Rehoboth gets all ‘jazzed up’ for 24th annual festival

For well over two decades, the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival has been wowing spectators young and old with star-studded performances and nearly endless entertainment. Now in their 24th year, the annual staple, set to kick off this Thursday, Oct. 17, promises another exhilarating series, with shows all weekend long.

“It’s not just an event,” explained Leon Galitzin, vice president of the board for the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival. “We work very hard to create an experience. It’s not just a weekend of concerts. They are fun-filled mini vacations. Guests come from all over the country, and even from all over the world. We have a very strong draw from the nine contiguous states in this area, and they’re all coming here to join the party. We’re giving the region classic jazz music with Grammy Award winners and nominees.”

Over the past years, names such as Dionne Warwick, Queen Latifah, James Ingram, Chaka Khan and B.B. King have graced the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival, and this year, Galitzin and the board plan to keep the lineup just as impressive.

“We’re featuring Sheila E.,” noted Galitzin, “who was the drummer for Prince and the Ringo Starr Band.” Those of a certain age may also recall Sheila E.’s 1984 Top 10 hit “The Glamorous Life. “When she signed onto the festival nearly a year ago, she carved out her world tour with this event being a major stop for her.

“Her father, Pete Escovedo, who was the drummer for Santana, will be playing several performances with his daughter, too. This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime show. It’s one that those in attendance are going to remember for years and years and years.”

Others, including Peter White, Alex Bugnon and Najee, will be putting on performances through the weekend, across venues throughout the Cape region, in Rehoboth and Lewes.

“When you think of going to see amazing performers and artists like this,” Galitzin added, “you think of the bright lights of the cities, but you don’t have to go to New York, Atlantic City, Reno or Vegas to see them. That’s why the Jazz Festival is so special. When people hear of the names we bring in here, they get really excited.”

Names such as Will Downing, come to mind, too.

“When you think of all the great male singers who can really reach the crowd,” said Galitzin, “Michael Buble, Luther Vandross, Michael Bolton — that’s what [Downing] does. He makes the women in the audience feel like he’s singing to them.”

Epworth United Methodist Church, the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, Delaware Distilling Company (formerly Old Bay Restaurant & Roadhouse, along Coastal Highway in Rehoboth) and the Performing Arts Theater at Cape Henlopen High School will each play host to parts of the weekend-long festival.

“Seeing a show there in the Performing Arts Theater is like going to the Grand [Opera House] in Wilmington,” said Galitzin. “It’s a state-of-the-art, beautifully constructed amphitheater that really hosts some spectacular events.”

While the headliners are hitting the aforementioned stages throughout the weekend, plenty of other restaurants and Rehoboth and Lewes hotspots will be drawing in patrons with area performers set to jazz up the afternoons and evenings, as well. Places including Espuma, Dos Locos, Back Porch Café, Rehoboth Ale House, a(MUSE), Just in Thyme, Tuscan Grille and Blue Moon restaurant are just a few of the locales for weekend-long entertainment.

Some scheduled shows at the festival have already sold out, even a few weeks in advance, but there’s no doubt that this weekend will be buzzing all around town, even if that hadn’t always been the case.

“For a while,” Galitzin said, “restaurants and venues weren’t doing anything. The economy was tough, but little-by-little, it’s been getting better. People have been bringing in more live music to the restaurants in some form or another, and it really helps them to feel like they’re part of the equation, and that’s wonderful. It makes the entire event very special, and assures [the Jazz Festival board] that there’s more to it than just us.”

Two years ago, the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival received a federal trademark as “The Greatest Jazz Festival in the World,” and, as Galitzin explained, the pressure is constantly there to maintain a high level of success.

“Over the years,” he noted, “we have brought to the area high standards of musical performances. As more and people started to notice this, they started to get really excited. We’re trying very hard, each and every year, to provide people with that ‘wow’ factor every time the festival comes around.”

The Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit event, has very strong ties with not just local restaurants, but other organizations throughout the community, including Beebe Medical Center’s Tunnell Cancer Center.

“Beebe and the Tunnell Cancer Center have been great supporters of this event,” said Galitzin. “Their president, Jeff Fried, has even openly said that, while medicine heals wounds, music can heal the soul.”

Even as the event was set to kick off this week, there was no rest for the weary, as the event’s coordinators are already starting to look ahead to the 25th Annual Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival, set for next year.

“It’s a big undertaking, “Galitzin added, “but it’s very rewarding. Each year, we see guests coming back, from all over. They make it a habit to mark their calendar and get back to each one. And every year, we see new faces who heard from friends how amazing their experiences were, and they have to try it out for themselves. The Jazz Festival is great. People have fun with other participants, and they really feel like they belong.”

For more information about the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival, set to run from Thursday, Oct. 17, through Sunday, Oct. 20, including ticket availability and purchasing information, venue locations, performances and additional entertainment throughout the region, visit