The Detroit Jazz Festival took on an ambitious project this weekend: a four-day live event streamed around the world amid a pandemic.
As the fest rolls into its fourth and final day, the verdict is comfortably in. It worked.
The one-of-a-kind undertaking, staged in a tightly controlled environment in the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center — minus an audience — has featured a Detroit-dominated offering of jazz music watched and heard by fans online and on broadcast outlets.
The polished, high-end presentation, which launched Friday with a dynamite headline set by Pharoah Sanders, drew consistently positive feedback at YouTube and other social media. “I feel like I’m there!” was a common refrain.
For 41 years, Labor Day weekend in Detroit has meant a downtown teeming with eclectic jazz sounds and tens of thousands of fans. The COVID-19 upheaval sent the jazz fest shifting to a virtual edition, but unlike many other streamed concerts and festivals these past six months, it would all happen live.
The crisp, energetic production that greeted viewers on their screens was the result of a complex but tightly run operation inside the RenCen. That included an array of strictly managed safety measures, including multiple temperature checks and limited workers in any given space. Artists performing multiple sets stayed in hotel rooms for the weekend. Masked audio and video mixers operated in isolated pods of no more than five people each.
Behind the scenes, the vibe was often surreal. Inside the darkened Marriott ballroom, where two stages faced each other from opposite ends of the room with a row of cameras between them, the energy was quiet and low-key between sets.
A third stage, set up inside an area typically devoted to dining space at the 42 North restaurant, had a brighter ambiance, including the Detroit River as a handsome backdrop.