Welp, Rochester Jazz Fest is finally here! You’ve no doubt pored over our musical suggestions, discovered some on your own and are ready for the tunes to start. There’s so much to do and see, and even in nine days, not enough time to do and see it in. Here are some tips for the veterans and newbies alike, to help you have the best festival experience possible.
1. Experience the Club Pass
With access to 13 different venues and 221 shows, the Club Pass is the meat and potatoes of the festival; there’s just no better way to experience it. The names might not be as big as the ones atop the headliner list or big weekend free shows, but this is still where most of the magic resides. With the individual shows costing $30-35, after three days of catching three sets each you’ve already gotten more than your money’s worth, and there’s still six more days to go. Savvy festival-goers can work in four or five full sets a night, or go on a tasting menu tour and hit bits and pieces of even more. With the pass you don’t have to worry about jumping in and out of different shows, it’s all already covered. This year the festival has made the overdue, and very smart move, of including a three-day club pass for those who want the full club pass experience but can’t make it out every night. Bonus: you can decide whichever three nights you want.
2. Play Venue Bingo
Not only are there a large quantity and variety of musicians to see, but each venue has its own character and qualities. From the typical outdoor stages and big tents of most every festival, to theaters, churches, clubs and bars, the different live music experiences you can experience in one week are astounding. With the club pass and the ability to jump from set to set, it’s a fun game to try and hit at least one set from every venue.
3. Hit Hatch Hall
That said, one venue we definitely recommend entering is Hatch Hall. Plan to stay for the full set and plan to wait in line to get in. Hatch Hall is a fairly new space built with impeccable acoustics and modern beauty. During Jazz Fest it hosts almost exclusively solo piano concerts. You’ll feel like royalty within its posh environs, as a piano master plays for an attentive and highly intimate audience.
4. Don’t Sweat Lines
Yes, there are lines to get in some venues, namely the aforementioned Hatch Hall, Kilbourn Hall and Max of Eastman Place. Any and every venue has a line snaking outside its walls at some point during the week. The lines are always shorter than they appear, as the crowd respectfully keeps them single file. A line at Kilbourn can reach all the way around the block back around to Gibbs Street and you still might get in. We don’t recommend getting in line too early for just this reason. Your time is better spent seeing music. There is a bit of game to be played here and it sometimes takes some experience to get it right, but when in doubt, pick music over waiting. This year the producers have thrown a wrench into the mix by passing out wristbands for both the Kilbourn and Max shows. We have no advice concerning these and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Wristbands will be handed out on a first-come first-served basis at the venues, with a specific entrance timeframe listed. Admittance will be allowed during that timeframe or anytime after, as space allows.
5. Have a Flexible Gameplan
Along those lines (pun intended), it is always a good idea to have a plan in place going into each night. Use the official printed guide, the readily available City Newspaper insert, a pen and paper or best of all, the official festival app to map out your evening. The app allows you to star your favorites and will warn you when they have sets about to start (which can get somewhat annoying, but still worthwhile). But when there’s a line that isn’t worth waiting in, you’ve heard about a set not in your plans, or you caught an early set and want to bring everyone you know to the late set because it was so good, you have to be flexible in your plans. One of the beautiful things about this festival is that each band plays two sets, which allows for some flexibility of who you see and when.
6. Be Aware of the Buzz
The two sets per night also allows for buzz to build on bands within a single evening. Word spreads quickly and it is best to be on top of it. Talking to people online, overhearing conversations or keeping up with the buzz on Twitter (follow #XRIJF) are the best ways to know what’s what.
7. Escape Your Comfort Zone
There’s so much out there, and such a diversity. We recommend at least once check out something you wouldn’t normally pick for yourself. Whether it be an avant-garde band from Norway or a standards-belting singer, with your club pass in hand and the world’s music at your fingertips, take advantage of the opportunity to open your ears to something different.
8. Wear Comfortable Shoes
The footprint of the festival seems to grow every year. You’ll have no problems getting your steps in on any given night, so do not skimp on the comfort of your footwear.
9. Eat, Eat, Eat
Venues like Max, the Rochester Club and Montage serve food with wait service, while food vendors line Jazz Street with everything from pizza to gumbo and food trucks park along Main Street and East Avenue, depending on the day. Bottom line: it won’t be difficult to find something good to eat. But we recommend one spot in particular; Java’s coffee shop right in the thick of Jazz Street (née Gibbs Street) is a popular stop for their incredible pressed sandwiches. During Jazz Fest they keep their sandwich window open late and it suddenly becomes a hidden gem, as they typically only serve the lunch crowd. The usual long lunchtime waits are generally non-existent during the festival. When you need a quick, dependably great bite, don’t forget Java’s.
10. Smile Until it Hurts
Rochester is never a better music town than it is during Jazz Fest, so you might as well enjoy it to the fullest.