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It's not all jazz, but the Clearwater Jazz Holiday still draws music lovers

CLEARWATER — For a while, all the stressful things grabbing for people's attention got drowned out by the sounds of keyboards and guitars and horns.

Worried about our dysfunctional government, flood insurance rates, the jobless recovery or Tampa Bay's winless NFL team? Those kinds of problems faded into the distance Thursday as musicians took the stage for opening night of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

A local classic that's now in its 34th season, the festival will continue today through Sunday at Coachman Park on the downtown Clearwater waterfront.

"Yes sir, it's Jazz Holiday time. I'm ready to be carried away, baby," Clearwater music lover Patty Knapp said as she settled herself amid a sea of people in collapsible lawn chairs. "I look forward to this time of year."

The weekend forecast looks like a mixed bag for an outdoor festival. It calls for partly sunny, partly cloudy days with temperatures in the high 80s and a chance of scattered showers on Sunday.

Two sorts of people seemed to dominate Thursday's crowd: regulars who come every year, and those who had never been before. The newbies showed up for Thursday night's headliner, the long-running rock band Chicago.

"This is my first concert at Coachman Park. I was afraid it would be complicated to navigate. But I've got a great spot," said Susan Tyburski of Largo.

At the first Jazz Holiday in 1980, the bands played on the bed of a flatbed truck. Since then, the festival has evolved into Clearwater's signature event, backed by an army of volunteers who do the bulk of the work.

There have been two major changes in recent years.

Not just jazz: It's not just about jazz anymore. Organizers seek a lineup that will appeal to a broad base of fans. That means a diverse grouping of jazz, funk, alt-country and pop talent.

No longer free: Last year was the first time the festival charged for admission. General seating lawn tickets now cost $10 per day in advance, or $20 the day of the show. Kids 12 and younger get in free.

The changes have led to some grumbling.

"They should just call it Clearwater Music Holiday if they're not going to bring back the jazz," said Kathy Dalpiaz of Belleair Beach, who has attended the festival for 22 years. "And it used to be free. We would come two or three times a weekend. This year, tonight's the only night we're coming."

"Then again," said her husband Nick, "where else can you go see Chicago for 10 bucks?"

Organizers say selling tickets allows them to book better headliners.

"We had very little negative feedback" about the decision, said Bob Childress, president of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation. "Most were asking us why we waited so long."

Tonight's lineup is loaded with jazz bands. Saturday brings some funk, including headliner Tower of Power. Sunday features Americana sounds, including alt-country singer Brandi Carlile.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at or (727) 445-4151.