Monday, July 28, 2014

Jennifer Shafer Wood AKA J-Cherry, artist, producer and host, Middletown Music Festival

1st Annual Middletown Music Festival 2012
Jennifer Shafer Wood aka J-Cherry moved to Connecticut from the New York suburbs over twenty years ago. She lived in Danbury, then Naugatuck, and settled into Portland, CT. “I came to this area for school. Middlesex Community College offered a Broadcast Communications degree, I believe at the time it was the only community college in the state offering such a degree. I was living in Naugatuck and I took the 35-minute commute for 3 years until I graduated in 1996 with AS in Broadcast Communications, and an AS in General Studies.” Wood was a single mother looking to better her future when she decided to return to school.
Jennifer Shafer Wood, Blake Shafer, Patrick Roche, Graduation MxCC 1996

“After my son was born I left college and worked as a waitress, and a nanny. It was while waiting tables that I knew I had to get my butt back in school! I didn’t want my future to be waiting tables. It’s not a bad thing to wait tables, I did it for years and it paid the bills, but I needed more.”  Wood enrolled in a Liberal Studies program at Naugatuck Valley, and met a counselor there. “ I met with an academic advisor to discus my plans. I was interested in broadcasting, but I did not want to go to Connecticut School of Broadcasting. I wanted to go to a community college for my degree so I could pursue a BS later if I wanted. I did not know about Middlesex until my advisor told me Middlesex offered a Broadcast Communication degree.” She then began a journey that would change her life and make her a long time resident of Portland, CT.
Jennifer Shafer AKA J-Cherry with childhood friend Carol Vega
Wood had been in Naugatuck for a couple of years. She never felt settled there. “I longed for home. I grew up in Mamaroneck, a village 30 minutes outside of Manhattan, with a vibrant Main Street, eclectic shops and restaurants, that I really enjoyed. On my way into Middletown I will never forget the beautiful ride on 66 just off the highway through a reservoir and pine forest. It’s still my favorite stretch of 66!” Just before her meeting at the Middlesex Community College she took a detour to downtown Main Street in Middletown. “I loved it! It reminded me of home. Shops, restaurants, and people milling about! I was so excited to explore the college next! I knew then and there that this little city would become my home! Eighteen years later I am still here and more in love with this little city than any other place I’ve ever lived!” Though Wood lives over the bridge in Portland, Middletown feels like home too and is a short ride over the bridge. 

Middlesex Community College Cedar Grove Graduation 1996

She explained how Middlesex Community College provided her with a solid foundation and tools of the trade that have enabled her to become a local producer. Wood produces Anything Goes Open Mic at The Buttonwood Tree, VOICE of the CITY, a local radio show on WESU 88.1FM, the show also airs on a Cygnus Radio, a local Internet station; and she is the producer of The Annual Middletown Music Festival, now in its third year. “When I was at Middlesex Community College I learned a lot about public speaking, taking video, recording audio, presenting ideas, and becoming a good writer. At one point in my life I was shy”, she says with a smile. She and her husband Tim Sparks have worked together since 2009 producing these local shows. “When I first came to Middletown I remember a music festival, I think it was also called the Middletown Music Festival. I enjoyed it and looked forward to it the following year and shortly after it was no more. I wanted to bring it back, with an emphasis on local original music. I also wanted to keep it open to everyone in a public space, and what space could be better than the Cedar Grove at Middlesex Community College! It is my hope that this festival will become a long tradition that will survive way into the future, even if we no longer produce it. Middlesex Community College is located on top of a hill over looking a valley. On a clear day you can see the Arrigoni Bridge. “I graduated from Middlesex Community College 18 years ago with a double rainbow and a double degree. Each year that I stand before the audience at the Middletown Music Festival I can’t help but feel emotional, I am so touched, and grateful to make this special event happen with the support of the college and MCA!”

Barbara Arafeh and Tim Sparks, The 2nd Annual Middletown Music Festival 2013

 Wood also explained that the city of Middletown has been very supportive as well. This will be the second year that the Middletown Commission On The Arts has supported the festival with a grant. “I am so grateful for the MCA and their support! It means a lot to have a grant. We operate on a shoestring and rely on volunteers. The grant helps us bring the show to the next level. Each year it grows. It’s very exciting! And we just got the okay from Camp Ingersol in Portland to produce a The Portland Music Harvest Festival this October!"  Ultimately she wants to incorporate as a nonprofit and produce local shows in the community. "Everyone should have access to art and music, no matter what their income is. Some families can’t afford to go to festivals, it’s so expensive, but they can come the Middletown Music Festival with a picnic and enjoy a great show for a small donation! Our goal is to keep the festival open and ask for donations rather than selling tickets.”

Doris, gigglejuice mascot 2nd Annual Middletown Music Festival 2012

The 3rd Annual Middletown Music Festival is on Sunday, August 10, from 12-8PM. Brought to you by J-Cherry Presents, with support from The Middletown Commission on the Arts, and Middlesex Community College. The annual festival is a celebration of local music being produced in the state of Connecticut. The festival will take place in the Cedar Grove at Middlesex Community College. In case of rain the festival will be held indoors at Chapman Hall. This year’s line up includes, The Michael Cleary BandLauren Agnelli & Ravens in The Woods, Gigglejuice, J-Cherry & The Strawberries, HannaH's Field, and Randomizer! With special guests, The Alex Trouern-TrendJennifer Dauphinais, The MayFlys, Ebin-Rose Trio, and poetry by Sympetalous the bard! There will be food, vendors, crafters, local artisans, Italian Ice, NoRa Cupckaes, face painting, dancing and hula hooping! This year we are also celebrating two big birthdays, WESU 88.1FM turns 75, and the Buttonwood Tree turns 25!! What makes the Middletown Music Festival great is that it is open to everyone, all for a suggested $10 donation! The community grows in pride with artistic culture when it is connected to the arts in public spaces. For more information visit

Radiant Yoga, 2nd Middletown Music Festival 2013

The 2nd Annual Middletown Music Festival 2013

The 2nd Annual Middletown Music Festival 2013

Proudly supported by a grant from The Middletown Commission On The Arts

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