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Detroit Jazz Festival to go virtual Labor Day weekend

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

The bands will play on this year at the Detroit Jazz Festival, but they will be indoors and without an audience. 

Organizers, sponsors and city officials announced Wednesday that the annual free outdoor festival would go virtual this Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4-7. The 41st annual festival's presenting sponsor is Rocket Mortgage. 

Performances will be streamed and broadcast live from indoor sound stages that will be built at the Detroit Marriott at the GM Renaissance Center. The performances are closed to the public, and jazz fans can view in real time, with no replays or on-demand viewing. 

Sets can be heard on public radio and television stations and via the city's new arts and entertainment outlet, Channel 22. The festival can be viewed worldwide at and through the festival's smartphone app. 

"The Detroit Festival Jazz Foundation is taking health and safety and the use of technological to a new level of excellence this year," said Chris Collins, festival president and artistic director. "Our new theme for this year is: safe, live, free for everyone."

"After much consideration and patient attention to the evolution of the data, it was decided to create an advanced, virtual performance environment that emulates the live stage experience and keeps the festival free," he said.

While fans miss out on the late-summer weather, festival atmosphere and a visit to downtown Detroit where the Jazz Fest is usually held, they will be able to get an up-close look at the performances from the safety of their homes. 

The sound stages will have similar sound and lighting specifications and be the same size as traditional festival stages, organizers said. Each performance will be shot with three cameras in high-definition audio and video. 

People walk near Campus Martius Park at the 36th annual Detroit Jazz Festival.

As for who will be on those stages, that is still being decided. Due to the ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions and risks, the performers will be largely local. The lineup for the new, virtual Jazz Fest will be announced at a later date, and local jazz artists are invited to apply through July 15 at 

While nationally known jazz artists and legends may not be in Detroit, they still may make an appearance in another way. 

"I have a hunch you'll be seeing them in some form over the four-day programming," said Collins. 

Most annual local festivals and virtually all concert tours have been canceled or postponed to 2021 already, including Detroit Fireworks, Movement (moved to September), Ann Arbor Art Fair, Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Theatre Bizarre, LGBTQ Pride events, the African World Festival, Broadway in Detroit events and the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival, which is also a Labor Day weekend tradition. 

One large event that has not yet made an announcement is the Royal Oak street festival Arts, Beats & Eats, scheduled for the same dates as Jazz Fest, Sept. 4-7. Producer Jon Witz said a decision on what they'll do will be made in about two weeks.

"We are looking at the date of Sept. 25-27 as a potential postponement," he said, adding that it depends on which phase of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's plan the lower part of the state is in later this summer. He said whether it is postponed or not, it will be a "modified" event and if it is canceled they still plan on "something unique" for Labor Day weekend. 

"No plans have been made yet," said Witz. 

Jazz Fest isn't the first Detroit cultural institute to go virtual. Concert of Colors has moved from summer to Oct. 7-10, and will broadcast in the evenings on Detroit Public TV-WTVS and WDET-FM from sound stages at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

Concert of Colors is partnering with world music festivals globally to broadcast the Detroit event to a wider audience. 

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Twitter: @melodybaetens

2020 Detroit Jazz Festival virtual broadcast

Sept. 4-7

View on Detroit Public Television, Channel 22, or the Detroit Jazz Festival app. Listen at WRCJ-FM 90.9 FM and WDET-FM 101.9