At the Hampton Jazz Festival on Sunday afternoon — the third sellout show of the three-day weekend event — people still were streaming into the Hampton Coliseum long after the music had started. But there was little grumbling among the crowd who appeared to be enjoying the warm sun and anticipating this year's strong mix of artists.
"Three sellout shows makes everybody happy," said Joe Tsao, director of the Hampton Coliseum. "The crowd is happy to be here, enjoying their music and their friends. And the artists are happy that more than 10,000 people are here to enjoy them."
Tsao, who said the last time that the festival was a sellout was in 2002, couldn't offer any definitive reasons why it happened again at this year's event, despite the fact that ticket prices jumped three dollars to $55.50 a concert. The winning formula seemed to be choosing artists that create a kind of chemistry on the same program, he said, such as singers Anthony Hamilton and Chaka Khan, who shared the stage Friday night.
Strong performances by saxophonist Eric Darius and singer Jonathan Butler on Saturday night "set the house on fire," said Tsao. The concert, which also featured R&B singer Charlie Wilson, had sold out less than a week after tickets went on sale.
Sunday's lineup included singer Stephanie Mills, a jazz trio made up of George Duke, Marcus Miller and David Sanborn, newcomer Laura Izibor, and closed with a perennial favorite, Frankie Beverly and Maze.
"I think we were lucky and found the sweet spot this year with the mix of artists," said Tsao. "We didn't set out to do anything differently. We offered a great product for the value, and that helped loosen people's wallets."
Tsao said he also was encouraged that a new generation of fans is coming out to the festival. In response, the festival tries to book young talent such as Hamilton, Darius and Izibor.
"It's so important that you include that element of newness, while at the same time pleasing your core audience," said Tsao.
Over the past few years, Tsao has noticed that many of the grown children of longtime festival-goers are coming to the festival with their parents.
"We're trying to figure out how to grow the next generation of jazz festival fans," he said.