Expanding the stage: Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival returns in a new two-day format on Aug. 12-13

  • The New Breed Brass Band merges traditional New Orleans jazz sounds with funk, rock, and hip hop. Image courtesy Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival

  • Singer/songwriter Martha Redbone mixes blues, folk, and gospel in her music. Photo by Will Maupin/courtesy Blackfeet Productions LLC

  • William Cepeda, considered a national treasure in his native Puerto Rico, is the originator of Afro-Rican Jazz, a mix of traditional Puerto Rican/African roots music and progressive jazz and world music. CONTRIBUTED/Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival

  • Born in Mozambique and now living in the Boston area, Albino Mbie plays a mix of Afro-pop and what he calls Mozambican dance/jazz. Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival

  • French-Caribbean singer and bassist Adi Oasis brings her mix of jazz, soul, and R&B to the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival. CONTRIBUTED/Kendall Bessent

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2022 2:42:41 PM
Modified: 8/4/2022 2:39:34 PM

Summer is outdoor musical festival time — and next weekend, it will be Springfield’s turn to shine.

The Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival, now in its ninth year, is expanding to two days this year as it returns to the city Aug. 12 and 13, with an evening performance on Friday, Aug. 12, and an afternoon and evening of music and other activities on Saturday, Aug. 13.

Over 20 artists playing a range of music — jazz, blues, funk, Latin and more — on two stages will perform, and the festival, held in Stearns Square, also offers music and art workshops, as well as an opportunity for attendees to take part in a “mural paint party” led by Puerto Rican mural artist Betsy Casanas.

And depending on its progress, attendees can also see the unveiling — or perhaps get a sneak peak — of the Worthington Street Mural, a project in which Springfield artist John Simpson is restoring a historic mural on a 19th-century building to celebrate the city’s history, including images of figures such as abolitionists Frederick Douglass and John Brown and local football legend Nick Buoniconti.

Kristin Neville, a key founder of the festival, says the event has grown in popularity over the years, so that adding a Friday evening session made sense, especially after COVID-19 forced the music fest online in 2020.

“It’s really a great event for the whole city, an opportunity for people to come together and hear some really good music,” said Neville, who lives in Huntington. “It’s a celebration of the music and art and culture of the African diaspora, and how that fits into the larger American culture.”

It’s also a boon for nearby restaurants and other Springfield businesses, she said: “We want visitors to get a look at what else the city has to offer.”

She hopes to have the festival continue with this two-day format in the future.

The festival is sponsored by the nonprofit group Blues to Green, started by Neville in 2013 as a means of using art and music to address economic inequities in Springfield. Neville was also inspired by the life of her late husband, the saxophonist and composer Charles Neville, who  through music overcame many challenges in his life, including growing up in the Jim Crow South.

“Charles always saw music as a way to build bridges between people, to overcome division and create hope,” said Neville, whose group also brings Black and Afro-Caribbean musicians to Springfield schools to talk about the history and culture behind different styles of music.

The festival is free (donations are encouraged), but attendees are asked to reserve a ticket in advance at springfieldjazzfest.com so that event organizers can have a sense of how many people they might see.

“We expect we might see 7,000 to 8,000 people over the two days,” Neville said.

The music begins Friday at 5 p.m. with a number of groups, including some from the Valley, such as blues/rock veteran Mitch Chakour and friends (Chakour was once Joe Cocker’s music director); Boston native Shor’ty Billups, whose career in soul and R&B stretches back to the 1960s; blues rockers The Buddy McEarns Band; and soulful blues singer Janet Ryan and her band.

On Saturday, Aug. 13, the festival begins at 12:30 p.m., as it previously has, with a parade that starts from the Springfield Museums and proceeds to Stearns Square. The march will be led by The New Breed Brass Band, a celebrated New Orleans ensemble that merges classic Crescent City jazz and blues with funk, rock, and hip hop.

Festival attendees can also visit, for free, the exhibit “Horn Man: The Life and Musical Legacy of Charles Neville” at the Wood Museum of Springfield History. Through photos, text and music, the show explores the distinct chapters of the life of the famous musician, a New Orleans native who died in Massachusetts in 2018 at age 79.

The music begins at 1 p.m., and Kristin Neville says she and other organizers have pulled together a mix of players from Springfield, northern Connecticut, New York City, Puerto Rico and a few other locales. Consider Albino Mbie, a native of Mozambique, who as a teenager constructed a guitar from a large oil can, scrap wood, and electrical cords (for the strings).

Mbie, who now lives in the Boston area, later studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston on a full scholarship and today has fused African rhythms and Western jazz to play what he calls a mix of Afro-pop and Mozambican dance/jazz.

Neville says she’s also intrigued to hear William Cepeda, a four-time Grammy nominee and composer from Puerto Rico who’s credited with creating Afro-Rican Jazz, an original mix of traditional Puerto Rican roots and folk music with progressive jazz and world music. Cepeda will also offer a workshop on this music at 5 p.m.

Also on tap: Martha Redbone, a singer/songwriter who’s part Native American and part Black and who merges folk, blues and gospel with backing from a small ensemble known as the Roots Project; Tang Sauce (birth name John Manselle-Young), a hip-hop recording artist, songwriter, dancer and musician from Hartford; and Curtis Haywood, a jazz saxophonist and composer from New York.

Neville says there will be other events at the festival, including an art activity tent for children, and she says one of the themes animating the music fest is climate justice: the concern that the problems linked to climate change, from droughts to flooding to violent storms, will fall disproportionately on people of lesser economic means.

“All these things tie in together,” she said. “I see [the Jazz & Roots Festival] as an example of art as activism, a way to address these issues like inequity, food sovereignty, and climate change and make art a vehicle for change.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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