Music festival engages community, highlights culture


Music echoed across the USM Gulf Park campus on March 26 as the university’s Jazz and Blues Festival played out across the day.

The festival, a free annual event, hosts a variety of family-friendly entertainment, numerous musical acts, children’s activities and local food and crafts vendors sprawled across the campus’ South Lawn.

Steve Miller, a Gulf Park vice president, said the campus makes for an ideal setting for a weekend festival.

“We look forward to hosting our community and neighbors,” Miller said.

Aaron Broussard, Gulf Park event services coordinator and chair of the 2016 festival, said the festival is the Gulf Park campus’ largest community outreach event.

“Mississippi is the birthplace of blues, since it really started here, and blues is nice because while it’s very relaxing, it can also be upbeat,” Broussard said.

Having played at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival, Bonnaroo and South by Southwest, the Stooges Brass Band returned to USM Jazz and Blues Festival to headline this year.

According to its website, the band provides a “blast of true New Orleans spirit engaging audiences with their innovative blend of traditional New Orleans brass sounds, contemporary jazz and hip-hop beats.”

Broussard said though he was particularly excited to see the Stooges, but he enjoyed seeing all the acts.

“Whenever you have great performers and great bands lined up like we do, and you can get the crowd involved, it really adds to an event,” Broussard said.

An hour after the festival started, children age 12 and under had the opportunity to search for 10,000 eggs in an Easter egg hunt. Broussard said the hunt is a major draw for families looking to bring their children.

While the event has significant sponsorship from companies like Lamar Advertising and Coca-Cola, Broussard said these sponsorships are taken only to cover the costs of the event. He said student organizations on campus were encouraged to assist with the event, especially with the children’s activities like face painting and bounce houses.

“The revenue that comes from something like this is distributed to the student organizations that help out, to really give them incentive to give back,” Broussard said. “It’s a really great opportunity for them.”

Since the event falls on the Saturday before Easter, Broussard and Miller believe it provides the perfect opportunity for the community to enjoy themselves, and
that vendors have come to expect it.

In the midst of all the celebration, one group attempted to use the momentum provided to further their own cause. Flag For All Mississippians, a group dedicated to creating a state flag that represents all Mississippians, gathered at the festival to collect signatures for its petition for Ballot Initiative 55.

Sharon Brown, sponsor of the initiative, said that while she was not present at Saturday’s event, it is projected to have been successful.

“We have to finish counting the signatures and get them together, but we seem to have done well,” Brown said.

Broussard said that despite the small bit of inclement weather that occurred earlier in the day, it was a great success.

“Everyone that I talked to responded positively, and our team has had an extremely positive response,” he said. “Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and have a good time.”