Chicago Bass Festival 2019

This year's festival brought together familiar and new faces in a one-day event of bass inspiration.

With James VanDemark · Rochester, NY

I’ve been involved with the Chicago Bass Festival since its inception back in 2009. Though I moved to San Francisco in 2016, I’ve had the good fortune to be able to come back to the area each year since then and stay involved in this festival.

Midwest Young Artists Conservatory, a youth music organization that serves the greater Chicagoland region, has been the host and coordinator for this event since the beginning. MYAC Artistic Director Allan Dennis and early music bassist (and former podcast guest) Jerry Fuller came up with the idea for this festival a decade ago, and I’ve had the privilege of being involved since the beginning as well.


Jason, Jerry, and Allan from the first Chicago Bass Festival in 2009

The 2019 Chicago Bass Festival was a blast, with new clinicians joining longtime regulars.

2019 Faculty Lineup

Organizing the Event

We max out our usage of this facility every year, with bassists crammed into every available space.

Weather in Chicago in February and March can be a real gamble, but we’ve had relatively good luck over the years, which only a few major snowfalls landing on the day of the event. This year was snow-free but quite cold (!), and the clinicians and participants scurried quickly into the warm environs of Bennett Gordon Hall.

Bringing Liz Clawson on board

It has been great having bassist Liz Clawson on board helping to organize this event for the past couple of years. Liz is a veteran participant in Madison, Wisconsin’s Richard David Foundation for Young Bassists, and she brings a wealth of knowledge in terms of organizing and reaching out to different meme verbs of the double bass community.

Liz also happens to be a former student of mine, and it has been such a pleasure getting to work with her in this new role as well!

2019 Sessions and Topics

Injury Prevention for the Bassist with Randy Kertz – Discussion of Common injuries in bass players, along with tips for prevention and management.

Life in the Pit Orchestra with Trevor Jones – Explore the range of styles and techniques needed to perform in the modern day pit orchestra.

Warm-Up Class with Sara Neilson – Learn how to warm up effectively and efficiently for a successful practice or performance.

Ensemble Hygiene with Susan Cahill – Using your eyes, ears and mouth as well as your hands! – Learn the important factors that go in to being a successful ensemble musician. Tips on how to comport yourself as section member, leader or ensemble colleague.

Hip Hop, Blues, and ALL the Grooves With Dan Lopatka – Tips and tricks for playing a diverse set of genres with confidence and ease!

Singing with the Bow with Jon McCullough-Benner – Examining the many variables of sound production, and how they relate to the human voice using examples from solo repertoire.

Beginning/Intermediate Level Master Class with Alan Steiner – Exploring concepts important to honing bass playing at the beginning/intermediate level through a master class setting.

Jazz Bass Master Class with Eric Hochberg – Listen to and discuss jazz bass performance using examples from bass festival participants

Careers in Music Q&A

This year, however, Liz Clawson got us set up with some better audio, so we were able to capture the whole thing on mic very well.

This year’s panel included the following people:

  • Liz Clawson (moderator)
  • Jason Heath
  • Tracy Rowell
  • James VanDemark
  • Sara Neilson
  • Dan Lopatka
  • Dorian Jackman
  • Susan Cahill

Final Thoughts

It’a hard to believe that it has been over a decade since this festival started. During the course of this festival, I’ve watched students that started attending in middle school move through college and into music careers of their own. I’ve seen new faces join familiar ones on the Chicago bass scene.

Though I now make San Francisco my residence, when I go back to Chicago, I really feel at home. A big thanks to everyone involved in making this event happen, and I hope to see you at the 2020 Chicago Bass Festival!

Event Sponsors

Events like this have a lot of moving parts, and it was great to have this year’s 2019 sponsors on board helping to make it happen:

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