Living the Dream

The straw hats are stored, sunburns salved and palates pleased: Another New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a wrap. The weather god was more than benevolent this year and, of course, the music rocked.

It’s the first year in a while I wasn’t able to make it but from my Facebook page, which skews a bit geriatric, it looks like Tank and The Bangas were this year’s big hit with Anita Baker a close second.

Everyone I talked to had a blast but it seems no one had a better a time than Beth Arroyo Utterback, newly anointed general manager of WWOZ.

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Last year at this time Utterback was trying to decide if she would leave her position as executive vice president and chief operating officer at WYES-TV to accept the job at OZ.

She wrote in a Facebook post: “After a day at Jazz Fest and seeing the OZ operation, they (her sisters) both said, ‘That’s the greatest job in this city—you’re crazy if you don’t pick OZ.’”

She came aboard June 1, and this year led about 200 people to make the WWOZ parts of Jazz Fest happen. The station broadcasted live from the fest every day and featured 40 performances and hundreds of musicians.

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Her biggest challenge she says was not being able to be in five places at once.

“Our two production trucks handled live broadcasts from all over the fest and the WWOZ Jazz Tent hosted amazing acts each day. Our hospitality tent was always hopping with our supporters enjoying fresh fruit, iced coffee and a cool respite. They could also watch their favorite show hosts in action as they handled their live broadcasts.  We also have two iconic mango freeze booths.  So no matter where I was, I was always missing something.”

She says her biggest thrill was being at the WWOZ Hospitality Tent and being able to meet and visit with, not only local fans, but also WWOZ Guardians of the Groove from all over the world!

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“This is the oasis where our fans, show hosts and musicians all come together in one place to celebrate our mutual love of New Orleans music and culture—and, of course, WWOZ. I was just speaking to a lady from Japan who travels by herself to Jazz Fest every year because of WWOZ.  That’s powerful.”

Utterback believes that as long as there’s a WWOZ, artists like Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain and Allen Toussaint will continue to live on through their music. And younger artists like Tank and the Bangas, Trombone Shorty and Amanda Shaw will also have a home.

Utterback went to her first Jazz Fest in the early ’70s with her parents, Sid and Verna. In the early days they brought a picnic basket full of food and drinks and they would sit on a blanket and listen to music all day. 

“Mom and Dad are gone now but they loved Jazz Fest,” she says. “As they grew older and were unable to attend in person so they would host parties on their patio and listen to WWOZ’s live broadcast! They would love that I am at OZ now.”

She says she is already looking forward to next year but wants to take a moment at the end of her first fest to thank her dear friend and legend, Irma Thomas, for encouraging her a year ago to join OZ. 

“It’s truly a dream job!”



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