New Detroit Fest Unveiled

Labor Day weekend should reveal a new look for The Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival. Organizers have considered expanding the musical programming of the event for about two years now.

Apart from last year’s festival, the three-day event has been operating in the red since 2000. The Music Hall Center For The Performing Arts, which has produced the festival since 1994, required a balanced budget for ’04.

Beginning this year, the event will expand, bringing Motown, R&B, gospel and funk into the mix.

“I think there’s only one other city that rivals Detroit in musical product, and that’s New Orleans, so we felt it was time to showcase the music,” festival programmer Frank Malfitano told Pollstar.

The traditional festival – a jazz showcase on four stages at the city’s Hart Plaza – remains intact. Jazz supporters were originally leery about the expansion, fearing the festival’s core programming would get chopped back.

At least one outdoor stage will be added for expanded programming. It will be located at the city’s newest civic jewel, Campus Martius park, and feature acts during three nights of the festival, September 3-5.

In between will be a three-block midway along Woodward Avenue, which may have a sixth stage that would also include other music genres. The concept placates jazz afficionados because of the physical separation between Hart Plaza and the park, and it satisfies the bean counters because the budget is at about $1.2 million, rather than the original expansion plans that required $2 million.

“We’ll incrementally grow the festival,” Malfitano said. “If we’re successful, there’s no red ink, [and we] balance the budget or show a surplus this year, you can plan on seeing additional growth in 2006 and 2007. ….

“The goal is to have about eight outdoor stages and eight indoor venues. We are looking at the possibility of ticketed events in some of the indoor venues down the road.”

This year’s festival will be free, and Malfitano is beginning to work on the programming. Last year’s attendance, with headliners Aretha Franklin and Lou Rawls, was 600,000, according to the Detroit Free-Press.

The expansion was almost delayed to 2006 because Malfitano was ill last year and unable to coordinate the event.

The new concept could be approved in February, the paper said.