This memorial remembrance of Ben Sandoval is a contribution from Giselle Lee and Bonnie Williams. Ben had been a central figure in Arizona bluegrass and old time circles this past 45 years, starting with handyman work at a Bill Monroe festival in ’74 to his own events across the state until his passing.
Longtime Arizona festival promoter, Ben Sandoval, passed away on April 30, 2017 at the age of 83.
From his son Roy Sandoval: “My dad left us this morning at about 3:15. This is the way I’d like to remember him. Hundreds and hundreds of festivals and jam sessions. Hundreds of bands and musicians who felt respected and well treated. Thousands of people who benefited from his tireless commitment to promoting traditional music, particularly in Arizona and the Southwest.”
From Giselle Lee of Jam Pak Blues n’Grass neighborhood band:
“My introduction to Ben Sandoval occurred through the Jam Pak Blues n’Grass neighborhood band, a group led by Anni Beach. Jam Pak is a group of musicians, ages 5-80, which meets twice a week in Anni’s living room to rehearse. I can remember Ben being present at all the bluegrass festivals we were at, announcing for bands to come on stage, talking to audience members, and shepherding bands to the stage. At that time I had little idea of who he was or why he was always at the festivals we were at. I would later learn that this gentleman organized and ran the festivals. He hired the bands and was in charge of making sure the whole operation went smoothly.
After its founding in 1994, Jam Pak played a few small gigs. However, our big break into the bluegrass scene was because of Ben Sandoval. He was one of the very first supporters of Jam Pak. Being a large band of primarily children of color, Jam Pak’s entrance into the bluegrass scene was one shadowed with difficulty. We did not fit the ‘cookie cutter’ model of a traditional bluegrass band. However, Ben saw the potential in such a talented group of musicians. He saw the importance of incorporating young musicians into a genre of music dominated by older players. There’s no doubt that he took a risk. He was hiring a band of nearly 25 young musicians, mostly of Hispanic descent, for festivals mostly attended by an older, Caucasian audience. Regardless of this risk, he hired us for some of our first festival gigs. Each year he invited us back, treating us with the same respect as the other, more traditional bands. With the addition of new festivals to the Arizona bluegrass scene, he would often call Anni Beach to confirm Jam Pak’s availability before proceeding to hire other bands.
As the years went by, the bluegrass fans of Arizona began to embrace and love Jam Pak and the smaller bands that branched from it. Many reported to Ben that they attended festivals for the main reason of seeing us perform. Jam Pak is thankful for and blessed by the outpouring of support over the years from the bluegrass community. These days, we perform at a handful of festivals each year, often traveling around the state of Arizona to perform. And what about the man who gave us our start? Ben Sandoval can always be seen on the side of the stage, showing the same love and support that has allowed us to thrive.”
In Ben’s own words… “I have lived a good life, I have a wonderful family and God has already prepared a place for me.”
R.I.P., Ben Sandoval.