security spot which was the children's area.

During my time there, the head of security, Brian Labar, informed me I was requested at The Rick Chamberlain Stage in order to take photographs of the award ceremonies. I thought this was odd as the official COTA photographers, Garth Woods and Bob Weidner, usually performed such tasks utilizing their extraordinary skills. However, not wanting to pass up an opportunity to capture an occurrence on camera, I gladly went.

I arrived as a Member of the COTA Board of Directors, Lauren Chamberlain, announced the recipient of The 2016 Joanne Mayer Award which honors the endeavors of an individual COTA Volunteer was Flora Schubert. After the award was presented, another Member of the COTA Board of Directors, Tim Helman, announced the recipient of the 2016 Sterling and Dorothy Strauser Award which honors an individual’s contribution to the arts was Paul Adam Smeltz (OMG. That's me.) In a daze I walked up the steps, went backstage, and walked upon the stage to received my award. I did so and was asked to speak which I did with the most amount of eloquence I could summon up as a profound sense of appreciation swelled within me. Thank you COTA for honoring me with this award. It means a lot to me.

It was soon after the Award Ceremony did Pianist Bill Mays take the stage to perform some gentle tunes. It was during his performance did I go back to finish my shift at the Children's area of which many festival goers and staff members of COTA came by to congratulate me. As my shift concluded, I roamed around the Artists' and Artisans' area. It was great to visit them as I've made quite a number of friend among them during the years. They included Susan Bradford and Anita Bondi (Madala Design Works), Tim Helman (mixed media), Linda Newswanger (Git Lit Stained Glass), Bud Nealy (Knives), Susan Lange (Massage Therapist), Jim Smeltz (Art), Elizabeth Smeltz (Jewelery), Patrice Jiunta (The Jeweler’s Work Bench (Jewelery), Aita Carmichael (Wearable Art, Ron Ford (Photography), Harriet Ford (Jewelery), Ursula Pooley (Jewelery), Andrei Protsouk (Art), Paul Reiche (Furniture), Penny Ross (iPad drawings), Patricia Transue (Peaceful Images), Debra Walch (Fused Dichroic Jewelry), Darcy Chamberlain (The COTA Apparel Store), Nova Chan (Jewelery), and The Shoppes at The Castle Inn who were also present to share their wares and endeavors.

While I was roaming and in deep conversation, I wasn't present to experience the Brian Lynch Quartet However, I did manage to be there to enjoy Co-Op Bop who consists of Alan Gaumer on Trumpet, Craig Kasteinic on the The Hammond B-3 Organ, Tom Kozic on Guitar, and Gary Rissmiller on Drums along with Nelson Hill and Tom Hamilton on Saxophone. Together, they moved the audience with several members of the gathering being inspired to dance. Co-Op Bop was followed by The Bill Goodwin Trio with Jon Ballantyne on Piano, Evan Gregor on Upright Bass, and Bill Goodwin on Drums. It was during their set was Fran and I stationed at the Front Step Security Station to monitor who were to go back stage. This area allowed us to enjoy the fullness of the music performed by the trio which delved into the realms of mesmerism.

It was as our final shift of the day ended did I venture to the food court to eat. A variety of eateries ignited my already incendiary taste bud. They included Zoe’s Ice Cream Emporium, The Friends of DWG, The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain, Quench Cafe and Juice Bar, The Willow Tree Inn, The Lions Club, and Cafe Duet I finally decided on a simple cheese burger I purchased at The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain’s food booth. While in the vicinity, I visited the Rising Star Stage as The William Mullen Quintet was performing with William Mullen on Saxophone, John Dimase on Trumpet, Scott Edmunds on Piano, Anna Speer on Bass, and Donovan Pope on Drums. The power of their performance filled the street with a number of people who thoroughly enjoyed the music. It was at the conclusion of their set did The COTA Festival Orchestra appear on stage as the final performance of the day.

The orchestra consisted of Nelson Hill, David Demsey, Neil Wetzel, and Tim Reiche on Saxophone, Chris Persad, Sean McAnally, Eddie Severn, and Vanessa Jacob on trumpet, Sam Burtis, Bill Smith, Dan Chester, and Jim Daniels on Trombone, Spencer Reed on Guitar, Skip Wilkins on Piano, Evan Gregor on Upright Bass, and Tom Whaley on Drums. The orchestra was led by Saxophonist Jay Rattman and is managed by Erica Golaszewski. The selections they presented were primarily those Phil Woods composed and their loving renderings of the pieces added something otherworldly to them. Thus ended the second day at COTA upon which I went home to sleep in preparation of another wonderful day.

Foreboding clouds met my bleary gaze as I awoke on Sunday September 11th. However, soon after I arrived at the festival site, the clouds began to dissipate and a warming sun began its domination of the skies. This ascendancy would continue the entire day with more seasonal temperatures and cooling breezes. I was greeted by the sight of musicians preparing their instruments for the day, and after I met with my comrades at the Security Command Center to learn where Fran and I would be stationed for our first shift, I ventured to the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain's booth to partake another of their Ham, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich on a croissant prior to the commencement of the festival's Annual Jazz Mass.

The Annual Jazz Mass has become a favorite among festival goers for the music and for the meaningful messages conveyed through the insights shared by the clergy who participate. A prelude to the service filled with choral voices under the direction of Teresa Marino and orchestral renderings as conducted by Mark Kirk filled the air as those who came to worship were summoned to do so. It was after this resounding welcome did Reverend Sherry Blackman (Pastor of The Church of the Mountain) begin the service with the gentle words of the liturgy the gathering held to their hearts like a beloved. Solo performances were given by Michele Bautier, Denny Carrig, and Bonnie Childs. The days meditation (aka Sermon) was given by The Reverend Karen Nickels (Retired from The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain) and dealt with the importance of listening and the consequences of not doing so which include fear and mistrust.

The Jazz Mass ended and my fellow members of security and I performed the customary act of asking those attending the service to leave the site so the front gate would be able to meet the festival’s financial needs to determine who paid to enjoy the rest of the event. While the process was being enacted, The Lost Ramblers performed near the front gate area entertaining everyone with their well known renditions of bluegrass and country music making the necessary process of waiting in line an enjoyable one. The Lost Ramblers consisted of John Updike on the Five String Banjo, Neil Morris on Guitar, Jim Schaffer on Bass Fiddle, Tony DeMarco on Fiddle, Anthony Hannigan on Mandolin and Fiddle, and Jillian Hannigan on Flute and Penny whistle. The ensemble would bless the festival goers even further as they roamed around the site sharing their music between the staged performances. It was after experiencing the music of The Lost Ramblers did I venture over to experience the first musical performance of the day.

The Steve Gilmore/Steve Brown Quartet consisted of Steve Gilmore on Upright Bass, Steve Brown on Guitar, Chris Persad on Trumpet, and Bill Goodwin on Drums. The gentle energies of the band proved to be a rousing element to begin the day. They were followed by Hal Gaiper's Youngbloods Quartet consisting of Hal Gaiper on Piano, Nathan Bellot on Saxophone, Dean Torrey on Upright Bass, and David Frazier on Drums. Together, they enhanced the day through their flowing melodies.

It was during their performance did I ventured to the back stage area to experience the COTA Cats Volume XXXVI preparing to perform. I then met with Fran in order to begin our fist shift of the day which was at The Rick Chamberlain Steps Security Station which is an entry point for musicians and those designated to occupy the back stage area. It was soon after we settled in did Member of the COTA Board of Directors, Karen Nickels, present the Fred Waring Award to Marty Wilson for his outstanding contribution to the arts and the community. Diane Pallitto followed to announce the names of the COTA Cats who received scholarships. They were were Packie Cronin who will be attending Temple University to study Jazz and Music Therapy, Jonathan Searfoss who will be attending Virginia Polytechnic University to study Electrical Engineering, and Stephanie Fritz who is currently attending The Madison Gross School of Arts at Rutgers University studying Horn and Music Education. She then proceeded to present an award to COTA Cat, Trent Griffin, for his outstanding achievements as his fellow band members took the stage.

The COTA Cats Volume XXXVI is a big band which consists of high school students attending area schools who have an interest and proficiency in the musical art of Jazz. The band is conducted by Tom Fadden who announced he will be ending his 16 years with the band this year. The COTA Cats were established in 1981 through the efforts of the late COTA Co Founders Phil Woods and Rick Chamberlain who sought to inspire and mentor local area high school musicians in the fine art of big band performance. Katye Clogg serves as the orchestra's Administrator. The musicians of this year's class performed a wonderful blend of compositions with many written by, arranged by, and written for Phil Woods. It was a wonderful performance and proved to be a wonderful tribute to Phil Woods. Our shift ended during the performance and I meandered around to chat with some artists and artisans until the next performer took the stage.

Pianist Bill Charlap captivated the audience with his stylings and interpretations of the compositions he selected. He was followed by The Jon Gordon Trio consisting of Jon Gordon on Saxophone, Gary Wang on Upright Bass, and Mark Ferber on Drums. The blending of their talents struck a chord in every member of the audience allowing their inward songs to be a part of the performance. It was after this did Fran and I go to our final Security Station for the festival which was The Back Gate Area. This struck us both as an act of happenstance since this was where we began our shifts for the festival. However, we we're there very long as the Back Gate personnel were in the process of completing their tasks and preparing to leave. Since our duties in the Back Gate area is to support the personnel if and when it's needed, we left when they did.

As we returned to the main festival site, The Bob Dorough Quartet with Bob Dorough on Piano and Vocals, Aralee Dorough on Ergonomic Flute, Steve Berger on Guitar, Pat O'Leary on Upright Bass, and Tom Whaley on Drums were in the midst of their performance sharing songs and good vibrations that were lovingly embraced by the numerous members of the audience. It's difficult to describe the joy one gains when this 90 plus pianist share his magic with those who come to admire him and his talents throughout the years. But, it's manifested in the good will that is shared among those who hear him perform during the set and long afterwards.

It was after his performance did I venture to the food area to partake of their offerings with a dinner. The decision what to eat was a difficult one to make but I eventually decided upon a bowl of Black Bean and Rice with Chicken mixed with some sour cream and hot sauce I got from The Willow Tree Inn. I was fortunate enough to share the meal with another member of the Security Team named, “Jill” and our conversation enhanced my enjoyment of the cuisine. It was after our dining together did I go back to the Rick Chamberlain Stage to enjoy the final band to play for the festival.

The Sheilamark Band consists of Sheila Stratton-Hamza on Vocals and Mark Hamza on The Hammond B-3 Organ, Teddy Wielgopolski on Guitar, and Dean Rickard on Drums. Their eclectic mixture of Blues, Jazz, and Rock and Roll filled the gathering with energies which were fused together by their demonstrative desire to dance. The evening came to an end with an encore as the crowd kept dancing until the final note indicating the finale of The 39th Annual Celebration of the Arts (COTA) Festival and the inspired anticipation for 2017's event began to take seed in the souls of all.

However, for those who weren't ready to go home just yet, The Deer Head Inn hosted an After Party that began when the festival ended and continued until Midnight. A variety of musicians and singers who were part of the festival shared their talents along side those who were among the event's audience. The songs selected and the manner in which they were performed delighted the many who attended which led to some wonderful conversations among the gathering. I, personally, partook in quite a number of them as the music accompanied our intercourse. It was a great festival and I look forward to experiencing the 40th Annual Celebration of the Arts (COTA) again next year. I hope to see you there. In the meantime, you’ll find all 700 plus of the photographs I took during the Artists' Reception at the Castle Inn Gallery, the 39th Annual Celebration of the Arts (COTA), and the After Party at The Deer head Inn in The It's COTA Baby Gallery at

In addition to its annual festival, The Celebration of the Arts presents CampJazz which is offered every summer to those who seek an intensive, week long immersion in jazz music and technique mentored by renowned jazz greats. CampJazz was formed in 2007 by the late Phil Woods and Rick Chamberlain (co-founders of COTA) as an extension of the festival and its educational arm to foster and encourage local talent in a more relaxed environment than that found in a school setting offering a staff of mentors who are well established in the national and international Jazz community. CampJazz 2017 is scheduled to take place from July 17th to the 22nd. Scholarship are available to those who wish to attend but are unable to afford the participation fee. These include the Richard (Richy) Barz, Ethan Moyer, Bob Hartman, Robert J. Fleese, and Gil Barretto Memorial Scholarships along with those established by CampJazz Supporters and The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain. In addition to these, a special COTA Big Band Scholarship has been established for non Monroe County, PA residents who wish to participate in the camp. You can learn more about the COTA CampJazz from their Facebook page at or their Website at

The Celebration of the Arts (COTA) Jazz and Arts Festival began in 1978 by Phil Woods (1931-2015), Rich Chamberlain (1952-2015), and Ed Joubert (????-1981). It takes place every year during the Weekend after Labor Day. From its humble beginnings which consisted of a 4 hour concert held on risers near the steps of an Annex of the Castle Inn with an audience of just over 500 people which was mostly made up of friends, family, and some ardent jazz fans, the festival has evolved to become a Mecca for jazz enthusiasts throughout the world. The three day festival is presently presented in cooperation with the Borough of Delaware Water Gap, PA, The Castle Hill Development, Inc., and the Delaware Water Gap, PA Joint Toll Bridge Commission. Music presented at the festival is recorded by Chiaroscuro Records for later release. In addition to it’s annual festival, The Celebration of the Arts (COTA) also supports the arts and the music of jazz in all its forms and historical breadth through youth education, performing arts presentations, scholarship opportunities, and community outreach throughout the Pocono area.

Those who would like to lend their time and talents to The 40th Annual Celebration of the Arts Jazz and Arts Festival are welcomed to attend COTA’s Volunteer Meetings. They are held at The Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, PA during the Spring and Summer Months. The festival and all its functions is organized and run by volunteers. Numerous volunteer positions are available and they include Back and Front gate workers along with Security and Stage Crew personnel. I hope to see you at a future meeting so we can serve the festival together while creating some wonderful memories. Please feel free to explore The Celebration of the Arts (COTA) Facebook Page at or visit their website at for more information about the festival, what the organization has to offer the community, and how you can be involved in all they do. Thank you for reading this article.

No comments: