Summer Solstice Jazz Festival Returns in Hybrid Format

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Photo courtesy of the City of East Lansing.

Etienne Charles on the Al & Beth Cafagna Founders’ Stage at the 2019 Summer Solstice Jazz Festival.

UPDATE: Find information about where you can gather to enjoy this year’s festival offerings by clicking here!

The 2021 Summer Solstice Jazz Festival has gone virtual by offering a hybrid format this year in an effort to keep community members safe amidst the ongoing pandemic. In partnership with the MSU College of Music, the festival will offer community viewing areas as part of the hybrid format on June 25-27.

In March 2021, the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival (SSJF) Advisory Board met to weigh their options when it came to the annual outdoor music festival, considering whether to offer a virtual format or delay an in-person festival to the fall. Justin Drwencke, the City of East Lansing’s community events and park stewardship specialist, spoke about how the City arrived at the decision for this year’s upcoming festival. 

“At the time the decision was made, vaccine distribution was still rolling out slowly, and there was still a significant community spread of Covid-19. At the March meeting, the Advisory Board received input from Ingham County Health Officer Lina Vail.” Vail suggested, based on the data in March that holding an in-person event in June would require a large stadium and caps on attendance.

“Therefore, the Advisory Board suggested working with the MSU College of Music to produce a livestreamed festival, where artists would perform live from the College of Music and the performances would be streamed to the community to enjoy,” explained Drwencke.

Typically, the SSJF features nationally recognized and regional jazz artists, coupled with youth and community education for attendees over a two-day outdoor setting. For 24 years, the festival has offered multiple stages of free live music, including Grammy-nominated musicians. This year, the festival’s Artistic Director, Rodney Whitaker, suggested a three-day lineup.

Photo courtesy of the City of East Lansing.

Rodney Whitaker with Terrell Stafford, Bruce Barth, Tim Warfield, Dana Hall & Rockelle Fortin on the Al & Beth Cafagna Founders’ Stage at the 2019 Summer Solstice Jazz Festival.

“While the performances of the 2021 Summer Solstice Jazz Festival will be presented virtually, community members can expect the same caliber of jazz artistry that they have come to love about the festival from years past,” Drwencke said.

“This year’s festival will highlight local and Michigan-based musicians, which has always been a priority of the SSJF. While the festival will certainly look different this year compared to the large gathering of 7-8,000 jazz lovers in past years, we are incredibly excited to showcase some outstanding jazz musicians,” Drwencke explained.

Another new component of this year’s festival is artist interviews, giving attendees a chance to learn more about who is performing.

“Between performances, while the stage is being set up for the next band, each artist will be interviewed, and the community will be able to learn more about the artist and the inspiration for their music,” explained Drwencke. “We think this will be a great addition to the festival and allow a more intimate understanding of the musicians than has been possible at the festival in the past.”

Eighteen bands will perform live sets at Murray Hall in MSU’s Billman Music Pavilion. The performances will also be livestreamed for community members to watch at outdoor viewing locations that are compliant with Covid-19 public health orders across the community or their own homes.

Drwencke said given the lifting of outdoor gathering orders as of June 1, he expects the public viewing opportunities to be abundant and is looking for partnerships with restaurants in the area that would like to host viewing parties. Streaming platform details are still being determined, but Drwencke is hopeful the performances will also be available to be viewed later.

The SSJF takes place Friday, June 25 from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Saturday from noon to 11:30 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8:30 p.m.

UPDATE: Find information about where you can gather to enjoy this year’s festival offerings by clicking here!

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