CulloWHEE! ArtsFest Brings Jazz to the Mountains

There will be hot jazz in the cool Smoky Mountains in June as Western Carolina University hosts the CulloWHEE! ArtsFest, a two-day festival of live music and fine arts featuring national recording artists The Manhattan Transfer, David Sanborn, Joe Sample and The Yellowjackets.

Tickets for the festival, scheduled for June 15-16, will go on sale April 30.

The inaugural event in what is expected to become an annual celebration of performing and fine arts, the CulloWHEE! ArtsFest will be held in E.J. Whitmire Stadium on the WCU campus. Joe Sample and David Sanborn will perform Friday, June 15, with The Yellowjackets and The Manhattan Transfer on Saturday, June 16.

The summer festival is the first major activity in Western Carolina University’s efforts to help boost the economy of the Western North Carolina region by providing the type of music, theatre, dance and fine arts programming demanded by an increasingly sophisticated traveling population.

“We see that cultural tourism is a growing part of our economic base in Western North Carolina,” said WCU Chancellor John Bardo in announcing the new festival. “We believe at Western that we can play an important role in the cultural tourism phenomenon that is affecting the mountain region. We believe that we can become another true destination for these visitors.”

Organizers of the CulloWHEE! ArtsFest say they believe they have assembled a line-up of musical talent that should make WCU a destination for aficionados of jazz music this June.

The June 16 evening headliner, The Manhattan Transfer, has been hailed as contemporary music’s premier vocal ensemble. With some 20 albums spanning more than 25 years, the quartet has collected 10 Grammy Awards, making history in 1981 by becoming the first group to win Grammys in both pop and jazz categories in the same year. The Manhattan Transfer reigned as “best vocal group” for an entire decade (1980-1990) in the annual reader’s polls of Downbeat and Playboy magazines.

David Sanborn, one of two June 15 headliners, also is a veteran jazz performer with a career spanning more than a quarter century and multiple Grammy Awards in his trophy case. Sanborn has sold nearly 7 million albums worldwide, with one platinum record and six gold albums to his credit. From his early days as session musician working alongside the legendary likes of David Bowie and Stevie Wonder, Sanborn has remained among the most respected pop instrumentalists in the business.

Renowned keyboard player and composer Joe Sample, also headlining June 15, has entertained for more than four decades, first as a founding member of the ground-breaking fusion ensemble the Crusaders and, since the late 1960s, as a popular solo contemporary jazz musician. A Houston, Texas, native, Sample began playing piano at the age of 5, rooting himself in a wide variety of musical genres — gospel, soul, bebop, blues, Latin and classical music — still evident in his music today.

Taking the stage as the June 16 afternoon headliner will be the Yellowjackets, a Grammy Award-winning ensemble that, for more than 20 years, has flourished as one of America’s most loved and top-selling contemporary jazz groups. JazzTimes named the Yellowjackets best contemporary/electric group in its readers’ 2000 poll, and the magazine praised the band for its “hook-laden nuggets and moments of real invention, smart chord voicings and friendly rhythmic trickery.”

Also performing will be the 282nd Army “Victory” Band and several regional and local jazz performers, including the Brent Edstrom trio and WCU’s Technology Ensemble and Catamount Chamber Singers. Fine art will be on display and for sale, and the Third Annual Spirit of the Smokies Car Show, presented by WestCare Health System Foundation, will be held June 16 on WCU’s intramural fields.

Advance two-day tickets are $59, with one child under 12 admitted free of charge with each paying adult. Discounts are available to WCU students and for groups of 10 or more. Premium seating and single-day tickets are available.

For more information, call WCU’s Ramsey Regional Activity Center at (828) 227-7677. To purchase tickets from, call (888) 332-5200.