Jazz and Blues festival rocks to a grand finish

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The horn section of the Count Bassie Orchestra blows out a tune Saturday night at the first Florida Jazz and Blues Festival at Cascades Park. Photo courtesy Michael A. Cork

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

    Gray skies lingered following a two-hour downpour that sent a steadily building crowd scampering from the amphitheater at Cascades Park for shelter Sunday afternoon.

      But not all of them stayed away on the final day of the Florida Jazz and Blues Festival. It was the first event of its kind for Tallahassee and spectators like Joe Elliott weren’t going to let the rain ruin their opportunity to take it all in.

     Not on the final night anyway, when there were at least three more bands to perform.

     “I think it’s great,” Elliott said. “The lineup has been tremendous, especially being willing to come out and perform in this atmosphere.”

   Despite the rain, not a single act was cancelled. Scottie Barnhart, who doubled as performer and artistic director for the festival, hurriedly rearranged the lineup. Some performing times were reduced by 10 to 15 minutes.

   “I think it worked,” Barnhart said. “We didn’t have to change anything; just had to delay a little bit.”

    For those who weren’t just into the music, vendors lined the deck behind the stage hawking their goods. Hand-made clothes, jewelry and fragrances were the most popular. Some left after the rain, but those who stayed had a steady stream of inquisitive customers.

     In between describing one of the many dashikis on display, vendor L. Abyssina said business was good for her and her husband. She predicted that next year’s event will draw even bigger crowds.

  “It’s new but it had an awesome turnout,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the rain it would have seen a lot more people.”

      Organizers estimated that the festival drew about 5,000 to 6,000 people to the park for the weekend.

     The festival is the brainchild of Barnhart and Jon Brown. They pulled off the event with little hitches, Brown said.

    “Our road map was talent first, funding second and everything else afterward,” Brown said. “That was important for us because if you are sitting here you’re in front of world-class music. I think we achieved that.”

    They got plenty of help from the community, too. Leon County and City of Tallahassee government assisted with funding. Several local businesses also contributed financial assistance, with others offering in-kind donations.

     “Those people have been very, very nice in granting us what we asked for,” Barnhart said. “We are greatly indebted to them.”

    The curtain came down on the three-day festival with a riveting performance by the Rebirth Brass Band that had folks rocking in their seats or dancing in front of the stage. Tampa guitarist Selwyn Birchwood put on an even more electric show with his four-piece band.

   The biggest single night crowd showed up for the Count Basie Orchestra’s performance, with Barnhart directing. The band featured its newest member Ray Nelson II, a FAMU grad, on drums.

  Jazz legends Freddie Cole, brother of Nat King Cole, and bassist Cleve Eaton also appeared with the band.

     But for Barnhart, an Atlanta native who has ties to both FSU and FAMU, it was a special night.

  “Standing on stage introducing the orchestra reminded me what I’m a part of up there,” Barnhart said. “It was great.”

The weekend of music was an opportunity to fulfill a dream he’s always had for Tallahassee, Barnhart said.

   “This weekend just gives an example of what you can do if you plan it right and you have the right people who believe and can do it,” he said. “I’ve had so many comments that we can’t wait for next year and I’m already planning for that. We’ve got to keep making it better and better. That’s all we can do.”

For three days, Tallahassee witnessed some of the  most popular acts. Local musicians also had a chance to share the stage.


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