On the opening night of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, a cultural staple that draws tens of thousands of people to the city, Mayor Frank Hibbard took to the stage to welcome the guests downtown.
"Thirty years we've been doing this," he said at the Thursday evening ceremony. "How many people have come for 30 years?"
The gates had opened only moments before. People were still unfolding chairs, sleeping bags, tarps and blankets. He asked his question again.
"Anybody out there?"
A blond woman in the fourth row of the VIP section raised her hand.
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If the Clearwater Jazz Holiday doled out awards for perfect attendance, Sunny Fellows would be one of the recipients. She has attended every one since 1980.
She has seen Dizzy Gillespie and Spyro Gyra; the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Dave Brubeck.
She said jazz music makes her feel good. It also reminds her of her late father.
Fellows, 73, is a self-admitted daddy's girl. Del Rex Forbes was a jazz musician in the family's native Ohio. He played the jazz violin and the stand-up bass. He had a band.
"Played a lot of big-band stuff," Fellows said. "I grew up listening to the band practicing and that's how I know all the old standards and learned to love jazz."
She was living in Clearwater for about a year when she came across an announcement advertising a free jazz show at Coachman Park. She and her husband went to the nearby Seminole Boat Ramp, boarded Sundancer, their 17-foot bowrider, and watched the inaugural Jazz Holiday from the water.
"We were anchored for an hour and I said, 'This is it,' " she said. "It was pure, solid jazz. You can't get a whole lot of jazz, unfortunately."
For the first three holidays, Sunny and Ross Fellows bobbed to music from Sundancer. The year Dizzy Gillespie came, she climbed a wall so she could get a better view.
"It wasn't easy," she said. "My husband pushed me up."
Her northeast Clearwater home is plastered with Jazz Holiday posters as far back as 1983. They're framed and hung on walls in her living room and solarium.
The one from 1996 is special.
That was the year her husband died. She didn't want to go to that year's concert without him.
Friends coaxed her.
The attendance streak was unblemished.
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For years, organizers of the Jazz Holiday would pass out surveys and ask patrons which performers they wanted to see.
"I always put down Al Jarreau," she said.
She got her wish on Thursday. Jarreau was the opening night headliner.
"I never thought I'd be able to actually see him," she said. "When I found out, I said, 'We're going.' "
Actually, her granddaughter Christy Lynch said, Fellows started screaming.
Fellows said she can't attend all four days of the Jazz Holiday like she used to. She has arthritis now and sometimes uses a cane. Thursday was all she could muster.
She waved her arms, sang every word of every song and stared at the stage all night long.
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.