Inaugural Jazz & Roots Music Festival draws 2,000 music fans to Kean University

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UNION, NJ — More than 2,000 community members and Kean students and alumni braved the chilly fall temperatures on Sunday, Oct. 17, for the inaugural Jazz & Roots Music Festival at Kean University, a free, outdoor concert launched by Kean President Lamont O. Repollet as a way to welcome people from across the region to the campus during homecoming week.

“This isn’t a fundraiser, it is a fun-raiser,” Repollet said. “Kean is the epicenter of Union County, whether it is music, art and culture or education. This festival is a way to engage and introduce ourselves to the community. Music fans from across the state are here today and can see for themselves what Kean is all about.”

The Lawn at Enlow Hall was filled with jazz aficionados and festivalgoers old and young, sitting on lawn chairs, bundled in blankets and lining up at food trucks for a bite to eat. They came to see top artists in jazz, rap and hip-hop. Performing were the Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Latin Experience; the Dave Stryker Quartet; JSWISS, featuring Casey Benjamin and Mark Whitfield; and the Vince Ector Organatomy Trio.

Presented by Kean University and executive consultant and producer Mike Griot, the Jazz & Roots Music Festival is expected to be an annual event.

“First-year festivals are especially fun because you still have the unknown, like, are people going to come? But, it’s just good to be back in the saddle again after the pandemic kept us indoors for the last year,” Griot said.

Janice Bland of Edison; her husband, Lee Margolis; and father-in-law, Scott Margolis, were among the first to arrive. They set up their chairs in a prime spot in front of the stage.

“We don’t want to miss anything. We want to hear everything, see everything and not miss anything,” Bland said.

Tamaya Upchurch, a Kean criminal justice student from Connecticut, came with her roommate, Oyebola Falode of Philadelphia, who also studies criminal justice at Kean. They were joined by Davaughnia Wilson, a communication/journalism major from Irvington.

“I was really excited when I heard that they were having a jazz festival, because I’ve never been to a jazz festival before,” Wilson said.

Falode said they wanted to experience all of the events for homecoming and called the concert a “really good idea.” Upchurch agreed that it was a nice change after being away from campus for a year due to the pandemic.

“The campus coming together as a whole, you know. We’re finally outside and safe as a whole campus and community — that’s the best part,” Upchurch said.
English Studies associate professor Mia Zamora brought her teenage sons to the festival.

“It’s a fantastic way to celebrate. The music is inspiring and the crowd is diverse and energetic,” she said. “I want my children to be sharing what I know is such an amazing and dynamic place.”

The music festival is one of many cultural events at Kean, which offers concerts and theatrical performances through Kean Stage, plays through Premiere Stages, art exhibitions through Kean Galleries and a full slate of musical and theatrical performances and art exhibitions by Kean’s School of Fine and Performing Arts students.

“With the festival, we are reaching a whole new group of concertgoers and letting them know that Kean is a place for the arts, no matter what you enjoy,” said Steve Cochran, manager of Kean Stage. “We look forward to an even bigger event next year.”

Paul Perkins of Union, who attended this year’s festival with his brother, Clyde, said he’ll be back.

“Every year! We’ll be here,” he said.

Photos Courtesy of Margaret McCorry