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Pensacola JazzFest: A Unique Jazz Experience, Perfect for the Entire Family

Few locations in the Southeastern United States can compare to the history, activities, friendly faces and natural surrounding offered by Pensacola, Florida. Dating back over 450 years, Pensacola is one of the oldest cities in America. The Spanish first settled here in the 16th Century, and remained until the area was ceded to the British after the French and Indian War. In 1781, the area was home to a major battle during the American Revolutionary War. The war of 1812 brought multiple battles to the city and in 1818, Andrew Jackson finally seized control of the city. During the American Civil War, Pensacola was again in the crosshairs. In fact, the first hostile shots fired during the war were fired here. After the war, Pensacola began to boom as a major seaport and trade hub for the region. Now, this city of over 52,000 is one of the premier vacation destinations that you’ll find anywhere in the United States.


Pensacola has much offer visitors like you, regardless of the reason you choose to visit. The city is home to perhaps the most extensive display of living history that you’ll find in America. The local historical preservation movement has preserved unique architecture, historical buildings, historical sites, museums and much more. For a change of pace, head to the beach to enjoy more than 52 miles of pristine white sand. These picturesque shores are perfect for sunbathing, games, fishing, sailing, photography and so much more. When you’re ready to eat, the city has a diverse set of restaurants that are perfect for trying new or hard to find dishes. You’ll also find plenty of attractions and amusement parks that are great for the entire family. The best way to experience this region is through its large events, like the community favorite Pensacola JazzFest.


For over three decades, the Pensacola JazzFest has been a staple in the community. This free, family-friendly event is attended by over 12,000 people from all over North America. Here you’ll find great jazz artists from all over the country, here to perform and talk music with the patrons. Your kids will love the the hands-on, music-centric activities and the overall vibrant environment of the festival. Food and refreshments, are available and you can even purchase musical instruments, arts, and craft from vendors. Make your next family vacation one that your crew won't soon forget and head to the Pensacola JazzFest. We got the opportunity to interview Norman Vickers, the Volunteer Executive Director of Jazz Pensacola, to talk about this unique event.


RAL: Tell me a little bit about the event.

NV: Pensacola JazzFest is in its 33rd year. It is administered by the Jazz Society of Pensacola, a charitable organization whose sole purpose is to promote jazz, America’s unique musical art-form. You’ll find a mix of jazz events by national and regional artists plus local jazz musicians. There are also educational groups and jazz bands from University of West Florida, Pensacola State College, and Northwest Florida State College. It’s a free festival located in a historic, oak-shaded park in downtown Pensacola, located only one block from beautiful Pensacola Bay.


Estimates for attendance over this year's 2 ½ day event are over 12,000. It’s family-friendly, no-smoking and pets are not allowed. Each day there is a jazz-jam for kids with harmonicas and kazoos, and each child-participant gets a harmonica or kazoo to keep.


Demographically, we are very family-friendly. There are also concession stands for food, and a beer and wine tent. Some exhibitors have booths selling jewelry, art, and some handmade musical instruments (e.g. banjos, guitars.)


RAL: What makes the event unique?

NV: It’s free and relaxed. For example, we have visitors from New Orleans who remember what early New Orleans JazzFests were like, but no more. Events where one could walk around and sample various jazz artists are simply no longer the norm. We have vacationers from the U.S. and Canada, who schedule their vacations around our JazzFest events.


RAL: Take me through a day at the event.

NV: On Friday night, there is a student jazz competition where high school and college students submit tapes. All the students on stage are individual winners and competition is for ranking amongst them. Winners are awarded money which goes toward purchase of musical instruments, music lessons or music camp. (No money is awarded for beer!) On Saturday and Sunday, earlier in the day, the educational groups appear. Then, from early afternoon until early evening, the national and regional artists perform. There is a wide range of styles from big-band to tight ensemble.


Jazz Society volunteers sell jazz related merchandise including: t-shirts, hats, pins and jazz CDs. Visiting artists bring their CDs so patrons may purchase and enjoy the music at their leisure. There is also a commissioned annual JazzFest poster for sale. You can even get your poster signed by the featured artists if you desire.


The overall environment of the festival is safe and friendly. Pensacola was founded in 1559 and, as such, is oldest the US settlement. You can experience plenty of history in this area with museums, art and other attractions.


RAL: What does the event mean to the community?

NV: JazzFest brings great free music by outstanding jazz artists into the Pensacola area. It’s lots of fun and incredibly family-friendly.  Ultimately, it’s just a great way to get out and meet new friendly people.


The festival also helps the community by bringing a lot new customers to local businesses. The local restaurants, attractions, and shops all welcome the festival and the people it attracts. Jazz Society is a not-for-profit which supports jazz in schools and community. We give scholarships and support the love of music in the Pensacola area.


RAL: Why should people come?

NV: Pensacola has historic attractions. The Pensacola Museum of Naval Aviation is here and attracts national visitors. Lovely beaches are available. JazzFest takes place in a historic district with lots to see and learn.  Plus, the event takes place at a great time of year!

For more information about the Pensacola JazzFest, please visit their website.