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story.lead_photo.caption Clay Hooten, director of bands for the Dardanelle School District, was president of Arkansas Jazz Educators five years ago when the group started the Arkansas Jazz Festival, and he is president of the organization this year. “This thing has really grown,” he said. The event has expanded to two locations, Dardanelle and Little Rock. The free two-day festival opens at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the gazebo on Front Street in Dardanelle, as well as at the Clinton Presidential Center.

DARDANELLE — Clay Hooten, the band director at Dardanelle High School, was the driving force to get the Arkansas Jazz Festival started five years ago, and it’s grown ever since.

“It started in Conway five years ago, and three bands showed up,” he said. That included two Dardanelle bands.

Dardanelle started hosting the festival the second year, and the event grew to the point where it goes on simultaneously in Dardanelle at the gazebo on Front Street and at the Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock.

“We have 29 bands. We have bands from out of state this year, so we’re on the verge of being a regional event,” Hooten said.

He was president of the Arkansas Jazz Festival five years ago, when the event started, and he’s president of the organization again.

Hooten is excited about the featured performer — Blue Lou Marini. He is scheduled to perform at noon in Dardanelle.

“He was one of the original Blues Brothers,” Hooten said. “We had Tom ‘Bones’ Malone last year; he was one as well. Blue Lou is Marini’s nickname; he helped write the soundtracks for The Blues Brothers movies. He’s a world-renowned saxophone player.”

Marini has been a member of Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Saturday Night Live Band and The Blues Brothers Band, and he has made hundreds of albums, according to his website.

The featured act usually brings 300 to 400 people, he said. “You want to get there early,” he said.

Bands will play from 3:30-8 p.m. Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s a festival atmosphere,” Hooten said. Admission is free, and the event includes food vendors, including barbecued chicken and snow cones, and booths selling various merchandise.

The show will go on, rain or shine, he said.

“Amazingly, two years ago, it rained, and we had it anyway,” he said. Large tents were erected for the audience. “It rained both days, … and it was very successful.”

The schedule of bands is as follows:


Dardanelle Middle School – 3:30 p.m.

Prairie Grove High School – 4:30 p.m.

University of Arkansas combo – 5:30 p.m.

Pea Ridge High School – 6:30 p.m.

Dardanelle High School – 7:30 p.m.


Russellville High School – 9 a.m.

Heber Springs High School – 10 a.m.

Fort Smith Northside High School – 11 a.m.

University of Arkansas at Monticello/Lou Marini – noon

Van Buren High School – 1 p.m.

University of Arkansas-Fort Smith – 2 p.m.

Van Buren middle schools – 3 p.m.

Vilonia High School II/Vilonia Junior High – 4 p.m.

Vilonia High School I – 5 p.m.

For more information, contact Hooten at

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or


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