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Beautiful forecast for Clearwater Jazz Holiday

Karen Benjey performs Friday at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday at Coachman Park.

JOSEPH GARNETT JR. | Times

Karen Benjey performs Friday at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday at Coachman Park.

CLEARWATER

As the second night of Clearwater Jazz Holiday kicked into gear Friday, organizers looked forward to a fine weekend — and further ahead to a bright future.

Forecasts are calling for gorgeous weather, with no rain today or Sunday. That's pretty sweet for an outdoor concert that has seen its share of downpours.

"We have been so enriched by the Jazz Holiday. To us, it is relaxation, it is inspiration," audience member Janice Marie Demps of Palm Harbor said, basking in the sun in the front row. "People come from all over the world to rejoice, unite and enjoy the music."

Meanwhile, organizers are already peeking down the road at next year, which will be the free festival's 30th anniversary.

For one thing, an outdoor art show that debuts today along nearby Cleveland Street is a dry run for a possible bigger version next year.

"We're getting our feet wet with that, just working out the kinks this year," said Bill Smith, president of Jazz Force, the festival's volunteer planning group. "We're working toward making Jazz Holiday bigger and better every year, and we really want to make the Jazz 'N Art Walk part of this weekend."

Not that many years ago, the annual festival was in a slump. It had lost money in rainouts and could no longer afford to bring in top-tier talent. Through sponsors, it has rebounded with a spicy variety of big-name acts. In fact, at times it threatens to outgrow its longtime venue, Coachman Park.

At some point, the city hopes to expand the park.

"We want to get rid of the asphalt parking lot there," said Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne. "We need to create the 'great lawn' for outdoor events on the waterfront."

Ideally, Mayor Frank Hibbard would like to see the city demolish the Harborview Center as early as 2010, put parking there, and turn Coachman's existing lot into green space.

But all that seemed far away Friday night as a mellowed-out crowd listened to an endless river of jazz.

"I'm here for David Sanborn. You can ask me anything about him, and I'll know it," said Linda Meloche of Port St. Lucie, who staked out a prime viewing spot early to see the saxophone legend. "He's influenced so many people. He's a god."

Spring Hill retirees Rudy and Inez Rochester listened to the young talent on Coachman's stage Friday evening and recalled watching jazz legends Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie "Bird" Parker in the 1950s at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

"We've been coming down here for years, ever since we first heard about it," Rudy Rochester said. "The remarkable thing is that it's free."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

>>FYI

Bridge closures take place tonight

The Memorial Causeway Bridge will be closed for about a half-hour tonight due to Jazz Holiday fireworks nearby in Coachman Park. The bridge is to be blocked off in both directions between 10:35 and 11 p.m. due to fire code requirements. Coincidentally, the Belleair Causeway will also be closed from 8 tonight until 7 a.m. Sunday due to construction. This will leave the Indian Rocks Bridge at Walsingham Road as the closest route to the barrier islands.

Beautiful forecast for Clearwater Jazz Holiday 10/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 17, 2008 8:42pm]
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