Living up to its name, Kean’s free Jazz & Roots Music Fest will feature variety of music

kean jazz and roots

Third World will perform at the Jazz & Roots Music Festival at Kean University, Sept. 23.

(UPDATE: The festival has been cancelled because of the forecast of bad weather.)

Reggae band Third World will headline the third annual Jazz & Roots Music Festival, a free event taking place at The Lawn at Enlow Hall at Kean University in Hillside, Sept. 23. Joining them at the show, which will begin at 3:30 p.m., will be Stefon Harris & Blackout, King Solomon Hicks and DJ Prince Hakim, and there also will be food trucks and arts and crafts vendors.

The first festival, in 2021, was headlined by The Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Latin Experience, and singer Dianne Reeves headlined last year, making Third World the first non-jazz act to get the festival’s top billing.

Producer Mike Griot says the festival was set into motion by a conversation he had four years ago with Kean University president Lamont Repollet, who knew of Griot’s work producing the South Mountain International Blues Festival in West Orange, and shows at the South Orange Performing Arts Center.

“He was like, ‘I really like your whole festival, large-scale event résumé, and I would love to do something at the university.’ And I said, ‘OK, well, whenever you’re ready.’ And he just looked at me, like, ‘I’m ready now.’ I was like, ‘Oh! Really!’ I thought he was bullshitting, but he was as serious as a heart attack. So I said, ‘OK.’

“The great thing was, because of the kind of guy he is, he basically handed the entire project conceptually over to me and then got his university colleagues to support my consultancy. He originally said, ‘I want to do a jazz festival.’ And I said to him, ‘Have you ever heard of the New Orleans Jazz Festival?’ He said, ‘Yeah’ I said, ‘You do realize that it hasn’t been called the New Orleans Jazz Festival in a lot of years. It’s the Jazz & Heritage Festival.’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah.’

Producer and musician Mike Griot.

“I said, ‘You know there’s a reason for that.’ He’s like, ‘Well, what is the reason?’ I said, ‘Because if you stick strictly to the jazz moniker, it will actually constrain the potential scale and scope of the event over the years. I was like, trust me on this one, I wouldn’t lie to you.’ And so he says, ‘OK, well, what do you suggest?’

“I said, ‘Let’s call it the Kean Jazz & Roots Festival. That allows me to have a bigger palate to choose from, in terms of acquiring talent, and the people will appreciate the diversity. And it’s more of a reflection of your university, which is also very diverse.’ So he’s like, ‘I love it, I love it, I love it.’ ”

There were more acts in the festival’s first year, but Griot says he isn’t likely to return to that format any time soon.

“It’s going to be three acts, probably, for a while,” he said. “Three acts and a celebrity DJ. The first year, we booked too many acts, and the second year, I had some issues on the production side. So, between the changes I made in production and just my experience, I said, ‘Look three acts, and a DJ in between for the transitions, nice and tight, and everybody will be happy.’ So that’s where we are now.”

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