Sights and scenes from Downtown's 2010 Jacksonville Jazz Festival. There is no doubt that this year's Jazz Festival an unqualified success, one of several for the City, and its vivacious Special Events Office. More than that, it was also solid proof that a properly planned urban festival creates the synergy and crowds that will help breathe life back into the urban core. Check out these amazing photos, showing the densest crowds packed into downtown streets since Superbowl. MJ takes a look at how Theresa O'Donnel and her team moved the Festival from its traditional location at Metropolitan Park, and what it did to the actual streets and open spaces of the downtown core.
2010 Jazz Festival Poster "River City Rumble"
by Marsha Hatcher
Last year's decision to move the Jazz Festival from its traditional location at Metropolitan Park was greeted with uncertainty and a little optimism. It enjoyed moderate success, but more importantly set the groundwork for creating a national level event. This year's festival began reaping the first of those rewards.
The location change was transformational at least for two groups: The women in charge of logistics at the Special Events Office, and the experience of thousands of festival goers.
But it also proved to be transformational for something that has never been effected by the Jazz Festival: The downtown.
First, the sheer logistics of the event were tremendously more complex in many ways. Metropolitan Park's main stage is ready to go, and served to focus all entertainment into one central area.
Downtown presented multiple stages and venues. Take a look at the map of the event. All of red areas are performance areas. The planning committees of the event had to program around seven different stages, including the Cummer Museum and Gardens.
Each of the locations had to be set up for the event, and each presented their own challenges. In some of them, stages had to be built in the days before the festival.
This definitely led to a diversity of performances and moods throughout. Consider the performance schedules for Friday night:
Swingin' Stage (Corner of Main and Adams Streets)
Sonny Fortune Quartet 5 p.m.
Basia 7 p.m.
Tito Puente Jr. & his Orchestra 9 p.m.
Breezin' Stage (The Jacksonville Landing)
University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble 1 w/ legendary saxophonist Bunky Green 5 p.m
The Jazz Divas featuring Brenda Kelly, Peggie Black & Pat Blaylock 6:30 p.m.
Buckwheat Zydeco 8:30 p.m.
Groovin' Stage (Hemming Plaza)
Navy Band Southeast VIP Combo 5 p.m.
C1 Jazz Band 6:30 p.m.
Mpact 8:30 p.m.
Old Church (Snyder Memorial Church)
Von Barlow's Jazz Journey 6 p.m.
A musical tribute to the late Teddy Washington 8 p.m.
Four stages, 12 performances---with all of the attendant work and preparations that go along with tech crews as well as individual artists. Amazing. And impossible without the multiple venues. This year's festival was greatly enriched by the number of smaller and less well know acts that were able to find space and crowds as a result. A much wider spectrum of Jazz and Jazz derived music was presented and saved the festival from being a museum piece and instead gave it a living feeling that was commented on by many of the out of town visitors to the festival.
Take a look at some of these daytime shots from the Jazz Festival:
Now, compare what is happening in them to these photos of the crowd at Metropolitan Park:
The Metro Park location strongly encouraged festival goers to stake a claim to a small patch of dirt, (doomed by the rain gods every year to turn into a mud bog) lay out blankets, set up lawnchairs and bring along an ice chest with food and drinks.
After parking distantly, walking to the park grounds, dealing with the entrance people and then soldiering on to the performance green, there was always the bother of not being able to leave your spot (thieves, or even worse, land snatchers) and not really having much of a choice except stay on grounds the entire day of the performance.
The seasoned people brought umbrellas and wore clothes fit for mud wrestling. Of course, there were pavillion seats with actual chairs, cover, and a bit of tarp to protect shoes, but the best seating at the Jazz festival was always in the pavillion---which was behind the performers onstage.
In the photos below, check out the people walking around, interacting. Even the people seated are carrying light lawn chairs, portable enough to carry from one venue to the next. There is energy and activity, and the kind of crowd interaction that makes an event a place where something happens. Notice how few people have backpacks or ice chests compared to the metropark photos. That because they didn't have to bring survival kits.
Oh and don't forget the rain. Every Jazz Festival it has rained in Jacksonville. At metropolitan park, if you didnt buy pavillion or VIP tickets, you were pretty much screwed once it started raining. Check out this vintage photo with all the people standing and putting their chairs on their heads to get out of the rains, showers, and sprinkles:
Having the event downtown left lots of buildings to go into and wait the showers out, awnings to stand under, and places to run for cover. Better yet, the brick pavers and cement don't turn into quick mud beneath one's feet in an instant.
Last but not least was the effect on the downtown. With street full of people, many of the shops, cafes and cultural venues remained open. There was life and commerce all weekend long, and for once, the small business owners downtown were actually able to capitalize off of the opportunity.
We talk a lot about 'synergy' and critical mass on this site, and this event was a working model of how that happens. Not only did the downtown merchants make money in a lean economy, but their participation made the Jazz Festival even more than the planners set in motion. Many places featured Jazz bands to play with dinner, giving a greater number of performances than the official schedule.
There was enough demand for food and beverages, that even here on metrojacksonville posters were raving about 'Eddie Farah's place'.
Eddie is a well known, fairly lovable attorney. His 'place': an empty courtyard set up for the event.
This was one of the most well executed, integrated and helpful events that has been thrown in the city, and it was clear from the festival goers that it was only the beginning.
Even one of the familiar policemen who hangs out in Hemming Park was raving about it.
"It was really great! I worked the whole festival, and there wasnt a single problem, not even the kind you just get normally. It was fun, and I had fun, and I was working!"
Maybe it was because everyone was having such a great time.
Text by Stephen Dare
Photographs by Daniel Herbin