By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Jan. 31, 2019) New Berlin Chamber of Commerce President Steve Frene plans to overhaul at least one major event during the coming year.
The chamber event season kicks off on April 20 with the Berlin Spring Celebration, an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed event for children and families timed to coincide with the Saturday before Easter.
Frene said the event would remain the same for the most part, but the May 4 Jazz & Blues Bash would get a rebranding.
“We’ve got a huge enhancement to the Jazz & Blues Bash this year,” he said. “We’ve got a name change and we’re going to call it ‘Jazz & Blues, Wine & Brews,’ which is something I’ve been wanting to do for many years.”
He said the change was tried on smaller-scale using local wines, but was unsuccessful. However, after talking with Economic and Community Development Director Ivy Wells, things started coming together.
“She offered her assistance because, in her former job with Sykesville, she had done a wine festival,” Frene said. “In a couple weeks, she came back and she had met with John Fager at the Atlantic Hotel … and he was quite familiar with wine tastings [as well].”
Wells said she was more than happy to help.
“When Steve came and asked, I immediately said I would love to help, let me make some calls,” she said. “I worked with John Fager, because he had wanted to bring a wine festival to downtown, so instead of doing a separate festival I thought it would be a good idea to combine the two, if it worked for us.”
After meeting with Fager and his wine representative, Chad Newberger from the Republic National Distributing Company, Wells presented her notes to Frene and the chamber board.
“Everybody just loved the idea,” she said. “What a lot of people don’t like about the Maryland wine festivals is that it’s typically only Maryland wines. We’re going to have wines from around the world.”
Republic National, Frene said, “has 10 wineries that will each have six different wines, and they’re domestic and international.”
“It’s going to be fine wines from all over the world, with the best variety from 10 different companies,” Frene said.
He said tickets for the wine tasting would be sold in advance and come with a lanyard that doubles as a wine glass holder.
“It’s cool, because it keeps your hands free, plus it’ll help so you’re less apt to have wine glasses in the street breaking,” Frene said. “And it’ll be unlimited tastings from the 10 wineries. We’re setting up a website at the chamber now [to sell tickets], so people can come online and pay $35 in advance or $40 on the day-of the event.”
Wells said the main event would continue to be free and guests would be welcome to buy a beer or a glass of wine – only the tasting component would be ticketed and a wristband would identify participants.
What’s more, she said downtown businesses with wine licenses such as Baked Dessert Café and the Globe would also play a role.
“Everyone’s involved in it, which was extremely important to me,” Wells said. “I’m very happy that all of the businesses are involved.”
Frene said additional “to-go” wine sales would be handled through the Atlantic Hotel.
“If you taste this wonderful Argentinian Malbec and you wanted to buy a bottle or two or a case, you could do that,” Frene said.
Because of the expected additional revenue from the event, Frene said more money would be spent this year to pull in bigger entertainment acts for Jazz & Blues.
“It’s going to help us book some talent from bigger markets,” he said. “I’m in negotiations now with the entertainment … and it’s going to be a mix of local and regional bands.”
Local acts Lower Case Blues, and Earl Beardsley and the Dixieland Heritage Band, will again play the event, as will a jazz band from Snow Hill High School. Frene said he’s also in talks with three other groups: A 40-year blues vet from Washington, D.C. in the tradition of James Cotton; a Latin jazz big band fronted by a Cuban musician also based in Washington; and the return of the U.S. Navy Jazz Band Commodores.
“That’s an 18-piece jazz orchestra, and they were here two years ago,” Frene said. “I really feel like this is the best mix ever, from a full-on orchestra, to the Dixieland, to straight-ahead blues and now a Latin jazz component.
“It’s just a little something different and offers a little diversity, and because of the wine it really ties in nicely, doing international wines and to have a little international entertainment is just kind of different,” he continued.
“That’s kind of what we’re most excited about. I’ve always wanted to, for all these events, take it to the next level and try something different,” Frene said.
Additional chamber events in 2019 include the Spring Cruisers (May 18), Bathtub Races (June 14), Fiddler’s Conventions (Sept. 20-22), and Fall Cruisers (Oct. 12).
Also this year, Frene plans to help overhaul the chamber bylaws.
“The bylaws haven’t really been rewritten since 2010, prior to the addition of the director and assistant director [positions],” he said. “It’s a minor thing. The chamber is just going to keep doing what it’s doing and we’re going to get those bylaws to really reflect the current configuration of the chamber.”
He said there would also be a push for more educational components for membership, including social media assistance and seminars.
For more information, visit www.berlinchamber.org.