Usually you have to pay a pretty penny to watch Grammy-caliber musicians live.
But it’s all free at the Rosslyn Jazz Festival on Saturday, Sept. 7 from 1 to 7 p.m.
“The Rosslyn Jazz Fest is now in its 29th year and it is our most popular event,” said Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District. “It’s actually the largest cultural event in Arlington County — and it shows no signs of slowing down. We have had record-breaking crowds of up to 10,000 music fans. They just fill Rosslyn Gateway Park each year for this daylong festival.”
The picturesque Gateway Park sits in Rosslyn, Virginia, at the end of Key Bridge.
“The location itself is a terrific atmosphere,” Burick said. “We really transform Gateway Park, which is a three-acre park, into this amazing place. We actually close down Lee Highway and bring in food trucks and a beer and wine garden. It really is a scene. It’s family friendly, it’s pet friendly, it truly is a festival atmosphere, so you’ve got the music going on stage and people moving around the park. It’s just a great place.”
This year’s acclaimed lineup is curated by Josh Stoltzfus of Arlington Cultural Affairs.
“We feature some of the biggest names in jazz and world music today,” Burick said. “The lineup includes The Suffers, who are an American soul-funk-R&B group from Houston. … We also have Grammy-nominated New Orleans brass band Cha Wa. … We also have Leyla McCalla from New Orleans, a singer-songwriter who plays cello, tenor banjo and guitar and sings in French, Haitian Creole and English. She was formerly with the Grammy-winning group Carolina Chocolate Drops.”
The slate also includes an array of local favorites, including JoGo Project.
“They’re native to D.C.” Burick said. “They were founded in 2014, of course inspired by local legend Chuck Brown, so we get a mix of jazz and go-go. I’m telling you, this group is sure to get you on your feet. They perform at a lot of local venues in the DMV: Blues Alley, Funk Parade, H Street Festival, Velvet Lounge and Lincoln Theatre.”
The types of artists have evolved over the years.
“We have made a very purposeful evolution,” Burick said. “We started with more straight-ahead, traditional types of jazz music, which is fantastic, but as Rosslyn has evolved and the demographics have evolved, so has the event. That’s what is so cool about it. It’s got this expanding selection of performers that celebrates the extensions of jazz. It’s not just straight-ahead jazz; it also includes funk, afro-beat and soul.”
The bigger tent of genres has helped to expand the festival audience.
“It opens the door to people who maybe haven’t experienced the genre of jazz and it brings in a new set of music lovers,” Burick said. “It still stays true to the core principles of jazz, which is improvisation and a blend of unique sounds and styles, but we’re doing it in a way that is special. We really believe in the power of live experience.”
In addition to the music, you can also partake in food, drink and activities.
“We would not have a festival without a beer and wine garden,” Burick said. “Festival goers can experience craft beers, sangria [and] a whole series of food trucks that we bring in. Really there’s something for everyone. We actually have a sandbox we’ve created in Gateway Park, so that brings in the family-friendly portion. If you haven’t been to Gateway Park for the Jazz Fest, I really encourage you to come out.”
After nearly three decades, this is a well-oiled machine for a weekend of fun.
“I think certainly longevity has played in our favor,” Burick said. “We’ve built this over 29 years, so we’ve sort of been perfecting and evolving what we’re doing each and every time. Festivals really are a hot ticket these days. People really want a place where they can come and enjoy things that maybe they haven’t heard before. … The [Rosslyn] Jazz Fest is really the perfect way to kick off our fall outdoor activities.”
Check out the Spotify playlist here. Hear our full conversation below: