Making his seventh appearance in Cherokee for the annual January Jazz & Blues Festival, Pender readily admits that he long ago fell in love with Cherokee and its people, and that, when it comes to hosting such an event, nobody does it better.
Through the years, Pender and his band, including guitarist Glenn Alexander, bass player Paul Frazier, and drummer Mo Roberts, have consistently spoken of their affection for the Cherokee Festival and the people who organize it, work it, and support it.
This year was special,not only because it was the 10th CJBF, but also because the Pender Band also included,for the first time, trombonist extraordinaire Richie LaBamba and fabulous percussionist Ronnie Guitierrez.
"On the way from the Burbank airport to Omaha, I was a little anxious about the forecasted record cold weather and how, after the blood-thinning temps of Southern California, I would handle it," said Pender in a recent e-mail to the Chronicle Times.
"From the moment I set foot on Main Street and met my friends at the Book Vine, all was completely melted away. I was once again reminded how come I've grown to love Cherokee and its people so much. So very much genuine warmth followed me everywhere I stepped.
"I also believe that, with the addition of LaBamba and Ronnie Guitierrez, we had the best show ever!
"Watching the Cherokee High Jazz Band finish up and gearing up for the performance brought back so many memories of great times there.
"You guys are getting it right. Infusing art into your community with a direct flow that seems to have a lasting, growing effect on the entire Cherokee community.
"My only regret was that it was too short. Flying in on Saturday and back on Sunday didn't give me the chance to visit Carey's Restaurant or Darren's Clothing Company. Or, to take advantage of many of the invitations to do things there. You know what I'm talking about, Dan (Meloy - along with Jim Adamson, the principal Festival organizers).
"I truly feel like a transplanted resident of Cherokee, and I take all of you with me wherever I go."
Pender adds that Guitierrez was "blown away" by the Festival, the community, the people, the Pub Crawls,and the unmistakable love of music he shared with everyone wherever he went in Cherokee.
"Ronnie couldn't stop gushing about how amazing the whole experience was," explained Pender, the charismatic, personable, incomparable trumpeter and musician.
"The ride back to Omaha Sunday was long with me repeating, 'I know, I know, I know' when Ronnie couldn't stop reliving the experience of the previous 12 hours.
"I can only finish with gratitude and thanks to everyone. Thanks for sending all the love."
From the very beginning, that love has been a genuine two-way street between Mark Pender and Cherokee, and this year's fantastic Festival only served to deepen it.