CLEARWATER — Here, our autumns are marked not by falling leaves, but by the notes that float over Coachman Park during the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.
Sitting back, enjoying the sounds as the water sparkles and the sun sets in the background, well, can be just as special as any show of fall colors.
The Jazz Holiday's 34th season brings an impressive crew of jazz, Americana and pop talent to the park Thursday through Sunday.
Bookending the festival: the multiplatinum Grammy-winning band Chicago on Thursday night and folk singer and songwriter Brandi Carlile on Sunday.
Like last year, it will cost some pocket change to get into the festival that once was free. General seating lawn tickets are $10 per day in advance; $20 the day of the show. Children 12 and younger are free with a paying adult.
Bob Childress, president of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation, said charging admission is the only way to go because grants, scholarships and donations are evaporating in the poor economy.
"It's the only way to stay alive," he said, "and with that we are able to develop acts that people want to come see."
About 35,000 attended last year's festival.
"Overall, the experience was fantastic. We had very little negative feedback and most were asking us why we waited so long (to charge admission)," he said.
Four-day and weekend discount packages are available. Limited reserved and VIP seating is going fast, organizers say.
Childress says the mission of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation is to support music and arts education in the Tampa Bay area. Money raised from this festival will provide scholarships and educational outreach programs to 30 schools. This year, audience members will be asked to text in their donations.
Also, an unprecedented 50 high school and college interns are helping out in areas of interior design, communications, photography, audio and visual, and food and beverages.
Each day of the jazz fest is designed to appeal to varied tastes.
Thursday brings a mix of the old and new as two teenage siblings, the local Ries Brothers, warm up the crowd for Chicago, a band that has been rocking American stages with their big horns for more than four decades. Jazz singer Lisa Casalino gets the party started at 4:30 p.m.
Friday is for the jazz-centric with Latin, straight-ahead and smooth jazz bands. Multi-Grammy Award winners Paul Brown and Larry Carlton headline.
Saturday brings jazzy, funky family fun with a bevy of bands including the high-energy Level 10 and icons Average White Band and Tower of Power. Stay for a pyrotechnics show beginning at 10:45 p.m.
Americana sounds arrive Sunday with the help of Have Gun, Will Travel and Lake Street Dive, followed by Amos Lee and Brandi Carlile.
For the first time, the after-parties will be held Friday and Saturday nights on the StarLite Majesty dining yacht, docked at the Clearwater Harbor Marina on the Coachman Park waterfront. Music will be provided by the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Jam Band; festival musicians are expected to pop in and jam along as well.
Tickets for the after-parties are $16 in advance, $21 at the door, with cocktails and appetizers available for purchase.
Music chair Allon Sams predicts a good response to this year's Jazz Holiday.
"It took seven months to put together the lineup," he said. "It's a big juggling act, but we think people will like it."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at [email protected]