When it was announced TenSixtyFive Fest would not return this year due to the lack of sponsorship funds, many lamented it was “the day the music died” in Mobile, or at least the day the large “signature downtown music festival” did.
Like many city-sponsored festivals, BayFest went away in 2015 after filling the streets of Downtown Mobile with live music the first weekend in October for almost two decades.
TexSixtyFive jumped in right away in an attempt to replace it, but it was a much smaller festival than BayFest, and since it was free, many worried that model would not be sustainable. Clearly, it was not.
Despite this bad news for music lovers and the hotels, bars and restaurants that accommodated them alike, city leaders quickly voiced their commitment to supporting live music in Mobile.
Councilman Levon Manzie, who represents the downtown area, including the LoDa entertainment district, told Lagniappe he planned to ask for a vote on a $300,000 amendment to Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget to pay for a “replacement event.”
Manzie said the downtown businesses needed it, and BayFest and TenSixtyFive had brought more people into our city than GulfQuest (which the city just allocated $1.4 million to this year) ever had. (Ouch. GulfQuest burn! But we all know, he’s not wrong.)
Stimpson did not disagree, but he was more in favor of taking the $300,000 and splitting it up among four smaller festivals throughout the year rather than trying to create one large one so dependent on good weather in order for it to be successful.
I think they are both on the right track.
We do need music festivals to bring people downtown to support these businesses, and we also need ones that aren’t dependent on weather in one of the rainiest, hottest, tropical-system-gettin’ cities in the country.
And luckily, we already have two fantastic music festivals in place, which could greatly benefit and expand with additional support from the city. Both have been run, largely, if not entirely, by volunteers, for years and a cash infusion would be a game changer for both.
The first is the Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Festival (GCEHJF). For 21 years, Creola Ruffin and her crew have put on this festival, which is not only dedicated to appreciating current jazz musicians, but also fostering the next generation.
In addition to the festival, which featured headliners Delfeayo Marsalis and the E.B. Coleman Orchestra last month, the festival boasts a 10-day jazz camp for middle and high school students directed by Hosea London, who leads both the E.B. Coleman Orchestra and the iconic Excelsior Band. It also includes a field trip to New Orleans or another locale where they can study and learn about other jazz greats. Such a wonderful experience for these kids!
The festival moved out to the University of South Alabama’s Laidlaw Performing Arts Center this year for the first time.
“The earlier years, they tried to stage the main event at Cooper Riverside Park and Bienville Square as a free concert, but fell prey to Mobile’s notorious summer weather. It was either oppressively hot or storming violently and was often moved indoors as a last resort. In 2017 and 2018, they moved it to the convention center … and it was moved to Laidlaw for 2019 due to its affordability compared to downtown venues,” according to Lagniappe Arts Editor Kevin Lee.
The festival is almost entirely supported by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Mobile Arts Council, Mobile County and the city of Mobile.
With additional support from the city it could be moved back downtown and become more of a venue-based event. Can’t you imagine seeing great jazz in the clubs all day and into the wee hours of the morning?
And though I am sure some jazz purists are going to want to slap the taste out of my mouth for even suggesting this, what if you could expand the lineup a bit, by adding rock, hip-hop, pop or rhythm and blues performers, much like New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival does? You could bring in a few bigger headliners that would appeal to a broader audience than just jazz aficionados. That formula seems to work for New Orleans, why not here? Sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And GCEHJF already has a bunch of great things going for it.
Speaking of festivals with great things already going for it, SouthSounds, which will present its ninth offering in April 2020, is all that and a bag of chips. SouthSounds’ “niche” is emerging artists across all genres, but the one thing that ties them together is that they are all from the South. This festival is all about catching the South’s hottest artists on their way up. You may see an artist at Callaghan’s or O’Daly’s during SouthSounds and then see them on “The Tonight Show” a few months later.
This is one of my favorite Mobile events and I whole-heartedly believe if it had additional funding to address a variety of needs, this would be one of the biggest music festivals not just in this city or state, but in the entire Southeast.
Again it already has so much going for it, including founders Ted Flotte and Emily Hayes, who have great ears for this music as well a fantastic volunteer board with too many great folks to name (most of whom work full-time jobs doing something else) dedicated to making it happen every year.
The bands already love it, and as such, it has great street cred among the musicians who spread the word to their friends in other bands, which make them eager to play here. You can tell by its impressive alumni, including St. Paul and The Broken Bones, among others.
And the downtown venues love it because it gets people actually in their bars and restaurants, not trapped behind a gated festival fence buying beer from tents and eating food from trailers.
And while good weather certainly doesn’t hurt, since it takes place inside 15 to 20 venues, it’s not a complete flop if it rains all weekend.
Again, with just a little extra support from the city to bring in a few more headliners and help with other costs, this festival could be huge and self-sustaining very quickly.
I hope our mayor and City Council will allocate the $300,000 they said they would like to for this purpose, but I hope they realize we don’t need “replacements.” We already have two great events run by people who have been busting their tails for years and years to bring great music to this city just because they love music and they love this city. Let’s help them out first before trying to whip up some brand new festival out of thin air.
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