Event Review | Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival marked by success
Free music festival appeals to all ages
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 4, 2013 08:10
What has been referred to as “Boston’s biggest block party,” the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival certainly did not fail to disappoint last Saturday in Boston’s South End, marking its 13th year of bringing jazz, blues and groove acts to music fans. And with not one, but three stages, the event offered attendees a little taste of everything — the festival also featured an endless amount of activities and vendors.
Perhaps the best aspect of the festival was its price tag — free of charge, the event was open to audiences of all ages. This year’s show was based on the theme “Jazz: The Next Generation,” and, fittingly, the festival focused on up-and-coming artists in the jazz world.
A highly anticipated, diverse event produced by Berklee College of Music, the festival typically draws a crowd of around 80,000 people annually. There was, most obviously, plenty of jazz for listeners to enjoy. Yet, the event was not just limited to music — many parents decided to make the day a family affair and brought their children, who were entertained by other pavilions, including a petting zoo in the main park. With 70 vendors set up over six blocks, there was absolutely nothing missing from the event this time around. Part of its success is due to financial support from outside sources; the Beantown Jazz Festival wouldn’t have been possible without a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which has helped to fund the festival for the past four years.
Among some of the standout performers were Meshell Ndegeocello and Will Calhoun Trio. Ndegeocello, showcasing work from her 10th studio album, “Pour une ᬥ souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone,” was an amazing addition to the lineup. Drawing by far the largest crowd of the afternoon, she used her unique, Nina Simone-esque sound to captivate the audience and engaged them until the very last note of her set. The energy exuded from Ndegeocello was contagious, to say the least, and you could feel the crowd tapping their feet in time with her magnetic jazz beats. Although there were thousands of people watching in open air, Ndegeocello made the concert atmosphere feel as intimate as a downtown jazz club — quite an impressive feat.
Following Ndegeocello was Will Calhoun Trio, whose namesake lead was a graduate of Berklee College of Music himself. Bringing the percussion side of jazz to the table, Calhoun and his group did not miss a beat, with outstanding drum solos that lasted minutes on end without once dragging on past the interest of the audience. The close relationship that Will Calhoun Trio cultivated with the listener during their set was memorable and distinguished their performance in a sea of excellent acts.
The center of the festival contained a huge open park, complete with a third stage, as well as numerous activities for children. KidsJam was the clear-cut highlight for all the children at the festival — the music education program is designed to teach kids about music through interactive musical activities like singing, playing instruments and sound exploration. KidsJam tends to emphasize the jazz genre, something that sets it apart from other programs of its kind. It isn’t often that young children are exposed to jazz, and KidsJam makes this style more accessible to kids.
And no festival would be complete without a nearly endless number of food tents — this year a wide range of options were offered, including a Mexican stand, a Jamaican pulled-pork vendor and various other immensely popular food trucks. Indeed, to get a whoopee pie from the “Whoopee Van,” people had to set aside at least 30 minutes of their day to spend in line. Nevertheless, the pumpkin-spiced treat was well worth the wait.
As The Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival continues to thrive, fans can look forward to another successful event next September. It doesn’t look like this tradition will be ending anytime soon.