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New Century, Same Genius: Ornette Coleman at JVC

Benny Golson at home

It’s billed as “the nation’s largest free jazz festival,” with quite deserved emphasis on the “free.” The Atlanta Jazz Festival, which presented its 29th annual fest at Piedmont Park over Memorial Day weekend, is just about the freest, most laissez faire jazz festival you can imagine. Not only is there no admission charge; it also lacks typical concert gates and entries. Even in this post-9/11 age, there were no checkpoints for carry-in bundles-such as rolling coolers, portable grills and big tents-to be scrutinized for contraband. While other big free festivals often limit what food and beverages attendees can bring in, so as to favor on-site vendors, you can bring just about anything with you to the Atlanta Jazz Festival.

Not that there weren’t plenty of food and drink options available. Up on one of the hills was a three-block long vendor’s row with dozens of food, beer, wine and even martini choices for those who hadn’t brought their own. Meanwhile, all manner of tents and shade-tent pavilions rose up, interspersed with lawn chairs and blankets, as folks and fans converged for three days of main stage music beginning at 2 p.m. and continuing until 10 p.m. each night. In addition, a Future of Jazz stage offered youth and local bands from noon until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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