It’s Jamestown’s Party: Lucy Fest Returns

Jay Leno, Caroline Rhea, and Tom Cotter.
Jay Leno, Caroline Rhea, and Tom Cotter.

Article by
Walt Pickut

Jay Leno, the reigning “King of Comedy”, will choose Jamestown over any place else in the world to perform on August 9th; places where he might have booked a whole fistful of shows in a single weekend. World class comedians, however, like Jay Leno, Tom Cotter, Caroline Rhea and Lucy Arnaz now consider Jamestown and Lucy Fest a top-of-the-line, national venue, not to be missed.

It’s the Audience
“The biggest stars always give us the greatest feedback,” said Journey Gunderson, executive director of the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center. “For them, performing here is special. It’s like doing their show in the community’s living room. We’re not just one more show in an endless lineup of celebrities. And our audiences are always an all-American cross section. Comedians love that.”
Jay Leno especially loves to test his “every-man” brand of humor and new stand-up comedy routines on live audiences that make him feel welcome. Past stars and performers have said, “When you’re in Jamestown, you know you have a great audience!”

Leno sold out all 2,200 seats of the Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena in a mere three weeks after they went on sale April 18 of this year. The former Tonight Show host became the fastest sell out headliner in the history of the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival.
“Ticket buyers lit up all seven phones in the Lucy Desi Center all day long,” Gunderson said. “It was like a Telethon.” Many more prime tickets and seats for just about every other show and star performance – 50 events – are still available. Check To purchase tickets, contact the Lucy-Desi Museum box office at (716)484-0800.

Hometown Hosts
Jamestown’s return to the role of gracious host to visitors from across the nation and around the world is once again in the hands of the more than 200 red-T-shirted volunteers taking up stations all around town where they will be conspicuously helping, guiding, explaining and just greeting the 10s of thousands of guests expected this year.
“Though we could still use a few more, most of our volunteers come back every year, simply because it is so much fun,” explained Cindy Aronson, volunteer coordinator (one more volunteer training is slated for Monday evening, 5:30 to 6:30 on August 4th).
One of the most exciting opportunities will be to guide visitors through the three rooms of the Dykeman Art Gallery to view a fascinating array of never before seen Lucy memorabilia. Others will serve as Late Night Comedy bartenders, Tropicana Room hosts, assist at the Gateway Station block party and silent auction and at most of the many other downtown venues.
“Everybody is a special, honored guest,” Aronson said, “and at least 75 percent of them are out-of-towners, but they are all Lucy lovers and comedy lovers. We want to make them all Jamestown lovers, too.”

Breaking Records
Every year’s attendance records at Lucy Fest appear to be dwarfed by the following year’s crowds. The 2014 projected crowd of 15,000 visitors is expected to line the streets, fill hotels and occupy restaurant tables as never before. “And it’s the people of Jamestown who make this event a success as much as the stars who come here,” Gunderson said. “Our hometown people are always a big part of the show.”
Lucy Fest organizers are also calling all local residents and visitors to star in this year’s Guinness World Record attempt to set a new record for the most people treading grapes in one place. The Grape Stomping event will take place on Saturday, August 9 from 3:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at the Jamestown Gateway Train Station.
The current record, set on September 25, 2010, is held by 977 foot stomping residents of a wine producing village of 1,500 people in the Basque Country of northern Spain. They turned nearly 28 tons of grapes into almost 4000 gallons of juice.
“Watch out, Spain, we are coming after you,” Gunderson said. Jamestown’s vat is slated to hold more than 1,000 stompers commemorating the famous and ever-popular grape stomping scene from “Lucy’s Italian Movie,” season 5, episode 23, which first aired April 16, 1956 on CBS.

Comedy Grows Economy
The annual Lucy Fest is estimated to draw between $3 and $4 million every year into Chautauqua County along with 15,000 to 20,000 visitors and tourists. The National Comedy Center in downtown Jamestown, slated for a first phase groundbreaking this summer, is projected to attract 125,000 guests and visitors every year and $25 million added to the local economy.
Lucille Ball herself, along with community leaders in Jamestown, planned the first Lucy Fest in the 1980s to accomplish much more than the celebration of her own work. Lucy’s passion was to nurture new and rising comedic talent and to create a place and an environment to celebrate comedy itself as the best and most healing of all medicines.