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Fine Tuning A Summer Tradition

July 14, 2010, 10:05 PM by Jon Wilson

Fine Tuning A Summer Tradition
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Southern Sioux Falls will be rockin' this week as nearly 100,000 music fans ascend on Yankton Trail Park for Jazz Fest 2010.  This year marks the 19th annual Jazz Fest, which has grown into one of the largest music festivals in the country. Not bad considering its humble beginnings.

Much like the crowds that attend this midsummer celebration, JazzFest has grown considerably over the past 20 years.

In 1988, the first festival was actually a backyard bash in southern Sioux Falls. It featured three bands and one food vendor and drew about 250 people that year.

"That group of people was really the beginning of the idea of what we have today for the Jazz and Blues Festival or JazzFest," Rob Joyce with the Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society said.

In the early years, the outdoor concert found different venues around town, including Sioux Falls Stadium and the Great Plains Zoo. Sponsors and crowds were hard to come by back then. So a few more changes needed to happen before this outdoor concert became a full-fledged festival, starting with a more suitable location and Yankton Trail Park was a perfect fit.

"The city helps so much with making this a great location. It's really evolved into something the city has taken ownership of and they love coming to the festival," Joyce said.

Better promotion, more bands and a larger location all allowed the event to grow.  Eight-thousand people took in the show in 1996, 15,000 people attended JazzFest the next year and the crowds have grown steadily ever since.

"I think it has made Sioux Falls a richer place to live and the quality of life is certainly better when we have these kinds of events happening," Joyce said.

In 2005, JazzFest attracted a record-setting 105,000 people that year. Many of those same music fans now schedule summer vacations around making a stop in Sioux Falls.

"You hear these stories quite often and it kind of makes you proud that people are coming to the state and coming to Sioux Falls and visiting us just because of this music festival," Joyce said.

To add some local flavor to the festival, JazzFest recently added a second stage giving local and regional bands the opportunity to perform in front of a big crowd. And that crowd is what helps pay for everything. JazzFest makes its money through concession sales as well as sponsorships. Profits pay for next year's entertainment. People do pay to park in the park, but tickets are free.

"Our philosophy is lets make this event inclusive to the entire community and do the best that we can to create a very safe and very fun event for everyone," Joyce said.

In the early days, it only took a few hours to set-up for JazzFest; now, it takes the better-part of two days and nearly a thousand people to make sure this three-day party in the park doesn't miss a beat. Most of the volunteers work during the show, like Larry Miller, a 13-year veteran volunteer at JazzFest.

"I'm here from beginning to end with the site management group so I'm here for the whole thing," Miller said. 

Miller is one of 900 volunteers who will volunteer for this year's show and says he's happy and proud to serve.

"It's fun.  I mean it's for a good cause and there's a lot of good people involved," Miller said.

"You know for the most part, we've been very lucky.  I think Sioux Falls is lucky to have an event that kind of has a nice, relaxed vibe where people can come.  Its free, the music is fun, the food is great and they can do a lot of things and just kind of enjoy the summer," Joyce said.

It started out as a one-night stand, but JazzFest has evolved into a finely-tuned, summer tradition the whole family can enjoy. JazzFest begins Thursday night and runs thru Saturday night in Sioux Falls.  For more information, including a list of performers, visit the JazzFest website.

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