Over 150,000 attend Jamaica Arts & Music Festival

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Excellent weather and a huge, early crowd combined to make this year’s Jamaica Arts & Music Summer Festival one of the best yet, said Tyra Emerson, executive director of Cultural Collaborative Jamaica.

“It’s fantastic,” Emerson said of the event. “The crowd came early, before we even finished setting up. It’s great.”

The JAMS Festival, in its 14th year, is an annual event that runs from Friday night through Saturday evening and features the art and culture of southeast Queens. The festival used to showcase primarily contemporary inner-city acts, but has since taken on a multicultural bent. This year’s acts ranged from hip-hop to gospel singers to Indian dancers to a drum group.

Cleveland Jones III, one of the volunteers for the event, said the music was the best part as well as the food. At the festival, vendors of food, clothing, toys and much more lined 10 blocks of Jamaica Avenue from Parsons Boulevard to 169th Street.

“I could wait a year for the food to come,” Jones joked. He said his favorites were shish kebabs and gyros.

One of the vendors, Toni Daly, who sells all-natural soaps in her business, Beekman’s C.O.P.A. Soaps, said this was her second year coming to the festival from Philadelphia and selling her wares.

“It was great,” she said. “We had a lot of really nice people.”

Madame Karen, executive director of the Dance Street Crusade Performing Arts Center — one of the nonprofit vendors — said the large number of attendees coming to the festival from all over Queens gives her group the opportunity to meet a diversity of people from outside Jamaica.

“It’s awesome,” she said.

Emerson said about 150,000 people had come to the event in previous years and she estimated even more came this year. Due to the economic downturn and subsequent budget cuts to Cultural Collaborative Jamaica, the organization was unsure if it was going to hold a JAMS festival at all this year.

“But we did a JAMS,” Emerson said, “because the community kept saying, ‘You got to do a JAMS.’”

Thyzee Blue, 40, who lives in St. Albans, said the event was beautiful and that she has been coming for three years. She said one of the things she likes about the festival is that despite the large crowd, it is still peaceful.

“It’s very packed and they’re still cordial,” she said.

Wendy Lopez, 31, a Richmond Hill resident who was born and raised in Jamaica, said she enjoyed the event’s entertainment and the vendors’ bargains.

“I just like the whole community getting together and enjoying the festival,” she said. “It brings a bit of Manhattan to Queens.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone 718-260-4564.

Updated 6:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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