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Don’t Sing the Blues, Head to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival

Jacksonville, Florida, has the rare distinction of being the largest city by area in the United States, and it has a lot to offer it’s residents and visitors. Some of the many attractions you will find include a large art scene, museums and theaters, eclectic dining, shopping galore, an abundance of parks, beach and boating activities, and many fun events including the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. While all of these are perfect reasons to visit Jacksonville, I wanted to learn more about the upcoming Jazz Festival. This free festival is being held May 22nd through the 25th and I had the opportunity to get the inside scoop on it from Tonisha Landry-Gaines, director of special events for the city of Jacksonville.

RAL: Tell me a little bit about the event.
TLG: The Jacksonville Jazz Festival has a long history in the City of Jacksonville, which started about 34 years ago in the Mayport area. As it grew, it moved to our riverfront at Metropolitan Park. At that time, the festival was hosted by the public broadcasting station, WJCT. The city actually took it over in 2002, and in 2009 moved the festival downtown where it became an urban street festival – walkable, over several city blocks. The Jacksonville Jazz Festival is just an exciting event that takes place in our city. More than 100,000 people come for 2 ½ days of live entertainment, activities, vendors, food, and art. People come day after day to just take in the culture and vibes of downtown Jacksonville. The traditional demographic for the Jazz Festival is really just the ‘jazz lover’ and that covers such a wide range of people. But, from past surveys we’ve noticed that about 60% have been females and the 35-65 age range covers about 65% of the population that attend the festival.

“It’s really about creating experiences year after year and I think there are a number of memorable experiences that happen here at our festival.”

RAL: Take me through a day at the event, what can I expect as an attendee?
TLG: The environment is live and happening. If you could imagine walking down 5 blocks in the middle of downtown with the streets full of people who are walking, eating, enjoying the atmosphere – It’s electric! Electric in terms of how people are enjoying jazz music. The festival encompasses so many different genres – smooth jazz, New Orleans style jazz, cool jazz, and so on. You just have to be there to experience everything that the festival has to offer. We have food vendors from all across the city and state. We try to make sure there is a variety. You can get everything from rice and beans to chicken to soba noodles to salad to green tea. There’s something for everyone at the Jazz Festival. Other festival components include Art in the Heart Downtown, an art show and sale, the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition presented by Keyboard Connection Pianos & Organs, the Youth Jazz Talent Showcase, Jazz After Dark and the Jazz Brunch at the Omni.

RAL: Do many people travel to the area for the event?
TLG: Yes! Last year, 37% of our attendees were new to the festival. And anywhere between 25 and 35% of the people who attended the festival were from out of town, some from as far as Canada. Our surveys also indicated that people traveled in from New York, Virginia, Atlanta, Tampa, and California – just to name a few.

RAL: For those traveling to the festival, what can they expect to find for local lodging?
TLG: In Jacksonville there are about 14,000 hotel rooms available, so there are plenty of places for people to stay. It really all depends on the vibe you want when you’re here. If you want to be in the mix of the festival, we’d have to recommend you stay downtown. But, there are several hotels in Jacksonville offering Jazz Festival specials. Our host hotel this year is the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront and they are actually offering a Jazz Package with breakfast. Festival attendees can experience the smooth sounds of jazz at the Hyatt and be just steps away from all 3 stages. Their stay includes: plush, luxurious accommodations, breakfast for two and a Jacksonville Jazz Festival commemorative gift. We are also partnering with the Omni Jacksonville Hotel. They are also offering a special Jazz Festival package as well as hosting our Jazz Brunch.

RAL: What does this festival mean to the community of Jacksonville?
TLG: Just hearing people talk about and get excited about the festival excites us. I think people look forward to that one time of the year. They can enjoy a staycation and they don’t have to go anywhere for Memorial Day Weekend. The Jacksonville community can stay right here in town, catch up with friends and enjoy a vibrant downtown.

RAL: We want to help create memorable experiences for our travelers, what will make this experience memorable for them?
TLG: That’s one of the things our team works on every day. We are trying to make sure we capture that moment. The street festival aspect of the event makes it memorable. The fact that you can travel between three stages and catch some of your favorite artists throughout the entire day is what we aim to promote. It’s really about creating experiences year after year and I think there are a number of memorable experiences that happen here at our festival.

To learn more about the Jacksonville Jazz Festival and to purchase tickets to the event, visit theirwebsite.