Jazz Back in Full Swing

Woohoo! Here comes d’jazz! Even moany jazz-cranks have to admit there’s something pure daycint about the city’s festival being back to its biggest and best since 2019. This year they’ve scored some serious headline acts, but increasingly it’s around the city centre streets that most Corkonians experience the festival.   

Over the last eight years or so the organisers have cleverly booked brass bands from around Europe and the UK to play short street gigs around the city centre over the course of the long weekend.

In recent years they’ve been joined by classy local acts too like Cork’s own Code of Behaviour. The festival pays most of the bands playing outdoors so punters standing around watching on Pana aren’t even expected to toss a few coins in the bands’ buckets. It’s just pure, free entertainment – even the whingy social media trolls find it hard to argue with that one.

Busking standards around town during the rest of the year can vary greatly. There are plenty of very talented performers, but with the advent of big battery powered amplifiers, the karaoke acts can grate your ear drums as well as your soul at times. Some acts, who busk as their full-time job, have been playing the same set of songs day-in-day-out for years too - rarely attracting more than half a dozen docile on-lookers, but somehow not getting the hint.  

The jazz festival is a very welcome panacea for street performing monotony – like a football coach bringing on young, enthusiastic substitutes to replace jaded one-trick ponies and journey men, these Dutch, British, French, German and nowadays, local brass bands supercharge the city for the whole weekend.

For all the weather-proofed comfort of an indoor venue, there’s something special about street entertainment that you just don’t get at pay-in gigs. Firstly, the audience has little or no expectations: they didn’t pay for a ticket, they probably have never heard of the act they’re about to see and they can leave any time they want without causing offence or feel like they’ve wasted a wad of cash.

That puts no obligations on the act too and musicians love that - if they can hold a crowd they know they’re doing a good job.

Ask most street performers and, money aside, they’ll tell you they’d rather play to a hundred people who are dancing around like half-mad monkeys on a street than to a passive thousand-seater theatre audience who are doom-scrolling football scores and Tory leadership contest nonsense on twitter while they perform.

Sometimes the crowds watching bands on the streets during the jazz festival are so dense that it can be hard for some to see and hear what’s going on – it’s especially tricky for small kids. The festival came up with a solution to the demand a few years before the pandemic struck and wisely erected a big covered stage next to the Opera House on Emmet Place.

Elevated well above street level and with a sizeable sound system, crowds have a much better chance of hearing and seeing acts they like. It also means smallies get to see live music – something they rarely have an opportunity to witness in the flesh. 

For decades the jazz festival was almost exclusively geared towards adults – understandable given the nature of the sponsorship (you can’t sell pints to six year olds!). These days, well placed concerns about exposing young people to alcohol branding can be offset by the benefits of kids being mesmerised by live bands.

Like the first trip to a stadium to see live sport, many kids will turn to their parents after being blown away by a big brass band performance and tell them they’d like to learn an instrument – something every young Corkonians should have an opportunity to do.

The good news is that the outdoor stage returns this Saturday and Sunday and will have a rake of high-quality, brass bands knocking out tunes regardless of what Mother Nature fires at the city (and there are more county finals down the Páirc on Sunday too – surely we’re due a break from the monsoons?!).

In recent years Emmet Place has attracted enormous crowds so be sure to do the common-sense checklist on the family, especially young children, before you head there: make sure everyone is well-fed, well weather-proofed in case of a heavy shower and, to prevent trudging back and forth through the crowd and across town again….ensure everyone has an empty bladder before you arrive!

Happy jazz!
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