Jazz in the Gardens Big Names Give Small Business the Love

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Donovan Thompson and his wife, Jeannette Thompson, owners of Kingston Delight, showcase Jerk Chicken and Jamaican Escovitch Fish at their North Miami Beach restaurant on Wednesday, March 9, 2022.

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Donovan Thompson figures he probably won’t sleep Friday night.

A mixture of nervousness and excitement is likely to have his brain spinning – even if the ‘Kingston Delight’ restaurateur has to be up at 5am on Saturday to finish setting up his stand at Jazz in the Gardens. The festival is so important to Thompson that he says his last two weeks were spent seasoning about 3,200 pounds of chicken, 200 pounds of oxtail and 300 pounds of fish.

“It puts your business on display,” said Thompson, a Jazz in the Gardens salesman since 2007, between filling propane tanks and storing charcoal for the festival. “Nothing was happening [because of the pandemic]. Now any small event will be packed because people can’t wait to get out.

Jazz in the Gardens, one of Miami Gardens’ top tourist attractions, will return to Hard Rock Stadium this weekend after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a twoyear of layoff. Boasting a lineup that includes The Isley Brothers, Mary J. Blige and Rick Ross, the two-day festival will provide an economic boon by showcasing Florida’s largest predominantly black city.

“Jazz in the Gardens is about that family atmosphere,” Ross, who grew up in the Miami Gardens neighborhood of Carol City, told the Miami Herald. Although this is his first time performing at the festival, he says he paid close attention to how the brand has become something that “needs to be on calendars now”.

This was not always the case. Founded in 2003, Miami Gardens was in its infancy when then-Mayor Shirley Gibson came up with the concept of a city-run music festival. Jazz in the Gardens will open in 2006, and while the city didn’t recoup its fees for the first shows, Gibson achieved its primary goal: to put Miami Gardens on the map.

“It was really to give us an identity and to let people know who we were,” said Gibson, the city’s first mayor, adding that the festival was “a standout brand for the city.”

Over time, this identity has been refined. Unlike the Dolphins games, Rolling Loud or other events held at Hard Rock Stadium, Jazz in the Gardens attracts a more mature crowd. Past lineups, which included the O’Jays, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan and Jill Scott, are reminiscent of summer backyard barbecue playlists.

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Local artist April Raquel and the Koture Funk perform at the 11th Annual Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival in Miami Gardens on Saturday, March 19, 2016.

Music and nostalgia will always go hand in hand, but there’s a specific soul attached to these sorts of artists, something Gibson’s successor Oliver Gilbert says he underscored with sponsors and listeners alike while touring. press in New York and Atlanta. In turn, the festival turned into an event that produced around $12 million in 2019.

“We’re selling a sentiment,” said Gilbert, now Miami-Dade commissioner of District 1, which includes Miami Gardens. “You will come to sing, dance and party with friends and strangers. You will leave everything behind. This weekend is for you to have fun.

Just as the festival was seemingly reaching its peak, COVID-19 hit. Miami Gardens lost “a few million” in production and publicity costs after Gilbert had to cancel the festival days before its 2020 start, the former mayor said. The two-year hiatus, however, has only created additional excitement around the event: the festival itself is nearly sold out as all tickets for Friday’s Women’s Impact Luncheon have sold out. .

“It’s hard to quantify what the sense of community is until you have it,” Gilbert said.

Despite its growth, the festival remains rooted in Black South Florida. Local restaurants like Thompson’s Kingston Delight are staple vendors. Jobs are created. Even Miami-based artists like Deep Fried Funk Band are reaping the benefits.

Jody Hill, the band’s drummer and founding member, estimated the band’s solicitations more than doubled after their first Jazz in the Gardens performance in 2012.

“We were getting calls of ‘Hey! We saw you at Jazz in the Gardens and we loved what we heard!’ or “Hey! I want you to play at my wedding,” Hill said.

Similarly, Thompson was also exhibited at Jazz in the Gardens. He guessed that Kingston Delight served between 1,500 and 2,000 people a day at past events.

“Jamaican food was on the back burner, but now I see all kinds of people coming into the restaurant,” Thompson added.

This relationship with local entrepreneurs is one of the things that makes Jazz in the Gardens such an important event, said Connie Kinnard, vice president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Jazz in the Gardens especially does a great job of connecting with entrepreneurs, small businesses, black businesses that can be part of the larger festival,” Kinnard said. This helps to ‘include’ a wider range of businesses.

It was this kind of growth that ultimately gave Ross a new sense of pride in his beloved Miami Gardens. Although his hometown is very different from where he grew up, Ross is willing to embrace change, especially since the soul of the town has remained the same.

“If you’re someone who wants to be mesmerized by the skyline, the ocean, the boats, that’s easy,” Ross said. “But if you want to have that real soul, that inner reality, come to my town. Come to Miami Gardens.

This story was originally published March 10, 2022 5:30 a.m.

C. Isaiah Smalls II is a reporter covering race and culture for the Miami Herald. Previously, he worked for ESPN’s The Undefeated as part of their first class of Rhoden Fellows. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Morehouse College.

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