JazzFest approacheth: Music at the beach!

October 8, 2021

I’ve been writing and talking about our Cape Region restaurants for over 16 years. When it comes to beach eats, I like helping to get the word out for those who deserve it. Not for the faint of heart, this business of eating!

Now’s the time of year when my appreciation for the food industry is coupled with my love of music, thanks to our two annual jazzfests happening next week (Oct. 13 thru Oct. 17). For over three decades, the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival has grown into blockbuster events staged at spacious venues – complete with online tickets, professional sound and lighting, and tight schedules. It runs simultaneously with the True Blue Jazz Festival, where many of the headliners perform alongside our local student prodigies. Both festivals offer different sounds and there’s something for everyone.

Beach eateries love getting into the act. So not only can locals and visitors experience a long list of musical luminaries, but they can also do it while enjoying the talents of our local chefs and musicians. The combination of food and live music is, and always has been, pitch-perfect.

Over the last four years or so, I’ve had the honor of providing a bit of live music at some of those very same restaurants. I played professionally in the Washington, D.C. area and in Ocean City, Md., and when I moved here, I thought that that first time around would be the last time around. But when I heard Bill Dilks’ Hammond B-3 jazz organ trio at the 2017 True Blue Jazz fest, the spark was reignited. So I put together what I guess is the aptly named 2nd Time Around band.

One of the most difficult things for most any band is creating a list of songs that matches the ambiance, clientele and menu of the host restaurant. It’s no secret that musicians are hired to improve the dining experience – and the bottom line. If we’re six notes into the first song and half the restaurant patrons cry, “Check, please!” – then something isn’t right. Playing in a restaurant is very (very) different from appearing in a theater or auditorium.

Pairing music with food is an art and a science. A good example is Turntable Kitchen, a well-designed blog that shares recipes and reviews of selected songs. Every month, the writers on the site create a Monthly Pairings Box that includes menu ideas and ingredients – right alongside suggestions for musical pairings. Sort of like wine pairings, but without the corkscrew.

We are lucky to have so many great bands in the area! From quiet piano musings to blues to country and hard rock, they all tailor their sets to please the guests. But the musical pairing responsibility also lies with the restaurant: A band that specializes in heavy metal rock might not be the ideal one to hire at Ruth’s Chris. And lilting cocktail piano probably won’t go over very well at Conch Island. So a set list for 1776 Steakhouse will bear very little resemblance to that of, say, Bethany Blues. This correlation has been borne out in scientific studies, including those at Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory where the relationship between the perception of taste and certain audible frequencies (known as pitch) are compared. In short, sounds of a higher frequency (like a piccolo or a cymbal) seem to be related to foods with a sweet or sour taste. Low-frequency notes (a bass guitar or organ) have been tied to savory tastes generally referred to as umami. So, can the music accompanying a meal actually change the taste of that meal? Research is ongoing. (And yes, I’m doing my part ... .)

Jazzfest isn’t the only time to venture out for live music. After the echoes of next week’s festivities fade away, add an audio track to your dining experience by keeping an eye on Cape Gazette’s Steppin’ Out section and the various restaurants’ websites. Local live music is a way of life at Bethany Blues, The Pond, Rehoboth Ale House, Big Chill Surf Cantina, 1776 Steakhouse, Irish Eyes, Dogfish Head, Victoria’s, Crooked Hammock, The Starboard, Café Azafran, Bluecoast Rehoboth and Casa DiLeo. The same applies to The Cultured Pearl, Conch Island Key West Bar & Grill, Hammerheads Dockside, Chaps Pit Beef, Blue Moon, Grain on the Rocks, The Pines, Blackwall at the Beach, Zogg’s, Bushels, the Wheelhouse, Sydney’s Milton and even Mulligan’s Pointe in Georgetown. Just to name a few.

By the way, you can still get tickets to next week’s onslaught of music by visiting (one of the headliners is none other than Blood, Sweat & Tears!) and Either way, it’ll be a feast for the ears.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

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