First Springfield Jazz & Blues Fest set to play Downtown

When you combine 16 artists on two stages during two evenings, you get the inaugural Springfield Jazz & Blues Fest, presented by Springfield Kiwanis and supported by Springfield's own John Legend.

"It's a first in this area, and on top of that, it's free," says Rich Carey, Kiwanis president and the event chair. "We're pumped and ready to go."

The concept for the festival originated well before the start of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic with a meeting between Carey, Mother Stewart's Brewing Company co-owner Kevin Loftis, and Todd Stoll, a Springfield native and the current vice president for jazz education at Lincoln Center, Carey says.

"Kiwanis had been looking for a musical event that we could bring to Springfield. We had talked to a number of players in the music field, and decided that what was perhaps the coolest genre of music was jazz and blues," Carey says. 

As the pandemic closed most events for a time, Carey says the club waited to see how things came back to life afterward, adding that he is pleased the community is thriving and that this year, the time felt right to once again move forward with planning for the festival. 

Once Loftis was on board for the brewery to serve as the cornerstone of the two stages at the event, planning took off to find the best location for a second stage, Carey says. 

Organizers wanted somewhere with an urban feel that was comfortable, near Mother Stewart's and had easy access to parking. Carey says National Road Commons (NRC) was the natural fit for the second venue. 

The NRC stage will be 32 feet by 24 feet placed at the foot of the park closest to Columbia Street, he says.

"Next we started booking artists with the help of Todd Stoll ... and we hit a lot of home runs with the talent coming to these stages," Carey says.

The Jazz & Blues Fest will be Friday and Saturday, Aug. 19 and 20, with music starting at 5 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday. 

Both stages boast free admission, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own chairs or blankets to sit on while they enjoy the live entertainment.

The only ticketed part of the weekend will be the After Hours Jam session starting at 11 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at Mother Stewart's. Tickets will be sold at the event - not in advance - and are solely for the purpose of crowd control, Carey says. Single night tickets are $15 per person, and $25 tickets are available to cover entry to both nights.

The festival's 16 musical acts include a collective of local, regional and nationally renowned artists, including nightly headliners John Pizzarelli Trio and the Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra, featuring Samara Joy.

"A jazz and blues festival really made sense for us. It captured what we're interested in as an organization - to enhance the quality of life in Springfield," Carey says. "We wanted to do something to engage the entire community in Springfield. We wanted to plan a very diverse event, not just something for one side of the city or the other side of the city, but for all of Springfield."

For a map of both stage locations, nearby parking, other Downtown Springfield amenities, and more details about the festival, including artist lineups, visit the Springfield Jazz and Blue Fest website and Facebook page.

In addition to the regular sales at the brewery, Carey says there will be a variety of beer sold at NRC. DORA cups will be available at both locations - as well as other Downtown restaurants and bars - so attendees can take their drinks with them from one stage venue to the next. 

A variety of food trucks also will be available at both entertainment sites, some of which include local favorites Young's Jersey Dairy, Los Mariachis, Lee's Chicken, Ron's Holy Smokin' BBQ, and Kore 4 Soul Kitchen. Springfield classic The Peanut Shoppe, as well as some other vendors, will also be set up at NRC.

Additionally, the Saturday portion of the Springfield Jazz & Blues Fest keys up with the Springfield Rotary Gourmet Food Truck Competition, happening just a few blocks away at Veteran's Park. That event will host 27 food trucks from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"People used to complain there was nothing to do in Springfield, and now it's changed 180 degrees," Carey says. "Now you just can't do it all!

"The Rotary has been kind enough to end their event shorter on Saturday than usual so that people can enjoy both events without missing anything, and it has worked out very, very well."

The ultimate goal of the Jazz & Blues Fest, Carey says, is to raise additional funds to support the Kiwanis Club's mission of providing positive programming for children. 

And, he hopes the event is successful and able to keep growing for years to come. 

"This is a big undertaking for Kiwanis," Carey says. "It's unpresidented, but we're all excited about what can come from this."

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.