As the sun set behind the Memorial Causeway Bridge and the air in Coachman Park wafted with the smells of grilled chicken, fried potatoes and popcorn shrimp, the Clearwater Jazz Holiday was under way. The 29th annual festival opened Thursday night with jazz enthusiasts from near and far bobbing to the grooves of saxophones, bass guitars and the voices of smooth crooners. Fans gathered around the park in lawn chairs and on family blankets and multicolored towels.
"I'm a jazz fanatic," said Tim Kelly, 41, of St. Petersburg, who waited in line from 2:15 p.m. until the gates opened at 5:10 p.m. "Since 1992, I've been the first person in line at least once during the weekend."
On Thursday, he was second. But he still managed to be one of the first in the park to grab his usual spot by the sound board.
The timing of this year's Clearwater Jazz Holiday, which runs through Sunday, couldn't be more fitting for most. With the rough economic times on the minds of many, a free jazz concert with such quality acts is unbeatable.
"Even in good times a free concert is fantastic," said Ednae Hauck, 66, of Spring Hill.
Hauck and her husband, Phil, also 66, sat up on the hill away from the crowd.
"The most important thing is to be able to hear," Phil Hauck said.
Mayor Frank Hibbard, who arrived at the concert along with the rest of the Clearwater City Council on a 58-foot Sea Ray boat named Jazz Fest, spoke of the weekend's timing.
"Now more than ever, people need a distraction and they need something affordable," Hibbard said.
For Anthony Williams, who flew in from Desoto, Texas, for the jazz weekend, it's an opportunity to kick back.
"It's just relaxing," said Williams, 51. "I'm a jazz freak and jazz is a real dying institution, but it's one of the most exciting art forms there is."
Danny Hernandez, owner of Pipo's Cafe and Catering of Tampa, was stirring paella, an authentic Spanish dish that included shrimp, mussels, pork, scallops, clams and yellow rice, said the economy will not affect a great time.
"Jazz and good food," Hernandez said, "will put a smile on anyone's face."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or [email protected]
David Sanborn, 9:30-11 p.m.: Sanborn's ultra-bright alto sound has influenced a couple of generations of saxophonists. Another good bet:
Joe Sample, 7:45-9 p.m.: Sample made his name as a founding member of the Jazz Crusaders, playing funky, blues-drenched electric piano lines on the 1979 single Street Life.
• Karen Benjey, 4:30-5:30 p.m.
• Stefon Harris & Blackout, 6-7:15 p.m.