We can’t move the Carrier Dome downtown. That baseball stadium on the North Side is staying just where it is. But the Syracuse Jazz Fest—that one we can do something about. Now that Onondaga Community College double-booked the dates of this year’s Jazz Fest, urban outdoor music enthusiasts have an opportunity to reclaim one of the greatest summer weekends of the year.
Joanie, Frank. Bring Jazz Fest back downtown. Please.
Frank Malfitano, who founded the Jazz Fest in 1982 and has energetically promoted, protected and produced it ever since, insists that discussion of next year’s festival is premature. He says he hasn’t even given it a second thought.
“I have no idea where we’re going to be in 2013,” says Malfitano, who has run the festival since before jazz was invented. “We’re really focused on this 30th anniversary year.”
“It was a surprise, a glitch,” adds Malfitano, speaking about the decision by OCC officials to book a high school’s graduation the same weekend (June 22 and 23) that this year’s Jazz Fest was to take place. When officials realized that the sounds of jazz might create some dissonance for the graduating seniors of East Syracuse-Minoa, they asked Malfitano to play his funky music elsewhere.
Within two weeks, County Executive Joanie Mahoney came through for the Jazz Fest, managing to find a spot at the popular Jamesville Beach Park in Apulia, ancestral home of the fabled Balloon Fest and in recent years the Syracuse Ironman 70.3 athletic competition. Mahoney announced the new venue during her fifth State of the County address at Le Moyne College on March 6.
OCC, Central New York’s little college that could, is booming. Their new venue, the SRC Arena and Events Center, which includes the new Southwest YMCA campus, has been so heavily booked that the facility’s signature asset, a 200-meter indoor track, gets closed nearly every other day to be covered with chairs and exhibits.
Since OCC is doing so well, I don’t think it will hurt their feelings if we start dreaming about Jazz Fest returning downtown. Malfitano isn’t opposed to the idea. He says he actually looked at the city as a stand-in for this year, but the date he wanted was already taken by the new Galaxy Events Summer Brewfest. That third weekend in June, explains the jazzmaster, is set in stone, and is key to getting the big acts. Headlining acts tour Canadian festivals earlier in the spring, then head to Europe and bigger East Coast venues for the summer, so our festival nicely fills a gap in the calendar.
Since high schools are likely to be graduating in June for the foreseeable future, it’s a pretty good bet that OCC might be putting out the No Vacancy sign for Malf and the Jazz Fest come next year as well. So before the music stops at Jamesville this June, our downtown promoters should be putting together a plan to draw those sweet sounds back to Clinton Square and all of downtown.
A string of summer weekends starting with the Mountain Goat Run in early May and extending all the way through until Blues Fest and Beer Week, and into the autumn would be a nice showcase for the downtown that too many suburbanites still don’t know. (Café Kubal, are you listening?)
I know, I hear the wailing: Where am I gonna park? Anywhere you like. How about this: decked-out buses with New Orleans jazz bands trucking visitors from Onondaga Lake Park, Green Lakes and even OCC. We can make getting there half the fun.
And don’t talk to me about crime. Downtown crime is at a record low, and crimes against visitors are all but negligible anyway. Always has been that way—you could look it up.
If you think that downtown can’t host Jazz Fest then you obviously weren’t there the last night that Malfitano’s show filled Clinton Square in 2000, when Diana Krall and Ray Charles took the stage. Maybe you don’t remember the days when the New Orleans Preservation Jazz Band paraded through the lobby of the Hotel Syracuse and on down Warren Street. Those were the days, and they can happen again. Time to make a move. ο
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at email@example.com.