Jazz fest's last night brings out big crowds
10:21 PM, Jun 29, 2013
The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival organizers needed the weather to turn Saturday.
Even with record attendance during the first weekend of the nine-day fest, Friday night’s rain meant one of those shoulder-to-shoulder crowds was necessary Saturday to meet or exceed last year’s record-breaking attendance of 187,000.
And they got it: While the crowd was slower to arrive than last year, and with those there still a bit wary of the weather, sunny to partly cloudy skies made believers of them by about 7 p.m. And the crowd started multiplying.
In all, 40,000 people crowded on East Avenue and Gibbs Street, bringing the total attendance for the festival to 195,000.
By 9 p.m., Monty Alexander’s Kingston-Harlem Express, exploring the connection between the pianist’s native Jamaica and Harlem jazz, was on one stage (even playing his piano through a few-minute power outage on the stage). New Orleans’ Trombone Shorty, who in just a few years has become a favorite of this festival, was on the other end of the closed-off East Avenue.
Between them, thousands of people were strolling, plastic beer and cocktail cups in hand. Yet, as they have throughout the fest, families with kids of all ages also came together to hear the music.
As Trombone Shorty took the stage, yelling, “Rochester, we meet again,” the crowd stretched from the Alexander Street stage almost to the Inner Loop, with at least a few thousand more streaming down that way from the festival’s nexus at Gibbs Street.
There was more breathing room by the Chestnut Street stage as Alexander began to play.
“Yesterday may have affected (attendance) a little bit, but today I think we’ll push it over the top,” said Marc Iacona, co-producer of the festival with John Nugent.
Still, he said he was impressed with the “sea of umbrellas” at East Avenue and Chestnut Street for Shemekia Copeland and the James Hunter 6.
Overall, the nine days went smoothly, he said. Bumps and surprises meant little to no disruption for patrons. For example, Aaron Goldberg’s flight arrived 20 minutes before his Wednesday show. But the car they sent saw few delays, and shuttled him to Max of Eastman Place in the nick of time.
Overall, many said lines were better this year. But there were some long ones, including the one Saturday for Kurt Elling’s early show that snaked from the entrance to Kilbourn down Gibbs, then down the alley to Swan, and Swan around the corner on East. People started getting in line at 2 p.m., perhaps a record start, said festival spokeswoman Jean Dalmath.
Steve Pennington of Webster said he and his wife, Lonna, manage the lines. They’ve been to most of the 12 years of the festival, have bought club passes the last three and made it a summer vacation the last two (with days spent boating).
He said you learn that early shows are the busiest, so if a line is long, you try something that might not be on your list and then head back for the later one.
“We don’t really like to wait,” he said. “We have some pleasant surprises. We just go in and not even know who is playing, and sometimes you’re blown away and other times you’re saying, ‘That was good … but you don’t go out of the show humming the tune.’ “
Like many longtime jazz fest-goers, his favorite was South Korean singer Youn Sun Nah, who played the Nordic Now Series on Friday at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation with guitarist Ulf Wakenius.
“I’ve never heard anything like it in my life and never will again,” Pennington said. “I was impressed, needless to say.”
Other favorites from this year: Gem City and Nikki Yanofsky. He also liked Shine On the Universe of John Lennon. Pennington was worried his wife, a jazz purist, wouldn’t like that one. But she also enjoyed the nostalgic Beatles tunes.
Steve Biracree, 50, of Greece said he had some great surprises.
“This year, like other years, one or two shows, you go in and you can’t lift your jaw off your lap. You just get blown away,” he said. Like Pennington, Youn Sun Nah was at the top of his list of club shows.
Biracree’s favorite part of this year’s fest, though, was the late-night jam sessions at Rochester Plaza Hotel. The artists joining forces for spontaneous performances, “that’s the heart and soul of the festival.”
Kristin Spath, 40, of Pittsford said listening to the high school bands that open the festival is often her favorite part of the day. Like some other big-time jazz lovers, she said if she has one criticism, it’s that organizers feel the need to pull in non-jazz acts (like the headline Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus and Roger Hodgson). She believes the festival’s reputation has grown enough that they are unnecessary.
Ann Tippett, 59, of Rochester, who has been to 10 of the 12 festivals, said she looks forward to performances by artists such as Kurt Elling, for whom she was standing in line.
But her favorite part? “I just like to walk around and get the vibe; it’s a great time in Rochester.”