Jazz Fest returns to downtown Jacksonville over Memorial Day weekend. Here's what you need to know

Patti LaBelle closes the Jacksonville Jazz Festival next Sunday.
Patti LaBelle closes the Jacksonville Jazz Festival next Sunday.
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The Jacksonville Jazz Festival returns to downtown next weekend, with two stages, three days of live music and nearly two dozen performers — and it's all free.

Here's what you'll need to know before heading out to the festival, which returns to its traditional Memorial Day weekend slot in the downtown streets after playing in the fall last year and not at all the year before.

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Tickets are free for this year's Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, which will be held Thursday at the Florida Theatre.
Tickets are free for this year's Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, which will be held Thursday at the Florida Theatre.

When does the jazz festival begin?

The festival actually kicks off Thursday at 7 p.m., when five musicians face off in the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition. The pianists will each play three songs, backed by an ace rhythm section for two of them, in a pressure-packed Florida Theatre. The winner earns a spot on one of the big Jazz Festival stages later in the weekend. New this year: tickets for the Jazz Piano Competition are free.

Riverfront Plaza will be one of the venues for this year's Jacksonville Jazz Festival.
Riverfront Plaza will be one of the venues for this year's Jacksonville Jazz Festival.

Where are the jazz fest stages?

There are two for this year's festival. The Groovin' Stage is at Ford on Bay, on Bay Street near the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. The Swingin' Stage is at Riverfront Plaza, the grass field where The Jacksonville Landing used to stand.

Who's playing at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival?

Only some of the biggest names in jazz. Herbie Hancock, Kem, Mindi Abair, Stephanie Mills and Patti LaBelle are all on the bill.

What's the jazz fest schedule?


4:15 p.m.: Akia Uwanda & Friends, Groovin' Stage

4:30 p.m.: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Combo, Swingin' Stage

5:15 p.m.: United States Air Force Airmen of Note, Groovin' Stage

6 p.m.: Mike Phillips, Swingin' Stage

6:45 p.m.: Christian Sands Trio, Groovin' Stage

7:45 p.m.: Jazzmeia Horn, Swingin' Stage

8:15 p.m.: Ledisi, Groovin' Stage

9:30 p.m.: Herbie Hancock, Swingin' Stage


4:30 p.m.: Ray Callender, Groovin' Stage

4:45 p.m.: Eric Carter, Swingin' Stage

6 p.m.: Jacksonville Jazz Festival Hall of Fame All-Stars featuring UNF Jazz Ensemble I, Groovin' Stage

6:15 p.m.: Emmet Cohen Trio, Swingin' Stage

7:45 p.m.: Damien Escobar, Groovin' Stage

8 p.m.: Stephanie Mills, Swingin' Stage

9:15 p.m.: Saxophonic featuring Euge Groove, Eric Marienthal and Everette Harp, Groovin' Stage

9:30 p.m.: Kem, Swingin' Stage


4:15 p.m.: Anonymous DA Band, Groovin' Stage

4:30 p.m.: Taylor Roberts, Swingin' Stage

5:45 p.m.: David Sanchez Carib, Groovin' Stage

6 p.m.: Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition winner, Swingin' Stage

7 p.m.: Mindi Abair, Swingin' Stage

7:30 p.m.: Robert Glasper, Groovin' Stage

9 p.m.: Patti LaBelle, Swingin' Stage

How much are jazz fest tickets?

The main-stage performances are all free. Festival organizers sold VIP packages, with closer seating, dedicated bars and climate-controlled restrooms, but those are all sold out.

Free? So I don't need any money at all?

Well, yes and no. You can watch the shows for free, but you might want to buy a drink, some lunch or some of the cool festival merch. For those, you'll need plastic; the festival is completely cashless.

What should I bring with me?

A chair is always going to be useful, and you never know when you're going to need an umbrella or raincoat (the festival is a rain-or-shine event).

What should I not bring with me?

Coolers, tents, grills, alcohol, outside food and drink, knives, guns or other weapons, skates, skateboards, illegal drugs, bicycles, scooters, balls, Frisbees, signs or flags larger than two-by-three feet, drones or any other items deemed unacceptable by the city of Jacksonville. All guests are subject to search upon entering the venues.

Where do I park?

You're kind of on your own for that one, but there are lots of parking garages and street parking available in the downtown area.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority's Skyway will run for extended hours throughout the festival, connecting downtown to parking at the Kings Avenue garage and the Prime Osborn Convention Center. The Skyway will run until 11 p.m. Thursday, midnight on Friday and Saturday and 11:30 p.m. Sunday. Rides on the Skyway are free.

I am a musician and would like to learn more. Are there opportunities?

You're in luck. Jazzmeia Horn and four of the Airmen of Note are leading free jazz clinics Saturday afternoon for up to 100 people each. Go to jacksonvillejazzfest.com/clinics to register.

A few years back I attended a late-night jazz jam. Are they doing that again this year?

Sure thing. The John Lumpkin Trio will act as hosts for the event, scheduled for 9 p.m. to midnight Saturday in the breezeway behind the VyStar building, just across the street from the Swingin' Stage. They'll have a keyboard, amps and microphones for guest musicians, and you never know who might show up.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jacksonville Jazz Fest returns Memorial Day weekend