Thursday, October 14, 2010
Clearwater Jazz Holiday
It seems now most communities have wonderful local events and festivals--from craft fairs and art shows to outdoor concerts and movies in the park. We chose our hometown because we found ourselves there so often for these type of events, in addition to the walkability, proximity to the beach and a great little downtown. It's nice to see many towns valuing these features and working to improve quality of life.
One of the great events in the Tampa Bay area--with a long tradition--is Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Now, I haven't been around from the inception so I can't recall all the iterations, but having been involved as a volunteer for several years, I hear a lot of opinions about the festival and the changes that have occurred. Last year, on the 20th anniversary, the St. Pete Times did a retrospective and I was fascinated to learn more about the history and evolution of this "little" jazz festival, which is not so little and not so local anymore. Some people talk wistfully of the "old days" when they picnicked with their families and brought their own food and wine for a candlelit evening at the park, but change is inevitable. And, you have to appreciate what a gem this festival is, changes or not.
My family goes to several jazz festivals throughout the country and we attended a lot of music events in Nashville when we lived there. There aren't many live music events of this quality for free available...though Nashville was an exception to that with some real quality outdoor concerts every year. Somehow people forget the free aspect when they speak negatively. And, the things you purchase at the festival (beer, wine, food, souvenirs), which help to support the event, are a better value than at almost any other event (try getting a beer for these prices at a football game).
But, on to what this festival is all about and what you can expect if you come to it. First, it's worth a trip to Clearwater and in recent years, has become more of a regional and national event. This is a great time of year to visit Clearwater (it's held in mid October every year)--less crowds, beautiful weather. The setting is amazing--Coachman Park sits on the water and every night there's a gorgeous sunset view. It can be warm during the day, but by evening there's usually a cool breeze off the water and it's a good idea to bring a sweatshirt (something area residents look forward to fondly after suffering "summer" since March).
Second, the park is lively and the people watching is great. Even if you aren't that in to the music, this is a fun place to spend some time. The natural setting is great, but as a volunteer in the wine/beer area, my most fond memories are the people I have met. This event is volunteer run and there's nothing better than the sense of community it takes to bring together that many willing volunteers. Getting to know the volunteers in my area is one of the delights every year. We all have a great time together and everyone is enthusiastic. You'll receive some of the best "customer service" from the volunteers working this festival that you'd experience anywhere. Most of the attendees are equally enthusiastic and happy to be there, so the mood is festive and friendly. The occasional person will always spoil that, but sometimes that makes for an interesting story too. If you attend, don't forget this festival is volunteer run and think about the long hours people have dedicated to making this happen--for free.
Last but not least, the music is of course the reason for Clearwater Jazz Holiday. The festival has brought in some amazing acts over the years (for free, I say again:-). Now, I'm no music critic, so I'll leave that to the experts. I know some criticize the lineups, especially when less traditional acts play, but every year we enjoy some pretty great music. Perhaps if you're an ardent jazz enthusiast seeking specific music, you won't find what you want, but I can't imagine you wouldn't have a great time, and perhaps discover something new. I enjoy that there have been some diverse choices, which have appealed to a varied crowd. And, every year local talent gets great exposure--and we have some impressive local talent.
From the perspective of a traveler and general cultural enthusiast, I believe Clearwater Jazz Holiday ranks up there with festivals worth a trip, and definitely worth visiting as a local. I have to admit that I didn't know much about it before getting asked to volunteer, and it reminds me to check out different music events and festivals. You don't necessarily have to be an ardent fan to enjoy what these events have to offer. Festivals and concerts are a great way to see a place, expand your horizons and interact with great people.
For more information on Clearwater Jazz Holiday, click here.