Ottawa 2 Rivers Fest Draws Heavily from Chicago
According to Reed Wilson, Ottawa’s Director of Economic Development, the third year of the Ottawa 2 Rivers’ Wine and Jazz Fest held June 7-9 brought 4,000 people to the 17 vintner’s displays in the huge wine tent and hundreds more to enjoy free open air performances featuring professional and local musicians over the three-day period. Many attendees also partook of the lobster and corn-on-the-cob dinners, an event sponsored by the Rotary Club of Ottawa.
The elements for success all came together to give this festival a special feel to the City, the attendees, and the vintners alike. Ottawa put on a major advertising campaign for the Fest, particularly in the Chicago area, and it paid off. Visitors from Chicago and the suburbs made up a major portion of the audience which enjoyed three days of near-perfect weather in a community that has become known for its historical and natural interest and for a City beautification program that has been in process for the past dozen years under the leadership of the mayor, Robert Eschbach.
The City also called on the talents of native Ottawans who have gone on to have a national reputation in their fields. Brad Miller, a star chef seen on television’s Hell’s Kitchen, came from California and presided over cooking demonstrations and a chef’s table for lucky ticket holders. Steven Hawk, an Emmy-award winning trumpeter who is a professor of music, entertained several hundred people on the lawn with his sixteen-piece jazz orchestra. And Walt Willey, a star for many years on All My Children (the popular television soap which ceased performances in 2011), manned the welcome table for most of the Fest and circulated among the crowds. Willey is enthusiastic about the Wine Fest and the region, saying, ‘The fact that there is a an industry like this that is burgeoning and growing every year “is a wonderful thing.”
Jim Ewers, the son-in-law of Barrett Rochman, the owner of Blue Sky Winery in Southern Illinois, was manning the stand when Midwest Wine stopped by to ask what he thought of this year’s Fest. ‘Blue Sky only goes to a couple of these types of events in a year,” he said, ‘and I think Ottawa is really neat. I know that we sold 60 percent more tickets this year than last. The set up they provide here is second to none.”
This sentiment was unanimously echoed by many other vintners. Leon Dangbar, the business manager of Alto Vineyards, offered, ‘This is everything I expected and more. It’s a great crowd. We’ve only been here today [Saturday] less than five hours, and we’ve already done three times more than we did yesterday.”
Dick Faltz, owner of Fox Valley Winery and the liaison with the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, said, ‘It’s absolutely a blow-out attendance this year. Last night we had probably a 50 percent attendance increase over last year’s Friday night. Today is over the top. I had no idea. We are probably 30 or 40 percent over last year.
Boyd Palmer, head of Ottawa’s Chamber of Commerce, said that next year Ottawa expects to make further improvements as host of the 2 Rivers Wine Fest. In its first three years, Ottawa has hosted the Wine Fest in what is known as the Jordan Block, a spacious venue just a block from the confluence of the Fox and Illinois River. But Palmer believes that next year some 16 acres that the City has acquired along the Illinois will be readied to host the flourishing Fest and other events that are growing rapidly with Ottawa as host. In agreement, Dick Faltz says, ‘Next year they’re moving right down on the riverfront. It’ll be beautiful.”