“Darn Good Balls” & Experimental Soul Music at the Rochester International Jazz Festival

Your nose will find the long row of food trucks, with jerk chicken sizzling on the hot grill, gourmet mac & cheese competing with jalapeno popcorn for your food $, and a meatball truck declaring that it serves “Darn Good Balls” this way! I came for the jazz music, but look at all this food!


A few hours earlier:

The hotel’s front desk clerk, who is doing a nice job training a new hire while managing a long line of impatient guests, lights up when I ask him about the Rochester International Jazz Festival.  He’s a fan! The folks who put the festival together “really know their music”, he tells me. I have seen signs for the festival since I got off the airplane.

He walks around the desk with a colorful map of downtown, pointing out where the stages, concert halls and other “pop-up” venues are located. My hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, has signs that announce an “after party” from 10 pm – 2 am in the attached restaurant, with featured drinks and live music. This is the place to be at the end of the night!

It’s a Wednesday night, but the schedule is tightly packed! There is a mixture of FREE and ticketed performances, starting at  noon – there are 15 performances before the evening kicks off at 7 pm, and 22 more between 7 and 11 pm.  I ask my enthusiastic desk clerk what the “not to miss” options are for the evening. He insists that I go to see “Danielle and the Tomorrow People”, performing on one of the free stages. She is a Rochester local, and “a Public Defender who happens to be an outstanding performer,” he says.

I overheard two friends who ran into each other on the sidewalk later in the evening: “Did you get to see her? Oh, my gosh – I just love her! I’m gonna buy her CD. She reminds me of Tina Turner. I just love her!” The tent was packed, and Denielle made the local 11 o’clock news. The local talent doesn’t disappoint.

She packs the tent with folks eager to take in her “Experimental Soul” music. From the stage, just a few songs into her set, she says to the audience: “I see that some of you are sitting out there in your chairs, and that’s fine for you. But I want those who really want to dance with us to come right up front.” Several hours later, the hometown performer is featured on the local news.


Walking downtown, towards the festival, there are a LOT of private parties going on. They seem to be put on by local businesses, associations and community groups, feeding on the energy of the festival. You can hear music coming from the parties, and there’s everything from casual denim to upscale cocktail attire, depending on who’s hosting the party. There’s high society rubbing elbows with hippies and high school students. Kids dance on the lawn while great-grandma transforms her walking cane into a convenient stool and stops to listen to the music for a bit.


This jazz festival, which takes over the part of downtown that houses the Eastman School of Music,  is massive! At the “Big Tent” I’m told I should take advantage of the 3-day Club Pass, since there aren’t that many days left in the 9-day festival, and it’s a steal at $154. The pass provides access to shows all day long, on any three days of the festival , and the hotel clerk tells me these performances would be $100 or more if performing solo, outside of the festival. I’m traveling for work, as is typical, so I’ll just take advantage of the free shows, the beautiful night, the local beer and the chance to watch the masses of people here to do the same.


I’m quick to notice that folks here really seem to know each other! Couples, young and old, pass by with a wave or stop and chat for a few minutes about their plans for the rest of the evening. A pair of retired friends stop to eat their fish and chips on a bench. They realize, after some time & halfway through their meal, that they know the younger folks on the next bench.

The young man takes the time to introduce his new girlfriend to the long-time friend of his parents that he’s run into. I hear a remark from a nearby table – “Oh, yeah. . . see that one over there? She retired from Kodak a few years before I did.” Not a surprising remark, in the town that’s the headquarters for Eastman Kodak.

The sun is setting, the light is beautiful, the music is loud and the food smells amazing! Don’t leave without your “vintage” jazz fest T-shirt. . . you know, the ones from last year that sell for ½ the price. (When did that become a thing, calling leftover festival souvenirs vintage? Brilliant marketing!) There’s time for a stop at one more stage on the way out, with one last band. The people of Rochester are not ready to go home yet. They can always follow me to the after party.

Join me for my next adventure!

~ Kat

Related Links:

Danielle Ponder and the Tomorrow People: http://daniellepondermusic.com/

Rochester Jazz Festival: http://www.rochesterjazz.com/

The Meat Ball Truck Co.: https://www.facebook.com/meatballtruckco

Eastman Kodak: http://graphics.kodak.com/kodakgcg/us/en/corp/default.htm

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