Saxomatic entertained the outdoor crowds at the 2016 Tri-C JazzFest. Photo submitted by Tri-C JazzFest

From art to music to family-focused, Northeast Ohio’s festival season offers a wide range of options

By Becky Raspe

Sizeable crowds gather in downtown Canton each year for the Canton Blues Fest. Photo submitted by Canton Blues Fest

Sizeable crowds gather in downtown Canton each year for the Canton Blues Fest. Photo submitted by Canton Blues Fest

From late spring to early fall, festival season is a time when almost every weekend offers Northeast Ohioans opportunities to experience new art, music and performances. East, west, south or downtown – festivals pop up all across the region, and perhaps the only thing as diverse as their respective locales are the interests of the crowds that attend them.

Organizers of four such festivals – the Canton Blues Fest (June 9-10), the Tri-C JazzFest (June 22-24), the 40th annual Lakewood Arts Festival (Aug. 5) and the 16th annual Cedar Fairmount Summer Festival (Aug. 20) – say the relationships their events have with the communities in which they take place are mutually beneficial, which in turn, make them eminently enjoyable for all who attend.

For the Canton Blues Fest, those attendees include music fans from as far away as Canada and Florida, says Collyn Floyd, the festival’s director of marketing. She adds that the two-day festival is one of the largest free blues festivals in the U.S.

“This year’s lineup features 18 acts on two stages, including five-time Grammy nominee Robben Ford and Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers,” Floyd says. “It has truly become a Stark County summer tradition.”

Floyd explains that during the ‘60s and ‘70s, retail and restaurants moved out of downtown Canton and into the suburbs. The blues festival was created in part to pull people back into the city.

“Arts and music festivals give people a reason to venture downtown,” she says. “We’ve found that once they have that authentic downtown experience, they love it and come back again and again.”

A different downtown setting is the stage for another popular music festival: Tri-C JazzFest, a three-day affair put on in downtown Cleveland’s Playhouse Square district.

This year’s headliners include Grammy winners Chris Botti and Dianne Reeves as well as Boney James, Boz Scaggs and Terence Blanchard. Returning this year will also be a host of free outdoor events on U.S. Bank Plaza, including performances by local musicians and activities for kids.

Terri Pontremoli, director of JazzFest and Tri-C Presents, applauds Northeast Ohio’s richly diverse jazz audiences and touts the fact that JazzFest has long been a place where families can enjoy jazz music.

“I think we have a lot of people who really love cultural experiences in Cleveland,” she says. “A lot of people can’t afford to travel, so JazzFest gives the community not only a place to gather in Cleveland but also supports the fact that Cleveland has always been an interesting city.”

Another family-friendly, community-oriented festival is Cedar Fairmount Summer Festival, held in the Cleveland Heights neighborhood by the same name.

Face painting is among the Cedar Fairmount Summer Festival’s many family-friendly activities. Photo submitted by Cedar Fairmount Summer Festival

Face painting is among the Cedar Fairmount Summer Festival’s many family-friendly activities. Photo submitted by Cedar Fairmount Summer Festival

Kaye Lowe, executive director of the Cedar Fairmount Business District, says the Cedar Fairmount Festival serves as a great way for local merchants – many of which line the streets in the neighborhood – to give back to the community.

“At the festival, we offer free activities and entertainment with local entertainers along with artists,” she says. “We offer something for all ages and we’re looking forward to putting a big emphasis on kids activities.”

Face painting, games, bounce houses, food and live music are often in the mix during the one-day festival, which is entering its 16th year. It’s a successful mix for this East Side suburb – but one that also works across Northeast Ohio, thanks to the region’s diverse population, Lowe says.

“This type of festival is good at any location,” she says.

Artists and makers alike participate in the Lakewood Arts Festival. Photo submitted by Lakewood Arts Festival

Artists and makers alike participate in the Lakewood Arts Festival. Photo submitted by Lakewood Arts Festival

For the Lakewood Arts Festival, Lisa Metro, a festival board member, says attendees can expect to see the same great mix of artists they’ve come to expect over the festival’s 40 years – with a little philanthropy mixed in.

“I’ve gone for years myself and I always find myself buying something,” Metro says. “We also have fundraising opportunities and award arts scholarships at the festival.”

Through the scholarships and fundraising, the community is “ensuring arts for generations,” says Metro, adding the festival attracts both residents and visitors who might not otherwise visit the West Side suburb.

“You’re reinvesting in the community,” she says. “It’s always nice to have a family-friendly, walkable festival in your own town.”

As for Northeast Ohio on the whole, Metro recognizes the value of the arts within the region.

“Northeast Ohio is a creative place,” she says. “It’s historically a huge supporter of the arts. We just have this legacy of loving the arts and really supporting that love.” CV

On Location

Canton Blues Fest

The Canton Blues Fest will take place June 9-10 in Canton. For more, visit cantonchamber.org/canton-blues-fest.

Tri-C JazzFest

The Tri-C JazzFest will take place June 22-24 in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square district. For more, visit tri-c.edu/jazzfest.

Lakewood Arts Festival

The 40th annual Lakewood Arts Festival will take place Aug. 5 in Lakewood. For more, visit lakewoodartsfest.org.

Cedar Fairmount Summer Festival

The 16th annual Cedar Fairmount Summer Festival will take place Aug. 20 in Cleveland Heights’ Cedar Fairmount neighborhood. For more, visit cedarfairmount.org.

Lead image: Saxomatic entertained the outdoor crowds at the 2016 Tri-C JazzFest. Photo submitted by Tri-C JazzFest