Detroit Jazz Festival returns to free virtual format, citing COVID-19 and Hart Plaza construction concerns

Aug 17, 2021 at 10:07 am
click to enlarge A crowd at the Detroit International Jazz Festival. - Photo by Len Katz
Photo by Len Katz
A crowd at the Detroit International Jazz Festival.

Not unlike jazz musicians, organizers behind the 42nd annual Detroit Jazz Festival are improvising by pivoting to a virtual format for the quickly approaching Labor Day weekend event.

The world's largest free jazz festival previously announced an in-person event with some pandemic changes, including cashless payments at vendor booths, lots of sanitizing stations, and more video screens to reduce crowding at performance stages.

So, why go virtual?

According to a press release, due to the festival's open footprint, Jazz Fest organizers don't have the capability to require COVID-19 testing, proof of a negative test, or proof of vaccination. Also, Hart Plaza, which hosts the sprawling festival each year, is under construction, which isn't expected to be completed until later this fall. While organizers entertained the idea of moving the festival to Campus Martius, due to inevitable overcrowding, they decided t0 return to a similar format as 2020's virtual event.

Organizers also say festival performers, some of whom expressed concern over the safety measures, were taken into consideration when making the decision to go virtual this year.

“This is a winning solution that preserves the legacy of the Detroit Jazz Festival while bringing amazing performances into a virtual format,” Chris Collins, Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation president and artistic director, said in a press release.

“We’re thankful for our sponsors, donors, and patrons for their support which enables us to once again provide a jazz festival that is safe, live, and free for everyone. Also, a special thank you to the city of Detroit for the great improvements happening at Hart Plaza which will make the 2022 Detroit Jazz Festival even better along with many other events held at this venue.”

In lieu of in-person events, the festival will once again be held without live in-person audiences, and will instead be streamed and broadcasted live for free from indoor sound stages at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, which will be closed to the public. Audiences will be able to watch or listen to performances via the festival's social media channels and website, as well as on public radio and public television. There is also a DetroitJazzFest LIVE! app.

The festival will still take place Sept. 3-6, and this year’s Artist-in-Residence Dee Dee Bridgewater is still scheduled to headline multiple performances during the festival, including an opening set with protégé group the Woodshed Network Ladies, and a closing night performance with her all-female big band.

Previously announced performers — like Herbie Hancock, Gregory Porter, Keyon Harrold, Omar Sosa and the Havana-Detroit Jazz Project, and others — will also perform as part of the festival's weekend-long livestream.

For more information, scheduling, and where to watch live performances, see

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