CLEARWATER — Tim Kelly was the first to enter the gates of the 2010 Clearwater Jazz Holiday as they swung open shortly after 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
He and his friend, Diana Dume, both residents of St. Petersburg, had been waiting in line for three hours, blankets and chairs in tow, to pick their favorite spot near center stage.
For Kelly, being No. 1 through the gate is an important and long-standing tradition.
"I've been first in at least two days of the four-day festival for the last 16 years," said Kelly, 43. "We look forward to seeing old friends again that we see every year and listening to some smooth jazz."
Mother Nature seemed to be in a good mood as the fans at Coachman Park were greeted with clear skies, balmy breezes off Clearwater Harbor, and relatively low humidity.
"The weather will only get better and the jazz is going to get hotter," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who helped to open the 31st annual festival.
Last year, Mother Nature wasn't quite as kind, said Rick Lundy, 46, of Largo, who is on the Clearwater Jazz Force, the team of volunteers running the festival.
"One night it was stifling hot, then it rained the next night and by the third night it was freezing cold," he said.
Shortly after the gates opened Thursday, the park began filling up with jazz aficionados, many wearing jazz T-shirts from years gone by.
In the merchandise tent, volunteers were busy selling this year's model T for $15.
It featured a stylized lamppost sprouting musical instruments. The original was drawn by Palm Harbor artist Lorraine Potocki.
Harold Schermerhorn and his wife, Susan, also from Palm Harbor, snatched up a couple of the T-shirts.
"We buy them each year, wear them out and have to get new ones," she said. The couple plans to return for two more nights.
"We love the lineup of stars," he said.
Thursday's lineup included Jarred Armstrong, Little Feat, and cool cat Dr. John and the Lower 911.
Tonight features Norman Brown's Storming Jazz with Brenda Russell and Jessy J.
Saturday brings lots of cool jazz acts, including Soulive, and fireworks at 10:45 p.m.
Many in the audience said they were looking forward to seeing Eric Darius on Sunday.
Miami Beach residents Ryan Kinard and his fiancee Stacey Gaafare said they planned their vacation around the Jazz Holiday.
"I've been a jazz fan all my life, even as a kid," said Kinard, 42. "We'll be coming here every year."
Charlie Bianchi, 65, of Safety Harbor said he's been attending the jazzy event for 13 years.
This year, he encouraged his buddy Keith Fudge, a native of New York, to come on down.
"I bring people here every year," he said. "It's the best deal in town."
Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org.