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Detroit Jazz Festival Bites Bullet, Moves Online

The 41st annual festival will still be held in Detroit, but without audiences

Joe Lovano at the 2019 Detroit Jazz Festival
Joe Lovano at the 2019 Detroit Jazz Festival (photo: Steven Hauptman)

As jazz festival organizers around the world canceled their 2020 offerings or turned to the internet in the wake of the coronavirus, one major U.S. festival, hopefully or stubbornly (or both), held firm to its original plans. In March, as the rapid spread of COVID-19 in America became apparent, the Detroit Jazz Festival was undeterred, announcing its September lineup just as scheduled. As recently as two weeks ago, Detroit remained confident, at least publicly, that the festival would carry on “with modifications.” 

Now those modifications have been announced, and they are major. The festival—which begins on Friday, September 4 and runs through Monday, September 7—will still go forward, on three indoor stages at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, but those stages will not be open to the public. Instead, all performances will be streamed or broadcast live for free (no replays or on-demand) via a variety of outlets, including Channel 22, the city’s new arts and entertainment cable channel; the Festival’s web page; public broadcasting (Detroit Public Television, WRCJ 90.9 FM, and WDET 101.9 FM); and the DetroitJazzFest LIVE! app.  

Such a decision seemed inevitable as soon as infection rates in Michigan began climbing again in late June, after a long descent from an early-April peak of 1,953 cases in one day. Another unfortunate inevitability: The final Detroit lineup will likely be quite different from what was announced in March, with a greater focus on local artists. (The festival has developed an extensive set of health and safety protocols for all staff, crew, techs, interviewers, and musicians.) A new virtual lineup will be announced soon, and there will be open submissions for Detroit-area jazz artists through July 15. To apply and for more information, visit the festival’s website. Currently, each day of the festival except for opening night is slated to include eight to 10 hours of real-time continuous performances and other programming.