Saturday, June 15, 2024

Summer Solstice Jazz Festival returning to East Lansing

April 14, 2024

In the heart of East Lansing, on June 21 and 22, music will ring out in the streets. The Summer Solstice Jazz Festival is returning for its 27th year and will provide an opportunity for attendees listen to professional jazz musicians for free.

The festival will be set up along Albert Avenue, between M.A.C. Avenue and Abbot Road. Anyone can walk through and take in the music from 5-10 p.m. on Friday and 1-10 p.m. on Saturday.

Summer Solstice Jazz Festival Coordinator Justin Drwencke said they believe the positioning of the festival will foster creative exploration.

"You don't have to purchase tickets — you can decide on the day of to come out," Drwencke said. "What we find is that sometimes people come out, or maybe they're already out and about in downtown East Lansing, and they happen to walk by the festival, and they stop and hang out for a little bit. It's a great opportunity for folks to maybe discover jazz as a genre."

The longevity of jazz is ensured by new people discovering the genre and connecting with it, they said.

"What I told folks when they're coming out for the first time is if they stopped and listened to the music a little bit, they might understand a little bit more about how jazz has influenced so much of music," Drwencke said. "This is an accessible way for folks to learn about jazz. It helps sustain this art form by introducing it to new audiences and making sure that there continues to be an audience that is interested in this genre specifically."

Almost all of the festival's funding comes from donations. Drwencke said while the city of East Lansing provides some resources, it’s terrific to see people who want jazz in their community take action in making it a reality.

The festival also partners with the MSU college of music. Due to this partnership, there are two stages to be found at the festival: The Al and Beth Cafagna Founders’ Stage and The Michigan State University Outreach and Engagement Education Stage.

The Founders’ stage will feature performances from renowned musicians and the MSU Education Stage will provide an opportunity for local performers to get their foot in the door.

Chairperson for the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival Ken Jones said it's important to allow this chance for MSU students and local musicians to perform at the festival.

"I think it's a chance to get young artists to perform in front of a diverse audience — an audience they may not see coming to Michigan State, per se," Jones said. "Even though these artists have performed in diverse situations, when you have an outdoor festival with tons of people coming in, I think it's very good for them to have that experience."

With the festival taking place in the heart of East Lansing, Jones said, it's a way to bridge a disconnect between MSU and the community.

"(It's good) for the audience to experience what goes on at Michigan State," Jones said. "Sometimes you get people that think Michigan State may be too highfalutin' and then may not be able to relate to what goes on in Michigan State."

He added that MSU is a part of the festival to help make arts accessible to all.

"This festival, in my opinion, brings together people from the Tri-County area to experience something they may not have experienced before," Jones said. "Sometimes, people have this mistaken thought about Michigan State being so intimidating and things of that nature; there is a cultural divide there, and a lot of people don't want to attend. I want to say that Michigan State University is here to put out the arts for everyone to enjoy."

Assistant Coordinator Colleen Armitage said opening the festival to different levels of performers allows them to get a sense of their true potential.

"A lot of the bands we've had in the past, especially on the Education stage, have been high school and college-age students," Armitage said. "I think it's very important for people who are getting into that music to see what they could do. It's almost like this is where you guys are starting; that's where you could be. We're trying to connect this love of music with all stages."

Drwencke said introducing audiences to emerging artists takes balance.

"We try to balance the folks people are used to and they say, 'Okay, I'm gonna go see this person because I know what to expect from their performance,' and then we mix in some folks who maybe are emerging in the jazz world," Drwencke said.

Including both types of performers "broadens folks' understanding of what jazz is," they said.

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The festival will also feature multiple different ways for audience members to experience the performers; making a free event even more accessible.

This year, community members can choose to pick up sensory bags. Bag will have sensory toys, noise canceling headphones and stress balls — things "people can touch to keep them grounded," Drwencke said. If audience members need to step away from things for a while, they can do so without having to leave by visiting a quiet space on the festival grounds.

For those who don't want the nights' festivities to end, there will be an afterglow at The Graduate following each day of the festival. Located in the Graduate's Rock Bar, the afterglow is free, available to all ages and will feature more live music. 

The festival is also offering opportunities to volunteer. Armitage said the work environment has been an extremely positive one.

"We are uplifting for each other, and there's no reason for us to tear anybody down," Armitage said. "You need to build them up. That's how everyone succeeds, that's how this festival will succeed and that's how we as people get better."

Those who volunteer for the festival get access to the green room and get to see the inner workings of professional performance. This is a way for those interested in the arts to "get their hands in the mix" and for those who are unfamiliar to open themselves to a passion, Jones said.

And while the performers that volunteers would get the opportunity to interact with are still in the works, Drwencke said it's a lineup that they think will please and impress the community.

"The folks that we're in conversation with, I'm really excited about," Drwencke said. "I think the community is going to be really excited about the lineup that we put together."

Information on volunteer opportunities can be found on the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival website. Armitage said it's the little things volunteers do that make a big difference.

"Sometimes making an impact in your community is not about changing the world; sometimes it's about bringing a smile to a kid's face," Armitage said.

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