Jazz It Up

Festivals in the U.S. and abroad offer small groups big bang for the buck — and a great seat at top-notch performances.

Jamaica's Jazz and Blues Festival, which took place from January 22 through 24 of this year, is plenty more than just jazz and blues.

"What makes us a bit different is that we embrace all genres of music," says Walter Elmore, the event's executive producer. "We present the art of music."

Because Jamaica is the home of reggae (not to mention reggae-great Bob Marley himself), festival organizers always include that style of music in addition to many others. Elmore says they present popular music that appeals to a wide range of people.

"We try to have as broad a lineup as possible because the concept of the festival is to promote tourism for Jamaica, to bring people to the island," says Elmore. "It's an opportunity to meet and mingle with Jamaicans and learn a little bit about the culture."

The company that runs the festival can arrange group packages that include air, hotel, and even special passes to the festival. The festival works with every hotel on the island and is a member of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.

The festival begins late in the afternoon each day and runs until about 1 a.m. so that people attending the festival can enjoy Jamaica's other attractions as well.

"You can go to the beach, or go horseback riding, rafting, golfing ... you can do all of that stuff in the day and still have time to come out and eat at the venue, watch a great show, and be back by one o'clock," says Elmore. "That's really what makes it cool."

Farther North

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which is certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest jazz festival in the world—last year it drew 2.5 million visitors. It was also the first festival ever to be carbon-neutral.

The festival takes place in the downtown core of Montreal, says Hugo Leclerc, the festival's publicist for international press, making it unique since many festivals are in more remote locations.

The lineup includes some 550 shows, 380 of which are free; the festival runs June 30 through July 12 this year. But great jazz is certainly not all this city has to offer visiting groups.

"Budgets can be tight, perceptions as well, and you have to take a look at that for groups," says Patrick Giudote, assistant director at Tourisme Montreal. "Montreal certainly serves that. It's not one of those destinations where people say you're blowing a lot of money because it's a Canadian destination and the U.S. dollar goes a lot further here, yet it has that European flavor."

Island Time

In St. Lucia, jazz festival attendees experience the island's history as well as music, with events at national parks and cultural landmarks all over the island.

"The jazz festival feels like a season," says Louis Lewis, St. Lucia's director of tourism. "Jazz becomes the island for two weeks in May and the atmosphere is electrifying."

Not only does the island host four days of stage events, but there are also several days of fringe events, such as Jazz on the Beach, Fond D'or Jazz, and Tea Time Jazz. According to Lewis, the trend in the past has been for people to come mainly for the stage events, but now guests are exploring all of what the festival and island have to offer.

Planners can receive discounts on bulk ticket orders and since the festival is spread over 10 days, attendees can enjoy the rest of the island as well as the festival.

"Groups can take advantage of adventure tours such as mountain walks, biking, zip lining, whale watching, diving, and island sailing," says Lewis, who also recommends the Friday Night Street Party and the Dennery Fish Fry. "It's an opportunity to meet the people of St. Lucia and get a taste of St. Lucian culture," he says.

Southern Hospitality

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival celebrated its 40th anniversary this year and attracted over 400,000 people—the greatest number since Hurricane Katrina.

"New Orleans makes the jazz festival unique because it's a culture," says Matthew Goldman, press and advertising director for the festival. "The food, music, and attitude make it special."

Although there are no special festival passes or events for large groups, the city does have a lot to offer them. Goldman says visitors should not only explore the French Quarter, where the festival takes place, but also the rest of the city—perhaps taking a swamp tour, visiting the bayous, or going to a music club or restaurant outside the downtown area.

The New Orleans Jazz Fest's crowd is comprised mostly of Louisianans, which Goldman says is a great reason to visit.

"The people are gracious and warm," he says. "It's a great way to experience the cultural heritage of Louisiana and New Orleans." And the food. Don't leave without trying the crawfish, says Goldman.

Originally published June 1, 2009

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