The 32nd annual Willingboro Jazz Festival came to Mill Creek Park on Sunday, bringing an upbeat spirit that even the midday heat could not suppress. Families and friends unfolded chairs and gathered under trees, tents and umbrellas for shade while waiting for the start of the festival’s performances.
Musical performances were scheduled to begin at noon and were expected to run until 9 p.m., with the festival ending at 10:30 p.m. with fireworks.
Putting together a show the audience enjoys is just one of the rewards of working on the festival, said Jill Cyrus, director of both the festival, Willingboro’s parks and recreation department.
“When you see that you get 20 (thousand) to 25,000 people (in attendance), and each year it’s been growing. That makes you feel good,” Cyrus said. “That makes you feel that you’ve done something for the community, and for the surrounding area, to be able to provide this kind of entertainment and this type of atmosphere, a family-friendly day in the park to enjoy good music and fellowship.”
After being introduced by host Mimi Brown, of Philadelphia radio station WDAS, the band Exit 45 took the stage. Whether one was sitting close by or was further away visiting a vendor’s booth, playing in the Kids Zone, or enjoying the vintage car show, the music came through loud and clear.
Cyrus said the jazz festival often attracts families, including some who hold family reunions there.
The Murray family, of Willingboro, said they attend the festival every year. They enjoy the food and the entertainment, and this year, one of their family members was scheduled to perform with the group All Star Band.
For 10 years, Willingboro resident Hassan Allen, 46, has returned because of its atmosphere and fellow audience members.
“It’s the most beautiful thing … each year it’s getting better and better,” said Anthony Durmmond, 56. The Burlington City resident has attended the festival for about 15 years.
For some, it was their first time at the event, including Rhonda Thompson, of Mount Laurel. Thompson, 49, said she decided to attend in order to try something new, after hearing about the festival from a friend.
Cyrus said performances by big-name artists have helped boost attendance. Sheila E., Oli Silk, and Big Daddy Kane performed at the 2015 festival.
Sheila E. is a Grammy-nominated percussionist. According to his website, olisilk.com, Silk plays the keyboard, composing and producing music in addition to touring and recording.
On www.officialbigdaddykane.com, the artist’s biography describes him as an award-winning hip-hop artist. Just Kane’s sound check Sunday received whoops and applause from the audience.
Cyrus also credits a fireworks show sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, with increasing attendance at the festival. The fireworks were a new addition last year.
The option to purchase VIP access to the festival for $100 also was introduced in 2014. The VIP package included weekend events such as bowling, a party and parking and seating closer to the festival’s stage.
Attendees seemed to enjoy themselves no matter where they sat. The afternoon atmosphere was positive and, like Exit 45’s music, upbeat.
“Good music, lots of vendors, lots of happy people,” said Camden resident Marguerite Neil, 55. “A blessed day, that’s what it is.”
The event’s full lineup included Exit 45, David Cedeno, Qrave, Funktion 11, Oli Slik and Big Daddy Kane. Heavy Hitter DJ Kam played music in between acts. All Star Band had been first on the day’s lineup, but was unable to play due to scheduling conflicts, according to event organizers.