Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Free Jazz Festivals Drew Larger Crowds; This Year's Ticket Price Did Affect Attendance,the City Says

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Free Jazz Festivals Drew Larger Crowds; This Year's Ticket Price Did Affect Attendance,the City Says

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF VRABEL

Attendance was well down for the Jacksonville Jazz Festival this year but that was to be expected, city officials said, for an event that was previously free and now charged admission.

City officials estimate the festival drew about 13,000 fans to Metropolitan Park and the Ritz Theatre over its three days, as well as several hundred to the finals of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition.

Nearly 2,000 fans turned out for Friday night's Latin-themed program, headlined by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra; about 8,500 were in Metro Park for Saturday's installment, headlined by Kenny G; and 3,000 came on chilly Sunday, which was capped off by legendary pianist Herbie Hancock.

As often seems to be the case with the festival, unseemly weather may have played a role in keeping attendance down. Saturday's show unfolded under steadily darkening skies, and headliner Kenny G's set was plagued by a late cold rain. Sunday afternoon's show grew chilly when the sun went down.

But regardless, the numbers were well down from previous years. About 22,000 turned out for a rainy festival in 2004, but nearly 60,000 people attended the sunny festival in 2003, according to Times-Union reports. Numbers for last year were not available.

Theresa O'Donnell, the city's director of special events, said the 2006 attendance was to be expected given that a ticket price was instituted after years of charging nothing for the event.

"We were pleased with where [attendance] was," O'Donnell said.

Many fans said they had no problem with the price. Gladys Cooper, who moved here from New York just before last year's festival, said when she found the 2005 festival was free, she was "amazed." Besides, she added, "$10 is not much to pay if you like jazz."

Though a 2005 Times-Union report said that the city had lost $1.19 million on the event over the previous two years, O'Donnell said the decision to charge was made last summer, well before any of the acts were booked. In fact, she added, the city planned to eventually institute a charge when it took over the festival from local PBS affiliate WJCT in 2002. …

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