The power of music to honor the memory of composer, bassist, and photographer Wes Wehmiller ’92 was on full display March 6 at the Baked Potato in Studio City, California. The annual WesFest tribute reached new heights as music and Wehmiller’s spirit filled the club during this memorable celebration.
Over the past 11 years, WesFest has grown into an extended annual fundraising campaign in support of the Wes Wehmiller Endowed Scholarship Fund at Berklee that has raised more than $250,000. The Wehmiller Scholarship is awarded annually to a bass student at Berklee who best exemplifies the values that Wes represented. As an endowed scholarship, it will honor Wehmiller’s legacy for decades.
At this year’s celebration, Derek Frank, Shania Twain’s touring bassist, opened with a powerful set that quickly took the energy level into high gear. His quartet, featuring keyboardist Ty Bailie, drummer Mike Bennett, and guitarist Andrew Synowiec, set the tone with remarkable musicianship and groove.
Danny Mo’ and the Exciters always deliver a set full of heart and soul, and this year was no exception. Members of this all-star band included Danny Morris ’78, John “JR” Robinson ’75, Scott Gilman ’80, Kira Small ’93, Fred Kron, assistant professor Marty Walsh, and inaugural Wehmiller Scholarship recipient Will Snyder ’07.
The most recent recipient of the Wes Wehmiller Scholarship, Maddie Jay Lough, was featured on bass as she led the band in her original composition “Throw Away Your Hate.”
The Exciters closed their set with an Aretha Franklin-styled version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that almost took the roof off, courtesy of Kira Small and the trio of background singers Samantha Schultz ’13, Jeniffer Criss-Williams ’07, and Latoria Boyd ’10. In a special moment preceding the headline set, Maddie Jay Lough, Abraham Laboriel ’72, and Steve Bailey, chair of Berklee’s Bass Department, performed a bass trio version of the Horace Silver tune “Peace,” with musicality and artistry that typified the evening.
Open Hands, a quartet featuring Laboriel (bass), Justo Almario ’71 (tenor sax and flute), Bill Maxwell (drums), and Tim Carmon (keyboards), delivered a headline set that was inspiring, spiritual, and musically dazzling. Paula Wehmiller, Wes’s mother, observed that “in a moment that seems somehow out of human time, [Laboriel] beckoned the crowd to join him in gentle rounds of hallelujah as he spoke to us of [gratitude], of generosity, of love, of peace, of Wes. Now the crowd was on its feet.” It was a powerful performance.
Following the most successful WesFest in terms of funds raised, Stacey Ferguson, the event producer, stated, “This kind of sustaining passion for a scholarship fundraising event is rare. But you know what? So was Wes and everything he did.”