Thousands come out for opening night of the Elkhart Jazz Festival on Friday.
ELKHART — From the organizers, vendors, participants and musicians, everyone could agree on one thing: the Elkhart Jazz Festival’s opening night was a hit.
Friday night of the 25th anniversary Elkhart Jazz Festival went off without a hitch. Thousands packed the free stage near the Civic Plaza to see performances from crowd favorite Tim Cunningham and Davina and the Vagabonds, while the Lerner Theatre hosted Joan Collaso and Larry Hanks Trio and The Four Freshmen.
“Dogs for Dollars” co-owner Craig Twiford said his hot dog stand was doing well during the Friday night festivities. Last year was great for the business, but this year has been slightly better. Most food vendors looked busy as the evening went on, including pop-up restaurants ModMex, Lucchese’s and Café Navarre.
Lerner Theatre general manager David Smith said that last year, the theater hosted the jazz festival shortly after its grand opening week. He said the staff had a better handle of the box office this year and that overall things were running much more smoothly than last year.
“There’s a lot of happy people on the plaza right now,” Smith said.
Ticket sales were on pace to beat last year’s totals by 25 percent, Smith said.
Jazz Festival Chairman Tim Shelly said that in 2011 people were trying to make up for the two-day festival that was in 2010. Now, people are happy and excited to be at the jazz festival.
“Our mission is to revive and keep downtown moving forward,” Shelly said.
Just as things were heating up on stage, people sought shade as the temperatures reached the low 80s on Friday.
As the jazz festival was getting started, people sat in chairs on the sidewalks near the Wells Fargo bank. Some moved the provided folding chairs while others brought their own. Friday’s high was 81 degrees, while the forecast for today, June 23, lists a high of 84 degrees, according to AccuWeather. The weather cooled down as the evening progressed.
Jazz pianist Rossano Sportiello came to perform at his third jazz festival. He said he would be playing in about 10 shows during the festival weekend and playing in two bands this time, the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet and the Eddie Metz Trio, instead of one like other years. He came back for the “nice musicians” and the good instruments.
Sportiello said he was happy to “have an instrument that would let me express what I feel.”
Tamara Wiley came to support her husband, musician Pat Mallinger, who played at the Knights of Columbus on Friday night.
“Two years ago it was deserted,” Wiley said. “It’s coming to life, it seems.”
The Chicago resident said she’s been about to eight festivals and thought it was set up well this year.
She met many out-of-towners on Friday and said she was happy to see them at the festival.
“It’s great to see people hanging out and having fun,” Wiley said.
Even unofficial town historian Paul Thomas thought the festival was larger this year.
“Biggest crowd I’ve ever seen,” Thomas said.