It was just like old times at the kickoff of the 2011 Hampton Jazz Festival as thousands of laid-back music fans eased their way into Hampton Coliseum for an evening of smooth jazz and polished soul.

HAMPTON -- It was just like old times at the kickoff of the 2011 Hampton Jazz Festival as thousands of laid-back music fans eased their way into Hampton Coliseum for an evening of smooth jazz and polished soul.

The concert Friday, June 24, featured Boney James and Chaka Khan, two acts well loved by loyal festival followers. The night's packed house was also reminiscent of yesteryear. Organizers said that all three days of the festival were sellouts, a feat not seen here since 2002.

"No, I'm not surprised," said Caroline Lee, who traveled from Pittsburgh on a tour bus to attend the festival, when told of the sellouts. She attended the festival for the first time in 2010 and was eager to come back. "People go back home and pass the word and get others excited," she said before taking her cup of white wine back to her seat. "Other people want to have the experience."

The festival's extra measure of success this year didn't come from a new approach. On the contrary, the audience seemed to appreciate the lack of change.

"We didn't set out to do anything differently," Coliseum Director Joe Tsao said. "Sometimes you get lucky."

While the lineup for the festival lacked a dramatic new wrinkle, it was packed with proven talent.

"Charlie Wilson is the main reason Saturday sold out so fast," said Kelvin Claud, a 49-year-old Suffolk resident who was attending the festival for the first time. "Everybody's hot for Charlie."

Claud understands why. While serving in the Army in Iraq, he saw the former Gap Band singer perform twice. "He puts on a good show."

Wilson is enjoying a career resurgence. Songs "Can't Live Without You," "You Are," and most recently "I Wanna Be Your Man" have all been solo hits for the vocalist.

One man couldn't be responsible for the strong sales over all three festival days, though.

"I was surprised and impressed, too," Larry "LeKool" Hollowell, a local disc jockey and jazz fanatic, said of the festival's hat trick. "It's just that powerhouse lineup, those big names."

Friday's show kicked off with an upbeat set by smooth jazz saxophonist Boney James. He stepped on stage wearing a black sport coat and sneakers. Without fanfare, led his band into the first of several sunny, breezy instrumentals. James has played the festival many times and knew exactly what to do. Heads nodded in the crowd as he traded friendly musical phrases with his bassist and guitar player.

"We're gonna keep jamming, if it's OK with you," he asked the crowd between tunes. Cheers told him he was right on track.

Next up were the 1990s R&B harmony group Boyz II Men, making its jazz festival debut.

"They're mixing it up," said 55-year-old Vernon Seymore, who traveled from New Jersey to enjoy the weekend of music and socializing. "At this festival, it's a little bit of everything, all different generations. But all of it is good music."

From beneath a bushy mustache, the festival veteran said he was particularly looking forward to hearing the trio of George Duke, David Sanborn and Marcus Miller on Sunday, June 26. "Marcus is from up our way," he said. "He's going to put on a great show."



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The Hampton Jazz Festival continues 7 p.m. Saturday, June 25, with performances by Charlie Wilson, KEM, Chrisette Michele and Soul of Summer featuring Jonathan Butler, Eric Darius and Maysa. The event wraps up with a concert 2 p.m. Sunday, June 26, featuring Maze and Frankie Beverly, DMS featuring George Duke, Marcus Miller and David Sanborn, and Laura Izibor. All three shows are SOLD OUT.



More online



To see photos from past Hampton Jazz Festivals and listen to songs from artists on this year's program, visit dailypress.com/hamptonjazzfestival