Beaches International Jazz Festival Taking It To The Streets

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Submitted Don Graham

“Down on the corner, out in the street, (insert band name here) are playin’ bring a nickel, tap your feet.” (Down On the Corner CCR 1969)

Every summer The Beaches International Jazz Festival Street Fest brings life to this famous John C. Fogarty stanza with live bands on nearly every corner of Queen Street East, from Woodbine to Beech Avenue. And you don’t even have to bring a nickel! It’s free!

For three nights Queen Street resembles New Orleans’ Bourbon Street and a little bit of lower Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee. “Early in the evening, just about suppertime” from 7 P.M. to 11 P.M. on Thursday through Saturday bands of all musical genres co-exist on the crowded street. This part of the “Jazz” festival grown to be more than jazz and now includes the sounds of Samba, Big Bands, Dixieland, Rock, Soul, Rhythm and Blues and Funk. Incredible acts like God Made Me Funky, Dr. Draw, The All Star Big Band, Neil Chapman, Jeanine Mackie, Puente del  Diablo, Shrimp Daddy, David Rotundo, Terry Gillespie, Sultans of String, Mae Cromwell and many more. Over 50 bands are actually there to entertain you.

Down With Webster, Canadian rap/rock band are from the Beaches and appeared at the Street Fest before their success. They have since signed to Universal Motown and sold over 50,000 CDs and 50, 000 singles and have been nominated for Juno Awards, and Much Music Video Awards. Festival founder Bill King remembers booking DWW all those years ago. “I booked them on the strength of a cassette they gave me. They had this cool rap/rock thing going on that I thought would work. And it did! There were some “language” concerns, but it all worked out.”

Lido Chilleli.Lido Chilleli.Twenty four years ago The Beaches International Jazz Festival as a collision of two folks on a similar path. Musician Bill King wanted to put on a music festival and Lido Chilelli who owned a bar on Queen Street called Lido’s, had the permit. Together they created The Beaches International Jazz Festival.  It’s now a nine day event running from July 20th to the 29th, in Woodbine Park, Queen Street East itself and the mainstage in Kew Gardens.

The Beaches International Jazz Festival has gained international renown in the jazz community around the world but this story is more about the street fest portion of the Festival. The Festival attracts around one million attendees per Festival season. The BIJF is also great for the local economy, injecting over $30 million into the GTA. Since it’s inception in 1989, this great dame of Jazz Festivals has delivered her goods under the creative eye of musician extraordinaire Bill King, the Festival's long standing Artistic Director and the Festival's  producer, Lido Chilelli. Bill King’s experience and rapport with the musicians is a large part of the success formula from the artistic side.

Bill King Singer-Songwriter Artistic DirectorBill King Singer-Songwriter Artistic DirectorWhen asked the genesis of the street festival portion of the event King says “ We wanted to involve the merchants on the street and get them interacting with the talent. It’s worked out really well.”  He went on to say, “ It’s really a MUSIC festival now , with all different types of music available to listen to. The musical family gets together every year and catch up and say hey to each other “ Haven’t seen you since last year” it’s great how they all get along.”

Theirs is a quality to this Street Fest that is unique to summer in The Beach. Queen Street is closed to traffic from Woodbine Avenue in the west to Beech Avenue in the east creating twenty plus city blocks of fun, food and music. And dancing in the street. Couples, singles, and families. There’s something for everyone. Queen Street East Street FestQueen Street East Street FestLocal merchants stay open until 11 P.M. getting a chance to exhibit their wares on the street and allowing people who live in the Beach and the visitors to get a look at their products in an outdoor market atmosphere. Somehow everything seems like it’s a better deal if you buy it under the open sky! No? Lots of free stuff. Giveaways, samples and in street promotions. Local restaurants break out the “take out” styrofoam and paper plates and offer samples of their great food at reasonable prices. Wholesale candy, funnel cakes, Tiny Tom Donuts, hot dogs, pizza and ice cream. An aromatic paradise reminiscent of the midway at the Exhibition. Pair that with non stop, incredible music and you have the Beaches Jazz Festival Street Fest.

Hard to beat for entertainment and culinary value! Looking forward to year 25 of The Beaches International Jazz Festival - next year.