The Jacksonville Jazz Fest has been entertaining the River City since 1981. It’s gone through many changes since that first year—when it was held in Mayport, headlined by Dizzy Gillespie and attended by nearly 25,000—but the mission of the festival has remained the same: to bring people together with music and shine a spotlight on the city. In 2012, local concert promoter Jason Lewis had an idea to build on that mission.
“We were eating dinner at Chomp Chomp and I could see the main stage. There were thousands of people there watching the headliner and I was going, ‘We’re not even a block away and nobody’s walking down these streets,’” he recalls. “People are going to this festival, and then they’re jumping back into their cars and going home. Why shouldn’t these people be interacting with the city and finding out about Downtown?”
Lewis debuted Jazz Fest After Dark (JFAD) the next year. The three-night event hosts bands in nine venues throughout Downtown, Riverside and San Marco. It’s a harmonious accompaniment to the Jazz Fest, bringing in a different audience and a varied sound.
“Younger people who may not listen to jazz or identify with Jazz Fest… it gives them a reason to come down. And it brings more local artists into the festival,” says Lewis. “With Jazz Fest After Dark, we can go outside the lines. We get bluegrass, punk, blues, acoustic… That’s one of the great parts of this. It gives festival exposure to a lot of bands that don’t get that chance.”
Now in its third year, the JFAD lineup of more than 60 bands includes Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, Fjord Explorer, Canary in the Coal Mine, The Dog Apollo and Whole Wheat Bread. On May 23, JFAD expands beyond concerts for the first time by throwing a Downtown Block Party in the courtyard of the Laura Street Trio.
“It’s a way for us to bring different, outdoor festivities and add a twist on the entertainment—and hopefully raise a little money for [JFAD],” says Lewis.
The casual party features DJs, bands, games, free beer and dancing. Tickets are $5 until May 21. All other JFAD concerts are free and take place at various venues, May 22-24. jazzfestafterdark.com