Jazz and Blues Festival draws crowds to downtown Springfield

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Audiences were set for music and artists were eager to perform as the second Springfield Jazz and Blues Festival brought live music to downtown Springfield on Friday and Saturday.

Presented by the Kiwanis Club of Springfield, the free event saw people from the community and beyond fill National Road Commons Park and Mother Stewart’s Brewing Co. to hear 18 national, regional and local acts that included Grammy Award winners.

“Music brings people together and we’re having a lot of it this weekend,” said Todd Stoll, a Springfield native who helps organize the talent and performs. “It’s about the community coming together to hear great music and musicians excited to play. You have a place of music and fellowship and that brings it together.”

One of Stoll’s favorite parts of the festival is people of various backgrounds, races and ages coming together from here and other cities. Enjoying some of the best seating options were the residents of the Center Street Townes townhomes facing Commons Park, some of whom sat on their balconies while others were outside their front doors on lawn furniture.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Resident Carol Upshaw has made the festival it an annual event, inviting friends to set up on the sidewalk outside her doorstep. Gayle Jones enjoyed the 2022 festival experience so much she traveled here from Indianapolis again, which she does about every six weeks to visit and enjoy whatever is happening here.

“I like what Springfield is doing. It’s so good they’ve made this a big thing,” said Jones. “It’s comparable to anything Indianapolis has.”

Carol Thompson, another guest, lives here and brought granddaughter Maiah Stringer. Thompson loves jazz and calls it her house cleaning music and Stringer considers it her “bubble bath” music. Both like they have easy access to food trucks here too and everyone especially enjoyed the addition of a nine-by-16-foot LED screen beside the Commons stage.

A benefit of a free outdoor festival meant people could drop in and out at their pleasure and between the two venues and even bring their pets as Bill and Shelly Hoffman did with their dog Nala, having cold drinks and listening to Mother’s Jazz Collective, which opened the show on the Commons stage.

“It’s nice to have things downtown,” said Bill Hoffman. “It’s a gorgeous night. We can bring (Nala), have dinner and walk all over.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

One of the youngest attendees was 2-year-old Georgia Gilcrist, who was visiting with family from Maryland. Although grandmother Cindy Griffin said Georgia is a talented dancer, she wasn’t quite ready to perform and took in the music instead.

Griffin was grateful to bring family to town during the event and is appreciative of Springfield’s arts scene.

“You don’t ever want to live in a town that doesn’t have the arts and have great arts here,” she said.

It was an especially busy time for the Kiwanis Club of Springfield. Along with presenting the festival, they also hosted the Ohio District of Kiwanis district convention here this weekend, with 200-300 people from across the state attending.

It showcased what could be the most unique such Kiwanis signature event across the state.

“It shows we’re up and coming and building a name for ourselves here and in downtown Springfield, so it’s a big deal,” said Springfield Kiwanis president Zach Bayless.

When Stoll told jazz vocalist Tammy McCann about the festival, she immediately wanted to become involved due to his enthusiasm to bring this type of entertainment to his community. Her love of working with nonprofits clinched the decision.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

McCann, whose voice has led to her working with some of the top names in jazz, has been working this summer at a jazz kids camp. She did her tribute to legendary vocalist Mahalia Jackson as part of Friday’s lineup. Being outside only enhanced her performance.

“The folks are more relaxed and it’s good to be out,” she said.

Prior to her set, McCann got a surprise visit from fellow performer Brianna Thomas, exchanging hugs. Thomas was the headliner at Mother Stewart’s on Saturday evening. The camaraderie is another aspect that draws the artists here.

“We love connecting with our friends after we were all sequestered during COVID,” McCann said. “We missed the audiences and each other. It’s like a re-bourgeoning of life through music.”

Anyone who didn’t see McCann’s set can see her perform here on Nov. 4 at the John Legend Theater during the Springfield Jazz Symphony Orchestra’s new season featuring the music of Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson.

Springfield Jazz and Blues Festival organizers said they plan to continue this as the Kiwanis signature event on the second weekend in August.

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