I have many friends in Rochester who have never been to the Jazz Fest. The answer almost always comes down to, "I don't like jazz."
Here's the good news: the Rochester International Jazz Festival is about much more than jazz. In fact, some purists argue that there's not enough jazz at the event (frankly, we disagree with that assessment, too). The Jazz Fest is home to a wide variety of music, not just jazz. This year you can get rock, blues, r'n'b, world music, zydeco, reggae, Americana, and even a bit of classical. You just have to know where to look for it.
Many of the headliner acts performing in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre fall outside of what most would consider jazz. Willie Nelson (Saturday, June 22) is a bona-fide country legend -- which is precisely why his show is already sold out. But as of the start of the festival you can still snap up tickets to the Tuesday, June 25, show by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and alt-leaning singer-songwriter St. Vincent. You might not recognize the name, but you'll probably know the pipes of Roger Hodgson, dubbed "the Legendary Voice of Supertramp," who will perform Wednesday, June 26. And guitar god Peter Frampton will bring his Guitar Circus show to the Jazz Fest on Friday, June 28, with blues master Robert Cray.
The free outdoor stages are a great place for Jazz Fest newcomers to get a taste of the festival's offerings. This is especially true on the weekends, when massive concerts take place at the East & Chestnut and East & Alexander stages. On Friday, June 21, you can catch country-rock from Josh Panda & The Hot Damned and New Orleans organ-rock from Dr. John & The Nite Trippers. On Friday, June 28, there's a great soul double-bill of Shemekia Copeland and the James Hunter Six. And the festival will close Saturday, June 29, with what is becoming an XRIJF tradition: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will transform East & Alexander into Funkytown for the night.
For more free options, the RG&E-LiDestri Spirit Stage (RG&E parking lot at Chestnut and East) will host bands most weekdays of the festival, and few of them could be classified as jazz. Rock band Violet Mary plays Monday, June 24, while Latin band Calle Uno performs Wednesday, June 26. Ohio-based rock/jazz hybrid Gem City will close down the stage Thursday, June 27.
Several of the Club Pass Venues also venture outside of the jazz realm. Consider Abilene Bar & Lounge (153 Liberty Pole Way), which during the Jazz Fest becomes the "Roots & Americana Stage." As the name suggests, here you'll find a twangier group of performers, including Virginia's The Hackensaw Boys (Friday, June 21), rockabilly gal Marti Brom (Sunday, June 23), 1960's NYC folkster Garland Jeffreys (Thursday, June 27), and even Irish rock band The Blaggards (Saturday, June 29).
New venue Little Theatre(240 East Ave.) has a line-up that's more wide-ranging, but among the non-jazz offerings are blues act Rocky Lawrence plays Robert Johnson (Wednesday, June 26), James Taylor and Carly Simon's son Ben Taylor (Friday, June 28), and NYC soul act Amy Lynn & The Gunshow (Saturday, June 29).
Beyond that, you might want to reconsider what you mean by, "I don't like jazz." Jazz as a genre covers a huge amount of ground, from smooth to avant-garde to big band. You might not dig one variety but another might get you moving. Rather than dismissing it all out of hand, consider checking out some of this year's Jazz Fest artists online. In fact, Rochester music blogger Dave Waltman has put together a collection of Spotify playlists for each day of the festival, featuring music by each day's artists. Check it out and see if any of it cures your jazz-phobia.
City Newspaper's guide to Rochester's biggest music festival. The 2016 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival runs Friday, June 24, through Saturday, July 2. For more reviews, blogs, photos, and the latest news, check our website every day of the festival.
The 2016 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival runs Friday, June 24, through Saturday, July 2, and City Newspaper will be out every night of the festival, covering multiple shows.