Hear all that jazz for free

June 08, 2006|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTER

This year, for the first time in recent memory, the Federal Hill Jazz and Blues Festival is free of charge.

The eight-hour, 15-band party starts at 11 a.m. Sunday on South Charles and Cross streets near the Cross Street Market.

The South Baltimore Business Association threw festivals in the neighborhood for nearly two decades until handing the duties to Federal Hill Main Street, a redevelopment organization. Main Street started charging admission several years ago and used the Spring Block Party, Street Beat and Jazz and Blues festivals as its primary fundraisers, said executive director Bonnie Crockett.

This year, the group was able to raise enough money through sponsorships to nix the $3 admission fee to Sunday's festival, Crockett said.

"After three years of doing it, we felt like it was time to thank our neighbors and the businesses in the neighborhood," she said. "It changes the mood of the festival a little bit -- makes it more open and friendly."

As a result, Crockett expects a larger crowd at the festival -- about 10,000, or even more if the weather is good, she said.

"I think more neighbors will actually turn out in addition to just new folks," Crockett said.

The Street Beat Festival in September, which draws more people, will also be free, Crockett said.

The Jazz and Blues Festival usually attracts the most sophisticated crowd of the three festivals -- art lovers and folks in their early 30s, Crockett said.

Bands, including singer Marva "The Blues Queen of New Orleans" Wright, the Rumba Club, Greg Hatza, pianist Lafayette Gilchrist, the Bridge, Mofofunka and Blues Therapy will perform on three stages. Each act will perform for about an hour.

Visitors can browse goods from about 75 vendors and stop at local shops. Main Street is hoping shops will stay open later and cater to the crowd, Crockett said.

There will also be a children's area called Little One's Lane, featuring arts and crafts from the Walters Art Museum and the Maryland Science Center, a moon bounce, a sandbox filled with rice and a large blow-up sliding board Crockett calls the Fun Slide. It's open to kids age 7 and younger, she said.

"There's just something mellow about it," Crockett said. "You can stay all day. You can just hang out there all day. The other [festivals] are so packed -- little more energetic. Jazz and Blues is more mellow and pleasant."

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

The Federal Hill Jazz and Blues Festival is 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday on South Charles Street between West and Hamburg streets and on both sides of the Cross Street Market between Charles and Light streets. Free. For more information, call 410-727-4500 or visit historicfederalhill.org.

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