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Free Hartford Jazz Festival In Bushnell Park This Weekend

Owen McNally

July 16, 2010

Red-hot jazz musicians jamming away on a flat-bed truck rolling through downtown Hartford Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. herald the opening of the 19th annual Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz (GHFJ), a free, outdoor event that's expected to draw more than 50,000 people this weekend to the city's scenic Bushnell Park.

The mobile, urban jazz unit—a swinging swat team concept borrowed from the streets of New Orleans—is just one new idea that the non-profit GHFJ has added to its highly popular blend of multiple jazz styles, including crowd-pleasing smooth and contemporary jazz and jazzy pop and fizzy fusions of all kinds, along with Latin jazz, big band and even straight ahead jazz.

While serving three days of eclectic sounds ranging from saucy and soulful to sweet and smooth, the festival, which is held rain or shine, transforms the downtown park into a mammoth backyard party for the City of Hartford. The festive ambience comes complete with an aromatic food court serving sizzling cuisine and a bustling, bazaar-like arts-and-crafts and merchant marketplace.

In the festival's food and retail niche, located in a shady, tree-lined grove near the park's Trinity Street perimeter, hungry fans can nosh on outdoor snacks, including pizza made in wood-fired ovens, Greek and Thai food, sweet potato fries, onion rings and other morsels, washed down with beer (a wider selection is offered this year), wine and soft drinks.

Or between sets, they can take a shopping break at booths whose more than 30 vendors, including 12 new ones this summer, sell everything from toys to clothing.

As an added convenience, the festival for the first time ever has installed portable ATMs in the park for those who like to combine shopping with bopping. In yet another new wrinkle, pedicabs will, for a fee, provide transportation for concertgoers on streets in the festival area.

Many fans arrive early in the park, stake out a prime spot, camp down with their coolers, chairs, blankets, portable picnic tables, pets, lovers, friends, families, Frisbees and suntan lotion, ready to enjoy a full day of music and camaraderie. There's on-site entertainment for children as well at the nearby Bushnell Park Carousel and playground facilities.

Even if you don't like jazz or outright hate it, you still might get swept up in the park's fairgrounds atmosphere, its intoxicating mix of leisure and pleasure and infectious communal spirit that somehow seem to connect 20,000 strangers in an inexplicable but quite pleasant way.

And then there's the sheer, spectacular beauty to savor when the sun sets creating a breathtaking perspective on the city's skyline and, most of all, on the gold-domed State Capitol building in all its magical, Gothic glory looking down from its hilltop on the picturesque park below.

The heart of the matter is, of course, the festival's huge potpourri of pop and jazz, which opens Friday at 7 p.m. with pianist/vocalist/songwriter Christine Spero and her group uncorking its bubbly brand of nu-jazz/pop/Latin and Brazilian soul rhythms.

Spero and other headliners play on the Main Stage, which is complemented by the Friends of the Festival Stage, which features such top Connecticut-based acts as the venerable Hartford Jazz Orchestra with vocalist Bobbi Rogers.

On Saturday and Sunday, festival fare ranges from percussionist Doc Gibbs, who's best known as the band leader on the Food Network's "Emeril Live!", to TIZER, featuring keyboardist Lao Tizer, guitarist Chieli Minucci of Special EFX fame and violinist Karen Briggs.

Concertgoers get to be participants Saturday at 10:30 p.m. in the festival's increasingly popular post-concert feature called "A Dance Party."

After the concert concludes on the Main Stage, the dance party commences at the Friends of the Festival Stage and runs until midnight, with vendors staying open for business.

With the band, Jus Us, laying down Motown sounds, thousands of dancing concertgoers transform the Hartford park into "the home of happy feet," a stompin,' alfresco version of Harlem's legendary Savoy Ballroom.

GHFJ President Charles Christie notes that this user-friendly feature has soared in popularity since it was initiated a few years ago.

That first year only 500 to 700 people hung around after the concert to participate in the dance party. Last year, however, between 3,500 to 4,000 celebrants stayed late to groove in the park after dark, Christie says. Many more are expected for Saturday night's partying cast of thousands, he adds.

"Even though there are a several thousand people

dancing all around you," says Nicole Glander, one of GHFJ's 100 volunteer workers, "it feels like a really intimate situation. It's a lot of fun."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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