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Summer Solstice Jazz Festival makes ‘bittersweet’ return to East Lansing 

June 20, 2022
<p>The East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival took place on Albert Ave on June 18, 2022.</p>

The East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival took place on Albert Ave on June 18, 2022.

Photo by Sheldon Krause | The State News

The 26th annual Summer Solstice Jazz Festival returned to downtown East Lansing this weekend, showcasing 19 bands over two days. 

Festival coordinator Justin Drwencke described this year’s festival as a bittersweet one.

“Festival founder Al Cafanga, unfortunately, passed away a couple of weeks ago,” Drwencke said. “We are mourning his loss and celebrating his life at the festival this year.”

Drwencke named Cafanga a longtime supporter of the arts in East Lansing. The East Lansing Art Commission, co-led by Cafagna, presented the first Summer Solstice Jazz Festival in 1996. Inside Erickson Hall on MSU’s campus, Jazz music was played from 9 p.m. until the sun came up. 

The Jazz Alliance of mid-Michigan performed a special tribute to Cafanga on Saturday. 

The festival has not taken place in person in two years. In 2020, the event was canceled altogether due to COVID-19. In 2021, the College of Music held a virtual concert, amidst lingering COVID-19 concerns.  

This year, the incorporation of East Lansing’s pedestrian-friendly space, Albert EL Fresco, made for a more dynamic concert experience. Concert-goers sat at picnic tables and played outdoor games while the musicians performed. 


Alec Reo said that being in person for the concerts is a much different experience.

“Everyone misses being in public spaces like this, people love the ambiance of all this,” Reo said. “Listening to jazz with birds in the background.”

Promoting youth education is an important aspect of the festival. Through the festival’s partnership with Michigan State University's School of Music, local young musicians receive the opportunity to perform on MSU Outreach and Engagement Education Stage. The East Lansing Library also led children’s activities in the concert area.

The Rockelle Fortin Quartet is one of the bands that played on Saturday. Fortin said she used to play on the educational stage when she was a teenager. Now, she entices the crowd from the main stage. 

“When I moved here when I was 16, these same people that run the festival allowed me to play on that stage when I wasn’t that good,” Fortin said. “It made me feel really excited and there’s also gratefulness that I have attached to it.”

Fortin grew up around a love for jazz music and art. Her father, Rodney Whitaker, is a renowned jazz musician and educator. Fortin said she grew up in a household that cultivated love, expressing herself and embracing being an artist.

“I have home-field advantage,” she said. “The way that he raised us is to be true to yourself.”

After the festival on both Friday and Saturday, The Graduate Rock Bar hosted the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival After Glow concert. Michael Reed and Sam Corey entertained guests with more live music. They closed out the weekend with a rooftop view of the city that welcomed the festivities all weekend long.


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