by: cathy foreman
What a beautiful weekend it was for the 10th Anniversary of the Richmond Jazz Festival. The weather couldn’t have been any better, especially when you compare it to past years, with blazing heat that was just wretched. For the anniversary, I think everyone expected the line up to be AH MA ZING and when you couple that with a probable notion that they needed to make up for the previous year’s cancellation, I can only imagine the pressure. But guess what? The team behind the scenes curating this event, did not miss the mark, not one iota with headliners like Jill Scott and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly coupled with other equally amazing talents such as Ledisi, José James, Bobby Caldwell, Terence Blanchard and Frederic Yonnet just to name a few.
Three stages jam packed and with amazing talent, yet inexplicably missing were patrons. Saturday the weather was definitely the best of the weekend, but where were the people, I found myself asking. From the time the gates opened until late in the afternoon, it seemed as if there were less than half the amount of people in attendance when compared to previous years. Although there was a steady stream of patrons all day Saturday, there never was this huge rush of people as I had seen in the past. Even walking to other stages, I could see the sparseness of the crowd. While there were a number of people seeking refuge from the rays of the sun under the huge oak and cedar trees within Maymont’s beautiful park, there were noticeable gaps in space where in previous years, there were many.
I was curious if anyone else had noticed the decline, on Saturday, so I posed the question to a few people; “Are you a regular at RJMFest?” And that would determine whether I followed up with my next question. “Have you noticed that there are not as many people here, as there were say last year or the year before?” Here are some of the responses I received:
“Richmond is a fickle bunch and once they feel they’ve been done wrong, they are done. There are a lot of other things to do in Richmond, things that are free and people will flock to those events before they drop a dime.”
“I hadn’t really noticed, but now that you mention it, there really aren’t as many people here as there have been. In my opinion, I think it’s due to the lineup. I think festival has gotten away from its roots of jazz and is becoming more r and b. For us, we’ve been coming since the beginning and we miss the jazz aspect.”
“Well, it is kind of hot and the past years have been hotter, so maybe people are waiting until later when then sun goes down and it cools off.”
“I think they need to add more headliners. It used to be more than what they have now. I know there are a lot of artists we haven’t seen yet, that they could probably get. Like, what about Richmond’s own, DeAngelo. Why haven’t we seen him?”
“You know the people in Richmond don’t make a lot of money and quite frankly, many of us can’t afford these ticket prices.”
From these conversations, I could tell that people definitely feel a particular way about the lineups and about the cost associated with attending the festival. But, it’s just like many conversations I’ve had with people over the years, where can you go and see the number of quality acts in one space over a two and in some cases three-day period for this amount of money. If you look at the average cost of a ticket for a single show and multiply that times the number of acts any of these festivals have, you are getting a steal. And I think people fail to look at the bigger picture, in that respect. We could go down the proverbial rabbit hole if we try to understand, rationalize and justify, but I thought it was worth the mention.
Oddly enough, Sunday was hotter and had a much larger turn out than Saturday. I’m not sure if that had anything to do with the discount that was offered to last year’s Sunday patrons or if it had more to do with Sunday’s lineup. It was definitely and interesting contrast. But enough about politics, lets get on to festival as a whole.
As I mentioned earlier, it was beautiful weather; a slight overcast with a nice breeze blowing through periodically. And then we have the lineup. Just to be real with you, I was most excited about seeing José James, after that I could have go whichever way the wind blew me. So, my day was actually filled with some easy listening, listening to Weekend Plans, Kenneka Cook and Anderson East. We loved Anderson East’s set and heard quite a few people around us speak about how soulful he was. These acts definitely got me fired up for where my day truly got started with:
José James – He’s been touring for the past two years with this wonderful tribute to the incredible Bill Withers. Jose was hand picked by Withers to perform these songs. In a little story-time, Jose told us about his first meeting with Withers and how he just knew that Withers didn’t care for him. But what he would come to find out, later in the meeting, was that Withers is not about all the accolades … he is a simple and humble man who would rather tell you stories about himself, the man, as opposed to him, the multi-talented award winning musician.
Bobby Caldwell – The running joke is “You tell me that the man who sings “What You Won’t Do for Love” is white. Damn, I thought he was black. He damn sure sounds black.” I walked into his set right before he started performing this hit and when I tell you trying to make my way through the crowd was a feat, it’s no exaggeration. It was standing room only and space was quickly filling up. When he hit the first note, the crowd was more than ready for him. He didn’t have to sing a word as the crowd did the work for him, but he did. It was beautiful.
Terence Blanchard – Known for musical scores of hit movies such as: Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, Mo’ Better Blues, Original Sin and Cadillac Record to name a few, the phenom is a must see any time you can catch him. Fluctuating between playing his horn, releasing beats from portable studio via laptop to standing back and listening to his band-mates tear it up, it’s clear to see that he’s a music man and is always a pleasure to see and hear.
Jill Scott – Everybody loves Jill. I saw a number of patrons donning shirts with the quote “Jill Scott and Chill”. Since that video came out, for the people who had not seen Jill in concert, it would appear that they are even more enamored with the songstress and maybe not so much for her vocal prowess or performance values as it is the implication of what she can or will do in the bedroom. In either case, she gets it in and the woman is completely full of herself having a spiritual journey within herself as she moves through her catalog of songs. She is comfortable in her own skin and exudes all the confidence any one woman could muster. Simply put, she is JILL SCOTT.
Stephen Marley – I missed Stephen when he was in Wilmington on the 2nd, but I was okay with that because I knew I’d be able to see him in Richmond. Stephen brings with him the whole reggae vibe. Before one note is even played, you’re already in your head speaking in your best Jamaican Patois and swaying to the inevitable beat that will surely some. And as expected, he opened up his set with a couple of popular tunes by his legendary father, Bob Marley.
Ledisi – One of my female muses, Ledisi is simply phenomenal. Every performance is energy filled and just fun. She enjoys herself which in turn makes the audience enjoy themselves. She, like Jill, commands the stage; she owns it. And whether she’s standing still belting out one long incredible note, scatting and performing vocal acrobats or dancing her way across the stage Ledisi, for me, is a must see entertainer every time she comes through.
Maze featuring Frankie Beverly – All day I had been hearing rumblings that Frankie was frail, and people were unsure as how well he could perform. I overheard a couple talking about a show in Hampton, VA where halfway through the show, people walked out, supposedly because Frankie’s voice was not strong, and they weren’t enjoying the show. I was flabbergasted at the thought. I could go off on a tangent about this, but I’ll stay the course. What I do know is that in Richmond, Frankie showed up and put on a hell of a show. He bopped his way across he stage singing hit after hit after hit and I, like many others, smiled and sang the entire time. He was amazing and I’m glad I had the chance to see him live.
The Richmond Jazz Festival was fabulous … as it always is. I’ve had the pleasure of covering it for five years and I’ve not been disappointed once. I look forward to covering this festival for as long as I can.