Neighborhood Gems: Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival

Thousands descend upon the quaint streets of Webster each September to enjoy the Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival, a day of free live jazz by talented local musicians. Now in its 15th year, the family-friendly event has become an annual staple for music lovers in St. Louis and neighboring areas. The festival was born after a group of local music enthusiasts and Webster merchants decided the community’s downtown district needed a party. “Webster is a pretty artsy community—Webster U. has a great music program—so it just made sense,” says Amanda Cook, the festival’s public relations director.

Around 15,000 people show up each year to enjoy non-stop jazz from two stages and indulge in food and drink f rom area establishments. Attendees of all ages and backgrounds crowd in the streets shoulder-to-shoulder, and there’s always dancing close to the stages. There are even attractions for the little ones, including street performers, face-painting, juggling and balloons. “Its reputation has grown, and a lot of that is because the festival was started by people in the local music community,” Cook says. “They knew the right acts, and they stayed true to St. Louis blues and jazz and were able to find artists who are great representations of what’s going on in that genre.”

The location in Old Webster gives the festival a great atmosphere, Cook adds. “Downtown Webster is really cute and hasn’t changed much over the century,” she says. Both of the festival’s stages—one on Allen Avenue and one on North Gore Avenue—back up to the train tracks. “We close down the streets, trains run behind the stage and you’re surrounded by century-old buildings, so the vibe is really great.”

This year’s highlights include headliner Marquise Knox, a St. Louis-born jazz star who has performed all over the world with some of the nation’s top jazz musicians, including Grammy Award-winner B.B. King. He recorded his first album in 2009 when he was 16. “He was such a prodigy that old blues guitarists were seeking him out and wanting to play with him, because they said he carried on the blues tradition,” Cook says. Also performing is Jazz St. Louis executive director Gene Dobbs Bradford, Miss Jubilee & the Humdingers, and Webster University Jazz Ensemble.

Webster Groves identifies itself as a creative community, and the Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival is an important piece of that, Cook says. This year, the festival won a $1,500 grant from the Regional Arts Council. “We’re getting recognized as one of the key players on the arts scene,” Cook says. “It reinforces our identity as a fun place to support the arts and a creative place to live.”

when » Noon to 11 p.m., Sept. 19
where » Downtown Webster Groves
why » To enjoy a day of live jazz by talented local musicians

Pictured: Marquise Knox on the piano
Photo: Dan Warner

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