For the 10th consecutive year, Miami Gardens, Fla., will draw in swarms of people like moths to a flame—or music heads to a festival—this weekend for the annual Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival, held at Sun Life Stadium and co-hosted by D.L. Hughley and Rickey Smiley. But before the festival boasted legendary names such as Roy Ayers, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Toni Braxton and R. Kelly—all of whom are on this year’s lineup—it was a parking lot event with more promise than people.
“It started as a music festival in the parking lot of the stadium … and now it’s going to be [possibly] over 70,000 people coming from all the across the world. It isn’t lost on me that when they started this festival, the city was still very young,” Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III told The Root. “It wasn’t something that people thought could happen, but believing in yourself—continuing to work toward that end—is why Jazz in the Gardens has lasted 10 years. And not just lasted, but expanded and grown and blossomed into something that is attracting people from everywhere now.”
This year promises to be the biggest and most anticipated event yet: Even before the kickoff, the festival had already broken its box office record.
“As of this morning, it was reported that we have reached that $3 million mark in the box office. We’ve never done that before the day of the show,” Miami Gardens’ Assistant City Manager Vernita Nelson told The Root Wednesday.
This coming from a festival that started with perhaps 2,500 people in the audience and half the tickets been given away. As Nelson points out, Jazz in the Gardens has morphed into a festival to which people come from around the globe—including England and the Caribbean, in addition to other parts of the U.S.—because of its formula.
“We realize that we’ve got folks from the Caribbean, we’ve got folks [of] Latino descent, [and] good music doesn’t have a color on it. So what Jazz in the Gardens has done as far as … the music aspect [is that] we’ve really sort of crafted this formula where we’ve got this balance of jazz, hip-hop and R&B, and splashing in our local artists to make sure they get the notoriety that they’ve been grinding for, throwing in some phenomenal hosts, [creating] this formula that transcends color.”
An example of this, Nelson says, is the Jazz in the Gardens All-Star Band, which will be performing Sunday. It features the most sampled man in pop—Ayers—on vibes, Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards, Ronnie Laws on sax and Tom Browne on trumpet.
“These are folks that in their own right … can capture and hold the stage, but they’ve come together to create this band on … behalf of the festival and our 10-year celebration. And you’ve got a melting pot of folks that are going to be on that stage, in that band, at that particular time, and I think that’s exciting. I think that represents what we have in the audience … the vibe that we’re trying to bring back every year,” Nelson, who is also the executive producer of Jazz in the Gardens, added.
Of course, the festival isn’t all party, although it is about having a good time. The commemoration technically kicked off on Friday with the Women’s Impact Conference and Luncheon from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the city’s nod to March as Women’s History Month. The entertainment started around 7 p.m. with An Evening of Music and Comedy, the opening-night party. Saturday and Sunday, however, are all about the music.
Ayers, who has performed at the festival before, is especially looking forward to the crowd, given the last reception musicians got from the audience. “I hope that the people come out to hear. Jazz is very, very, very powerful,” the 74-year-old “godfather of neo-soul” said, chuckling. “It’s going to be fantastic. You should come on down. Just come!”
“Jazz is not just a genre of music; it’s a state of mind,” Mayor Gilbert said. “Just come down, and if you don’t make it this year, make sure you make it next year—we’ll make it better. This is our party … this is us inviting you to our home, and we will be hospitable and we will have a good time.”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.