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70,000 jam in Jamaica for annual arts, music festival

Sweltering 90-degree temperatures couldn’t keep more than 70,000 Jamaica residents from the sixth annual Jamaica Arts and Music Summer Festival Saturday.

The festival closed down Jamaica Avenue as vendors offering food, art, clothes, and more filled the blocks from Parsons Avenue to 169th Street, two stages featured musical and traditional performances, and a “Kids Block” entertained children with trampoline rides.

“I’m delighted with the turnout,” said Ida Smith, who worked on the planning committee. “The ambiance of the crowd is wonderful.”

The daylong event was sponsored by more than 30 community, city and national businesses and organizations, including the Queens borough president’s office, Cultural Collaborative Jamaica, Jamaica Center Improvement Association, the 103rd Precinct, York College, National Amusements, and others.

Aside from showing residents a good time, the festival was designed to draw attention to the economic redevelopment happening in downtown Jamaica, including the newly opened Jamaica Center and the Jamaica Multiplex movie theater, which was offering $3 tickets on Saturday.

“It brings the community out,” said City Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica). “It promotes economic development and the people get to see all the stores and or new movie theater.”

Up and down the avenue, vendors peddled their wares, ranging from clothes to traditional Africa Art, music CDs to toys, jewelry to purses. Other booths were set up by businesses and government agencies to distribute information about their programs.

“The response has been very nice,” said Rick Henry, of All Nations Realty, whose offices are at 120-10 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens. “The people have been interested. We just hope it will generate sales.”

Representatives from the Queens Borough Public Library, Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, the Food and Drug Administration and others were handing out fliers and pamphlets.

“Since we’ve been here in Jamaica, we’ve been creating all sorts of outreach,” said Vincent Zuberko from the FDA office in Jamaica. “Every year when the JAMS come out in force, we come here to give information.”

Recruiters from the Army, National Guard, ROTC, and the city’s police and fire departments were hoping to sign up some festival-goers.

“We have a lot of jobs available,” said Sgt. Dean Thompson, an Army recruiter. “We’re not just about war.”

But the food – Colombian-style steak, other Hispanic foods, gyros, corn and cheese pancakes, cotton candy, lemonade, ice cream and more – were an attraction for many.

“There’s so many kinds of food,” said Janet Braham, of Jamaica. “It was a surprise for me. I didn’t know this was happening.”

Others came for the performances.

“I’m really looking forward to listening to the music,” said Sandra Black, of Woodside.

There were two stages at the festival: one set up at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning at 161-04 Jamaica Ave., featuring traditional cultural performances, like Kinding Sindaw, a South Asian dance group, and the New York Samba Group. The main stage at 165th Street featured musical performances by Lesette Wilson, Coco Sukali, Steve Kroon, and more.

“I was born up the block,” Wilson said. “It’s like playing in front of your family. You can see their faces as they think, ‘I know her, she rides the bus.’”

The main stage also welcomed funk/rock group Slave, who was scheduled to perform at Friday night’s Under the Stars concert, but the concert was canceled half way through the first act – Bobby Matos and the Latin All-Stars – due to the rain. Sixties group The Marvellettes were also rained out, but the performance may be rescheduled, said Tyra Emerson, executive director for Cultural Collaborative Jamaica.

“The people wouldn’t go home,” Emerson said. “We tried to wait it out. The performers are top notch.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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