Sunday, August 9, 2020

East Lansing's Summer Solstice Jazz Festival set to take place this weekend

June 19, 2018
The music stage is pictured during the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival on June 24, 2017 on Grand River Ave. in East Lansing. The Summer Solstice Jazz Festival is a multi-stage, live outdoor music event where jazz music is celebrated.
The music stage is pictured during the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival on June 24, 2017 on Grand River Ave. in East Lansing. The Summer Solstice Jazz Festival is a multi-stage, live outdoor music event where jazz music is celebrated. —

As the middle of June fast approaches, East Lansing's Summer Solstice Jazz Festival is slated take place this weekend. 

The event will run from 4 p.m. until 11 p.m. on June 22 and June 23. Eight groups are set to perform each night.

Rodney Whitaker, artistic director for the festival, said the first night will primarily consist of Lansing-based groups. Headliners, including Sunny Wilkinson and the Lansing Symphony Big Band with Benny Benack II, will perform. 

The second night will be a "Detroit Night." All of the groups performing that evening are based out of the city of Detroit. Headliners for that night the festival include the Gathering Orchestra, the Detroit Jazz Festival Generations Band and Deon Yates. 

East Lansing’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Arts Tim McCaffrey said that one reason the event is popular with jazz enthusiasts is that it boasts a strong list of performers each year. 

"The artistic director, Rodney Whitaker from MSU, is well connected in the jazz community nationally and he brings in high-quality jazz entertainers that are national names," McCaffrey said. 

Stewardship and Community Events Specialist Heather Surface said a great benefit of the event is "it brings people to the downtown [area]."

"[It] allows the community to be a community, so it’s kind of just outside of the Bailey neighborhood now, people can just walk there and hang out,” Surface said. “It kind of awakens the sleeping summer neighborhood."

East Lansing City Councilmember Ruth Beier said the festival benefits the city by appealing to different groups of people. 

"I think it draws a demographic that we are really looking for in East Lansing, which are people who are interested in jazz," Beier said. “In my experience, it’s the kind of person who doesn’t generally come to East Lansing, so it’s good. The more people we can attract, the better.”

Whitaker reiterated these comments, saying the festival is a unique attraction for the city.

"I think festivals like this are important because it brings people together and I think it brings probably a diverse audience of people that may not come to East Lansing," Whitaker said. "Particularly, folks from the Lansing community that are African-American that may not venture to East Lansing to spend money."

"It’s really like an economic development," Whitaker said. "Jazz was used throughout the world after World War II to rebuild communities and I think that it’s a good way to get people to reconsider coming to hang out in East Lansing."

Due to construction in the downtown East Lansing area, the main stage will be located in the Bailey parking lot this year. 

Although some adjustments are being made to accommodate the event, Beier said she doesn’t envision any real issues that could be presented by the construction.

"Interestingly, even with lot one being torn up we have ample parking, so that’s not going to be an issue and we think the event will be a success," Beier said. 

Other activities that will be taking place in conjunction with the festival include a live art demonstration from artist Julian Van Dyke and a book walk for children hosted by the East Lansing Public Library.

"It brings people downtown to just celebrate summer and be with their family or friends and be together and listen to good music," Surface said. 

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