PREVIEW : Here Comes a Wedding Party That Grew Into a Dixieland Jazz Festival

Some wedding receptions demand a sequel. But a three-day festival? Well, sometimes.

Take the wedding party Jan and Mel Welch threw in June, 1988. At the end of the dancing and toasting and singing along with tunes played by the Hot Frogs Jumping Jazz Band, the 200-plus crowd was crying for more. “Gee, why don’t you do this again next year,” the newly married Welches heard again and again as they made their goodbys.

And so they decided to host an anniversary party--with the Hot Frogs making a return appearance, of course. Then Richard Cruz and the Fullertowne Strutters heard about the party and wanted to play, too. Not to be outdone, Bob Finch and the Chicago Six signed on. But when actor and jazzman Conrad Janis got wind of the gig, the party turned into an event. “Why don’t you have me and my band (the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band) play and we’ll make it a festival?” he asked the Welches.

The Welches (“We’re both grandparent age,” Jan Welch says) gamely took the challenge. Today, the First Annual Agoura Hills Dixieland Jazz Festival begins in the Agoura Hills Ramada Hotel, albeit one month after the Welches’ anniversary and not at the club where they held their wedding reception. “I think Mel fell asleep in the car and we went home early,” Jan Welch said of their actual anniversary day.


There will be plenty of celebrating this weekend, though. Vocalists Rose Weaver and Janet Carroll, and special guest artists Snooky Young, Arnold Ross and Paul Humphrey are joining Conrad Janis’ band. Also on the lineup: Bill Grovsner and the Sons of the Beach, Professor Plum and Yerfadders Mustache Barbershop Quartet, Mike Vax and the Great American Jazz Band, Bob Ringwald and the Great Pacific Jazz Band, Loren Iverson and Tuleberg, and Forrest Helmick’s Blues Street Jazz Band.

Barbershop quartets (any group arriving in barber gear and/or mustache can join in) will roam the hotel lobby and patio area, and tomorrow, hungry jazz groovers can munch on chili during the festival’s International Chili Society- sanctioned chili cook-off. (The Welches will cut into the top of their 13-month-old wedding cake, which has been carefully preserved in their freezer.)

About 2,000 people are expected at the festival, which has been partially funded through one-night fund-raising concerts by Janis.

After the festival, Jan and Mel Welch will take their postponed anniversary trip to Hawaii. And when they get back, they’ll get to work on next year’s festival.


Said Jan Welch: “We’ve already got next year’s date set.”

The First Annual Agoura Hills Dixieland Jazz Festival begins at 2:30 p.m. today through Sunday at the Ramada Hotel, 30100 Agoura Road, Agoura Hills. A three-day “All Event” badge is $45; daily: Friday, $15; Saturday, $20, and Sunday, $15. For information, call (818) 706-8223 or (805) 497-8453.