Jacksonville Jazz Fest 2011!

May 27, 2011 58 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

For the past couple of years, there comes a time when even the most impassive cynic is forced to recognize the magic and sheer logistical genius of the City's Office of Special Events. Since the reimagination of the Jazz Festival as a downtown street festival event instead of a Metropolitan Park based sojourn, the remarkable women of Special Events, led by the iconoclastic Teresa Price have been tested to their limits. This year they have proven that they are a force to be contended with. Jazz Festival 2011 is set to outdo the tremendous success of last year's groundbreaking event. On top of that, the city's ambitious exploratory moves this year may end up catapulting the event into world class status. Join us for the inside dope of this years JazzFest!

Downtown Jacksonville, the scene of so much history, both musical and otherwise, has been completely transformed.

The core area of the City that introduced the name "Blues Music" to the rest of the world, cradled the creation of Soul music in the now ravaged LaVilla District, and furiously partied while Southern Rock was called forth from the Jacksonville Ether has been blockaded off, festooned with streaming banners, bedecked with colorful silk constructions in the trees and on the buildings, and crowded with glistening white pavillions and tents.

It literally looks imaginary and--in the old sense of the word---fabulous.  Like a fable that is too extravagant to believe.

The venerated historic buildings of the old quarter look viscerally alive, and there is a reawakened sense of purpose and history to all the architecture.  Walking the streets is actually invigorating--partially from a sense of newly discovering the place.

There are policemen and service people in golf carts swarming through the streets and absurdly colorful stages have been erected throughout the area.  There are flocks of chinese lanterns in some of the trees:  Last night the looked like nesting groups of glowing creatures, and the verdant lush greenery that has taken so many decades for our urban foresters to reintroduce into the city core is almost opulent in its disorder and profusion.

Somewhere in this gigantic rambling quasi military operation there is a command center.  I have been to the titular headquarters on the second floor of the City Hall.  It is being directed by a group of young, supernaturally energetic women who are tremendously preoccupied with the titanic nature of the set up.  There are dispatches, emergency sorties, conversations that convey subdued panic.  There is bustle, people walking around with lists on blackberries and I phones, furrowed brows from rampant detail monitoring.

If the city of Jacksonville ever needs to invade a small country, say Europe perhaps. it would have to look no further than this tight knit group of women.  It would be a complete rout, with all the armies of the Continent completely surrounded and outmanouvered.  The opposing forces would be taken prisoner by smiling women, trying to make a list of their concerns and promising that the next lightning war will be much more accommodating.

Sky Marshall Theresa Price

The driving force of the operation is a literal dynamo of a human being. Theresa Price is more like a Sky Marshal than a mere City Director.  Her cell phone is the Thor's Hammer of command and the complex, detail oriented orders that are issuing from it are never questioned, only enhanced and built on.  This comes not from fear, but from a total, near religious respect of every person involved with the massive ground effort.  There is no doubt that she has a fully functioning 3D model of the operation that she can run backwards and forwards through time and motion completely in her head.

No detail is too small, and every thoughtful thing that can be conceived of is in evidence.  As I passed through last night, there was a sleeping herd of rotating electric fans waiting near the Hemming Park stages, just in case it gets too hot and humid during the day.

It is what I imagine it to be like in underground Disney, but without the cryogenic labs, the supercomputers and the genetically modified 'Imagineers' sleeping in amniotic fluids.

The effect is overwhelming, magical, inspirational.

The logistics themselves are something to be proud of.  The gentle southern concern and worry that permeates every carefully thought out transaction of the Women of Special Events is a palpable bit of wonderfulness.  And the downtown setting is beautiful, lush, mysterious and romantic.  It is a place to fall in love.  


But there are other, practical concerns that are grounded in an ambitious plan for the future.

Earlier in this year, I was privileged to take part in a series of planning meetings sponsored by Theresa Price that intend to catapult the already solid regional event into something even larger.  National, perhaps international.

Without much fanfare, Dan O'Byrne, the new director of Visit Jacksonville, the newly reminted visitors and conventions bureau has settled into his job as a quiet but rapid change agent.

Here is a copy of the email that started this years plans in motion:


That would be great to get a meeting setŅand let’s get moving on using the festival for great business for the city!!

I know Pam has emailed Tiffany (Valla Hutto) in the Office of Special Events to get some information about the meeting.  To be clear, the meeting is to discuss opportunities for Visit Jacksonville to build more convention and conference business using the Jacksonville Jazz Festival as a draw and a part of the hospitality package associated with conferences.

In addition, Tiffany will be the key person to reach out to the jazz educators that we discussed in our meeting.  We want to include them in this brainstorming session and get their input and, perhaps contacts, to gain momentum for this economic development and quality of life opportunity.

I am hoping we can set this meeting within the next couple of weeks.


Theresa O’Donnell Price
Director of Special Events

That meeting did in fact get set, and the Jazz educators and professional of this city were brought to the table (for the first time, oddly) in order to catapult the festival into an educational event as well as to welcome Jazz Professional associations and Music Educator and related conventions to converge on the downtown during the Jazz Festival.

I sat in on the meeting and it was like a real 'aha! moment' for everyone present.

O'Byrne (who seems to be surrounded by a similar group of empowered women) got on the task, and when I spoke to him on Wednesday of this week, he told me that they are squiring around a bunch of delegates from different groups this entire weekend in order to create a massive convention week at multiple locations during the jazz festival, and get a national (hopefully international) Jazz Community into one place at that same time.

Dan is supposed to be sending over a photo of the visitors passes of these special delegates,  I will post it in the comments of this article a bit later.  If you see them, make sure to welcome them to Jacksonville.  The dividends--both financial and cultural---could be enormous.

The Performances

The City has an excellent facebook page that  follows all the detail of the schedule and performances.  You can link to them here:  http://www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleJazzFestival

This years headliners include




This event is becoming the signature event of this region.  Here are a couple of very positive signs:

From the Make A Scene Downtown page:

"Experience Jazz" VIP Packages and Preferred Seating Day Passes are SOLD OUT!

Due to overwhelming response, Experience Jazz VIP packages and Preferred Seating Day Passes are SOLD OUT and orders will no longer be accepted. However, the festival is free and jazz fans can still enjoy this year's exciting line-up of performances in general seating areas.

Also, the Piano Competition last night had record breaking attendance.  Attendees from last year remember that there were less than 600 people in the Florida Theatre.

This year?  Almost a thousand.  

A 66% single year increase.

Jacksonville Jazz Fest is an amazing event, get out this weekend and check it out.

Go enjoy your downtown the way that it should be every single day of the year.

Soak up the uniquely American Musical heritage that this City has contributed so much to over the years.

Go help Theresa and Dan catapult the event into a major Convention Destination.  Find Tiffany Valla Hutto and give her a hug.

This is Jacksonville at its very best.


Stephen Dare