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JAMS delights in its 15th year of music, food Jamaica’s popular fest draws thousands

Downtown Jamaica is often packed with shoppers, but Saturday the streets were flooded with people who came out for the 15th-annual Jamaica Arts and Music Summer Festival.

Thousands of people braved the beating sun to stroll down Jamaica Avenue through a gauntlet of temptations. Meat skewers sizzled on grills, sending aromatic plumes of smoke high into the air while stalls selling music blasted songs from giant speakers. Brightly colored jewelry caught the eyes of passers-by on one end of the enormous street fair, which stretched for 10 blocks East from Parsons Boulevard, and other bargain hunters wove though a maze of clothes racks that took up a third of the avenue’s width.

“It gets bigger every year,” said Craig Crawford, saxophonist for the Craig Crawford Players and emcee at the music stage.

This year, about 400 vendors set up shop, and Crawford expected more than 125,000 people total to make a visit.

When he was not on stage playing his saxophone, Crawford was at the microphone introducing the multiple Queens-based musical acts that took the stage.

Ja-Man of South Jamaica and Monique Nazon of Cambria Heights performed poetry and spoken word. Jamaica’s Camille Thurman tooted her saxophone and flute, and her own horn, as she announced the impending release of a new album.

The stage was not only to showcase individual Queens artists, but the community as a whole.

“It gives people a change to see what they do,” Crawford said.

One performer requested to be put on the bill the morning of the show.

“I’ve always seen the festival and always wanted the opportunity to get up there and to do my thing,” said Djhani, a Jamaica-based singer. “I hope to really get the support of the community.”

She was vetted by Crawford and the JAMS staff and given the green light.

Other Queens artists were also on display on a nearby side street.

Artists sat under tents along 161st Street off of Jamaica Avenue, just a few storefronts away from 161 Chashama Gallery. Danielle Williams is a painter with studio space at the gallery.

It was her second year participating in JAMS, which she uses to get feedback about her art — especially the large and colorful abstract painting she had prominently displayed outside a tent. And she is often surprised at what other people take away from her art.

“Most of the time I didn’t even see it that way,” she said.

The artist street even held a fashion show in the afternoon, which played into this year’s theme of “going green” — all the clothes were made of recycled material.

Another side street was lined with a farmer’s market, and one end of Jamaica Avenue hosted an inflatable playground where parents stood in the street and kept an eye on their bouncing children.

“You’ll see somebody from every walk of life here,” Crawford said. “From the music to the food and vendors, there is something here for everybody.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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