This past Sunday I went to the 51st Monterey Jazz Festival. I originally wasn’t going to go because ticket prices were a bit beyond my monthly entertainment budget (that I’m trying really hard to start sticking too). But at the last minute, someone was willing to sell us their tickets for half price and then threw in a free child’s ticket, so I had no more excuses.
As indicated in the title, this was the 51st annual Monterey Jazz Festival. It is held every year on the third weekend in September on the Monterey Fairgrounds. The festival is considered to be one of the most prestigious of its type in the country. It annually attracts the biggest names in the genre. In the past, legendary artists such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday have graced the stages. In more recent years, it has attracted the same caliber of artists in their generation, including Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughn, Etta James and Tito Puente. This year’s festival headlined Nancy Wilson, Herbie Hancock, Cassandra Wilson and Ledisi, to name a few.
I’m not sure why, but I did not expect to have as great of a time as I did. The festival offered a wide variety of food, beverage (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and merchandise vendors. The biggest names in musical technology, such as Sharp and Yamaha, featured interactive booths where you could sample their products, which included digital instruments and video games. Merchandisors sold just about everything including paintings, prints, sculptres, instruments, jewelry, clothing and beauty products. And no matter what your culinary preference be, there was a food booth to satisfy it. From New Orleans crawfish, Indian curry and West African jollof rice to plain ole pizza, burgers and smoked sausages, it was there. And the music…the music was exquisite! About 6 stages of entertainment were scheduled throughout various times of the day and night. It was hard to choose which artist’s venue to attend, but every one that I managed to grab a seat for was amazing. I stayed completely engaged and occupied well into the evening.
If you are a jazz fan, definitely make it a point to attend the Monterey Jazz Festival at least once in your life. Monterey is a great city to host the event. This time of year, the weather is usually pretty comfortable with sunny and mild afternoons and cool, breezy nights. Also, all different types of cultures and classes are attracted to the area, which is usually mostly made up of upper-class whites. The mix of races, jazz, good weather and perhaps a little wine, makes for a utopian-feel that leaves everyone with a perpetual smile and pleasant demanor lasting throughout the event.
To maximize your experience, I would print out a schedule from the website prior to arriving or purchase a program on the grounds. If you plan to see a particular artist, make sure you know where and when they are playing and arrive at that stage slightly early. Seats for more popular artists fill fast. To see headliners, you must purchase arena seating. The festival website will indicate which artists are performing only in the arena so that you can make an informed purchase. If you choose to stick with grounds tickets, there is still tons to see and hear. Ample seating is provided throughout the grounds area but many still choose to bring stadium seat pads, collapsing chairs or blankets. Remember that although Monterey can be very lovely, the weather is also very unpredictable. Always bring a sweater, jacket or shawl, especially if you plan on staying until nightfall. Lastly, plan to stay the whole weekend! Weekends packages are available which include three full days of entertainment and arena seating. Enjoy what the city of Monterey has to offer: visit the Aquarium, have some great Monterey wine, play a round of golf, stroll downtown for dinner and live music and most of all, relax…