Spring Zing festival energizes Proctor District despite showers

April 12-14 was Spring Family Weekend, which explains the spike in families and strange faces on campus and in the surrounding community. In addition to the various activities like Lu’au, award ceremonies and guest speakers on campus, there were several activities off campus in the Proctor district.

These activities are referred to collectively as Spring Zing, an event that is put on by ASUPS and the North Proctor Merchants’ Association to align with Spring Family Weekend, which is more strictly put on through the University.

The main draws to this event for those of us in the “college kid” demographic were the musicians—particularly jazz vocalist Lavay Smith’s performance with the Puget Sound Jazz Band and Seattle musician LeRoy Bell—and the abundance of free and discounted activities and merchandise.

Spring Zing itself is a two-day festival with a community focus. The festival kicked off on Friday, April 12 with two concerts. The first was a collection of local garage rock revival bands at Coopers Collision Corner Garage that ran from 5 to 10 p.m. The other took place at the Blue Mouse Theatre, where Lavay Smith and the Puget Sound Jazz Band performed a collection of jazz and blues standards from circa 1940-50.

Smith has been singing since 1989 when she moved to San Francisco and began performing in the city’s night clubs with the band she formed called Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers. She has toured widely since 1998, performing in a plethora of jazz festivals in 43 states around the country, as well as five foreign countries.

She has cut three albums with her band, the most recent of which, Miss Smith To You!, was released in 2009. Smith has made a living for the last two decades performing songs made famous by the likes of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

The majority of Spring Zing activities, however, occurred early Saturday afternoon in the Proctor district from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Family activities were offered throughout Proctor, with the majority located around 26th and 27th Street. The Proctor Farmer’s Market ran from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at which several small musical acts performed and merchants offered goods at discounted prices.

The rest of the festivities began at 11 a.m. when a free concert began on the Proctor stage across the street from Safeway. In the surrounding area, several local food trucks offered food to the community.

Free carriage rides around the area were offered until 2 p.m. Unfortunately, a several-hour-long barrage of rain during the target time limited total attendance to this entirely outdoor event, and most tents and vendors had packed up not long after 1 p.m.

A soggy and early finish notwithstanding, the free concert was headlined by Seattle local LeRoy Bell, who some may recognize as a contestant on the American Idol-substitute reality television show The X Factor. He was eliminated after the show’s fifth live episode and finished in eighth place.

Bell also met with some success early in his career when he cut three albums in successive years from 1978-80 and wrote songs that were performed by such notable artists as The Temptations, Jennifer Lopez and Elton John. The latter recorded Bell’s song “Mama Can’t Buy You Love,” which earned him a top 10 spot in the charts in 1979 and a Grammy nomination.

Bell has recorded four solo albums  and one with his group LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends, the most recent of which was his 2010 solo effort Traces. Bell’s work has historically spanned genres, and his most recent project, United in Song, was a benefit project through the program USA For Africa, in which a collection of artists including Bell, Michael Franti & Spearhead, G. Love & Special Sauce, and others recorded tracks celebrating world music.

Spring Zing was a great source of free entertainment and cheap food and goods. If you missed the event this year, look for it again next year in mid-April, when it will hopefully coincide with some more cooperative weather.