The pandemic silences the 2021 Jazz Fest

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The CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival is canceled … again. And once again silence will hit the streets. Before you go into mourning and shaking your fists at the sky, understand that this is a good thing. 

Please don’t get me wrong: The decision to cancel the 2021 Rochester Jazz Fest was inevitable and people must realize the work its two producers, John Nugent and Marc Iacona, do to deliver this first-class event. You could say they’ve taken on the role of Sisyphus. 

“My heart is heavy,” says Nugent, producer, and artistic director, in a statement. “All of our colleagues, with whom we block book much of the amazing talent we present, postponed their festivals months ago.”

The team had no viable options.

“As we tried to plan, the plethora of logistical barriers (included) capacity limits, border closures, artists reluctant to travel, limited availability of talent to book, visas for international artists now invalid, and more,” Nugent adds. “We fully realize that the loss of live music has created a huge void in our lives and it has been career-ending for many musicians, but we will bring RIJF back next year with the high level of superior artistry our patrons have come to expect, and in an environment that will be inspiring and uplifting.”

The Jazz Fest now is slated to return June 17-25, 2022. Tickets for headliner concerts have been refunded, officials say, and club passes may be redeemed in 2022 or 2023.

“Planning during a pandemic for an event of this scope that draws people from all over the world has been a challenge beyond anything we have ever encountered,” says Iacona, festival producer and executive director. “As the landscape has continued to evolve we have discussed myriad configurations such as fewer days and all outdoor shows, but it has become clear that we cannot deliver the product that people expect from us musically or logistically with capacity restrictions.”

In my mind, moving the event to Rochester Institute of Technology was never gonna work; half the RIJF’s thrill is downtown Rochester as a participant lending itself to the party. Though it means we don’t get a Jazz Fest this year, it proves that it’s better to postpone something great rather than serve up something crappy. 

Nugent and Iacona have set the bar high with this event and it’ll return in 2022—fingers, eyes, and legs crossed. And once again jazz and its fans will fill the street.

Frank De Blase is Rochester Beacon music writer.

One thought on “The pandemic silences the 2021 Jazz Fest

  1. Good decision to postpone again. Aside from all the Covid restrictions, I agree that RIT is just not a proper venue for a music festival that has its roots in downtown Rochester.

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