Jazz festival already singing reprise

The Baltimore Sun

Even before the inaugural Paetec Jazz Festival ended yesterday, organizers said they planned to bring it back for a second year.

"I've already spoken with the CEO of Paetec, who likes what he sees," festival producer Marc Iacona said of the event's sponsor, a business communications company. "We are already talking about next year."

This year's festival featured nearly 30 free and ticketed performances over three days. The roster spanned R&B;, rock, funk, blues and jazz, and was spread out over the Pier Six Pavilion, Power Plant Live plaza, Bond Street Wharf Landing, Rams Head Live and Harbor Pointe.

Last night, Al Green performed his gospel and pop 1970s hits to a middle-age and older crowd in the Pier Six Pavilion; Little Richard and B.B. King were to follow. Just an hour before, hundreds of young adults came to watch local funk rockers the Bridge play a free show at Harbor Pointe.

For next year, Iacona and the other organizers plan to re-examine some of the stage locations, he said. Iacona wants to make the festival more walkable - similar to western New York's Rochester International Jazz Festival, which he also produces.

"We're spoiled up in Rochester, because there are so many venues that can hold 200 people, 400 people, all within less than a mile-radius walk," he said. "We really have to suss out where those venues are" in Baltimore.

Iacona also said he planned to retool the lineup, which drew criticism from fans and musicians for being light on jazz performers. His decision to book Green, King and other non-jazz headliners was designed to appeal to a wider range of fans, he said.

"You have to get people exposed," Iacona said. "The only way you're going to get them exposed is by getting them down to artists that they like."

City officials said they were pleased with this festival and last weekend's Virgin Festival. Hosting both events back to back was a milestone for the city, said Anthony McCarthy, spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon.

Both festivals brought revenue and regional attention to Baltimore, and the mayor wants to cement their future as annual events, he said.

"Our goal was not that this would be a one-time thing, but that we establish a long-term relationship with these folks from Paetec so that it comes back year after year and grows year after year," McCarthy said.

Though headliners such as Earth, Wind & Fire drew near-sellout crowds to the Pier Six Pavilion, attendance at the festival's series of smaller free performances was uneven. Free shows by Baltimore-based Lafayette Gilchrist and the Bridge drew hundreds to Bond Street Wharf and Harbor Pointe, respectively. Other acts played to only dozens, and sometimes handfuls, of audience members.

James A. Berkey, who sat and watched Paradigm Shift's midday set yesterday at Harbor Pointe with his wife, Cathy, was disappointed with the turnout. Police estimated the early-afternoon crowd at 50.

"It deserves a lot more attendance than it's getting," said Berkey, 60, of Glen Arm.

Berkey and his wife have regularly traveled to the New Orleans Jazz Festival since 1999. Though the crowd here is significantly smaller, they said they have enjoyed watching under-the-radar jazz bands at both cities' festivals, he said.

"The music is great," he said. "There's a lot of people here I've never heard of that are really good."

The festival gave local musicians a larger platform than their usual club shows and also exposed them to new bands.

Kenny Liner, the beatboxer and mandolin player for the Bridge, was fascinated by the New York City-based Latin Giants of Jazz. Yesterday, Liner clapped and bobbed along from the side of the stage.

"These guys are amazing," he said. "It's great to have music available in Baltimore for free. It was a great idea. I hope they do it again next year."

Iacona said next year, he hopes to attract a wider demographics. Most of the crowds at this year's festival were in their middle ages. That will evolve, he said.

"It's just like a young child growing, in that their palate needs to develop to like certain foods," Iacona said. He predicted that eventually the kids coming to the Power Plant and Fells Point would say: "Wow, this stuff is good stuff. I'm looking forward to it each year."


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