Miami Gardens has wide streets, lush greenery, and historic homes. There are approximately 110,000 residents, two universities, a major stadium, excellent highway access, several of the most popular strip clubs in the nation, and a relationship with the Billboard pop charts through hometown heroes Flo Rida and Rick Ross. The Gardens is also a veritable minor-league playing field for hip-hop and R&B up-and-comers, like Denzel Curry, who seem destined for stardom.
Of course, there's crime. But that's true of literally every city in South Florida, and the violent underworld represents a small minority of the populace. And yes, there's also police brutality and corruption. Most recently, a schizophrenic 25-year-old man, Lavall Hall, was shot and killed by Miami Gardens cops as he brandished a broom handle. Then just two weeks later, the police chief, Stephen Johnson, was arrested and fired for soliciting prostitutes on the internet.
Despite it all, Miami Gardens truly shines with the Jazz in the Gardens festival, now celebrating its tenth anniversary.
Nearly 750,000 people have enjoyed the live jazz, R&B, funk, soul, hip-hop, and throwback, good time music that's been provided by hundreds of artists and entertainers since the fest launched in 2005. The likes of Boyz II Men, Fantasia, the O'Jays, Charlie Wilson, Teena Marie, LL Cool J, Lauryn Hill, George Benson, Chaka Khan, India Arie, Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, and Kenny G have played under the open skies at Sun Life Stadium.
Veteran executive producer Scott Gartner from AEG Live says, "It's a homegrown festival that started as a small community event and has grown into an international travel destination."
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The annual two-day event is a major economic engine for the city, turning a profit every year since its inception. And this year, ticket sales are up 20 percent. "It's great for the businesses in the area," Mayor Oliver Gilbert says. "During Jazz in the Gardens, there's more heads in the beds of the hotel rooms, and people from England, Australia, the Caribbean, and the continent all come for the music and the atmosphere."
The celebration also includes food and art, with local vendors and traveling caravans converging to market their wares. You'll see happy fans marching around the grounds, eating from hollowed-out pineapples piled high with succulent conch salad before ordering up some lemon-pepper corn cobs, ice-cold sweet young coconuts, plates of curry goat, peas & rice, giant turkey legs, jumbo cups of fresh fruit smoothies, or boxes of chili cheese fries. You'll find African art, handmade soap, airbrushed hats, t-shirts, flags, and sunglasses too. There's also plenty of alcohol at the Jazz in the Gardens bar.
Undoubtedly, though, the most important element is the music. Scott Gartner coordinates and books all talent, helps design the infrastructure, oversees marketing, logistics, sound, lighting, and manages about 200 stage hands. When he was 19 years old, he went on the road as a keyboard player and even performed three shows with Wilson Pickett. He's been in the business for over 25 years. He says, "Miami is a mecca for players and bands of every kind of music possible."
Mayor Oliver Gilbert has been to every edition of the festival too. This year, he is looking forward to Erykah Badu, Run-D.M.C., R. Kelly, Toni Braxton, Jeffrey Osborne, and especially Maxwell. "He's an incredible musician with a unique voice that I've always followed because it's something special. It's going to be extraordinary."
And if, like us, you think that weed and music go hand in hand, don't worry about the cops. "Should everything go perfectly," Mayor Gilbert says, "the only time you'll see them is if they're there to dance."
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Jazz in the Gardens 2015. With Erykah Badu, Run-D.M.C., R. Kelly, Toni Braxton, and others. Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22. Sun Life Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens. The concert starts at 4 p.m. on both days and tickets cost $55 and up plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Visit jazzinthegardens.com.