CLEARWATER — For the first time in 13 years, Joe Sacco waited in line to enter the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.
"What's the holdup?" he asked others in the line, which stretched a block down Drew Street on Thursday evening. "Why aren't we moving?"
After decades of free jazz on the waterfront, the 33rd annual four-day festival in Coachman Park began charging $10 for advance and $15 for gate tickets — which means patrons toting fold-out chairs, water bottles and, in one case, toilet paper, waited while volunteers, one-by-one, scanned each ticket bar code.
Sacco, a St. Petersburg resident who has attended since 1999, came to enjoy the smooth tunes, smoke the cigar tucked in his front pocket and sing along as headliner Bonnie Raitt belted out Longing in Their Hearts. The new admission fee was nothing compared to seeing her on tour in Live Oak on Saturday, a trek that would've cost him closer to $700.
"It's still a great entertainment value for a music festival," Sacco said. "Great talents, nice people — $10 isn't going to stop me from coming."
Kay Brulo, a fifth-year Jazz Holiday volunteer, said the opening night crowds Thursday looked "pretty normal," arriving in bursts, humming upbeat melodies.
"I don't think ticket prices are keeping people away," Brulo said. "Things are going similarly to last year. Soon, before Bonnie starts playing, it'll be packed."
However, the fee did have an impact on some. Inside the park, near a rainbow bounce house, Charlie and Penny Costello of Clearwater spread a woven blanket on the grass. The couple, who returned throughout the long weekend during past Jazz Holidays, opted to come for just one evening this year.
"We love the water over here, the sunset over the bridge, the good music — but it's just so expensive now," Penny said. "Between the parking, the food, the (bottled) water — and now we have to buy tickets — it gets to be a lot."
Martyna Krege, a Clearwater resident who brought her 2-year-old daughter, Leilani, for the sunset, understands that ticket revenue will help bring major performers to the festival.
But "we'd rather not pay," she said. "Nothing's free anymore, I guess. It's not a free world."
The Clearwater Jazz Holiday will continue through Sunday in Coachman Park on the downtown waterfront. To see a schedule of acts and purchase tickets, visit clearwaterjazz.com.
Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Kay Brulo was a volunteer at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Thursday evening. Her name was misspelled in a story published Friday.