Record crowds flock to National Jazz Festival

By John Cousins & Kiri Gillespie

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The 50th National Jazz Festival has blitzed previous years with visitor estimates reaching 60,000, organisers say.

Speaking just before the headline Earth, Wind & Fire concert last night, festival director Arne Herrmann said the weekend's "huge numbers" represented a welcome rebound from last year's crowd of 30,000-35,000 visitors during the damp and dreary Easter of 2011.

"I would think, from the reports we've had today, we would be back up to the 60,000 mark, if not a little more."

Mr Herrmann had not seen such large crowds in his four years directing the festival.

Warm weather had helped lure the crowds local businesses had been hoping for, he said. Accommodation was full and, for the first time, the festival had to rely on private boarding options for technical staff.

The festival coincided with Easter services across the city, the Easter family festival in Mount Maunganui, and a monster Rotary book sale. The festival blended events for die-hard jazz fans - such as youth competitions and an exhibition - with family events such as the popular Jazz Village and the Jazz Riverboat.

The Jazz Festival triggered Grace Gibson's arrival into the world and five years later she still can't stop moving to the beat.

As Grace, 5, and friend Sophie Macken, 4, danced and frolicked in front of the main stage at the Jazz Village yesterday, her mum Lynette recalled the heavily pregnant day five years ago when Grace's arrival came just hours after an afternoon spent listening to music beside a bank of Jazz Festival speakers.

"I'm pretty sure it was that Jazz Festival that did it. The vibrations from the band got her going and she's been dancing every since," Mrs Gibson said.

The Gibsons and Mackens were among the thousands who descended on Tauranga's Historic Village yesterday for the first day of the Jazz Village.

The two families are Jazz Village regulars and even braved last year's wet weather.

Traditional jazz bands entertained the crowds at the Village Square. Retailers Steve and Lynn Sinclair of Leadlight Expressions said the decision to drop jazz dollars as the currency in the Jazz Village had led to a more informal and relaxed atmosphere.

Meanwhile, thousands of people flocked to The Strand to marinate in an atmosphere of live music on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for the Downtown Tauranga Carnival.

Stages strategically positioned in various spots around the city's central business district became focal points for music, dancing, and lazy weekend lounging.

Bars and restaurants took the opportunity to extend their premises into the street and offer the throngs of jazz fest-goers plenty of sustenance.

Beer and food stations set up on the cordoned-off road also received healthy patronage. Plastic beer glasses were on offer for anyone who wanted to walk around.

The festive mood was also evident in the skies. On Saturday, a plane zooming above the party displayed impressive aerobatics, flying in loops and swoops.

Earlier proud owners of vintage cars dressed for the occasion in traditional early 1900-1920s garb.

Several mint vehicles were parked in the middle of Willow St and driven away at the end of the day.

Tauranga band Brilleaux played into the early evening on Saturday with international guest Diana Harris. The Californian singer wowed crowds in a magenta ruffle dress, showcasing a soulful husky wail that got feet stomping.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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