Two days, 10 venues: Art of Cool Festival in full swing

Apr. 24, 2014 @ 05:20 PM

Angel Dozier said she is strategizing about “how I’m going to be in so many places at one time” during this weekend’s inaugural Art of Cool Festival. She lives in Durham, but has passed the word about the festival on social media sites and has friends from Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., who are coming to the festival.

She is particularly excited to hear KING, the rhythm and blues trio of vocalists Paris and Amber Strother and Anita Bias. “I’m so excited,” Dozier said. “KING is coming to Durham. This is unheard of to have this kind of talent come here.”
Dozier was among the first ticketholders to redeem their paper tickets at Wrist Band City outside the Carolina Theater on Wednesday. The wristbands allow pass holders entry to the festival’s venues this weekend.
Susan Barnes of Raleigh picked up her wristband and said she is looking forward to hearing The Foreign Exchange and Alice Smith. Felicia Almy of Fayetteville will be spending two days at the festival, a birthday gift from her daughter. She’s also excited about Smith but will be “soaking it all in.” Michael Gowan of Carrboro is looking forward to hearing the Clayton Brothers and the Carolina Soul Tribute.
Albert Stapleton is going to the festival “just to learn more about jazz. I don’t know what’s classic and what’s new school,” and the festival will be a learning experience, he said.
All of this buzz should please festival organizers. When Cicely Mitchell and trumpet player Al Strong started The Art of Cool Project in 2011, they wanted to promote and present jazz and related music in venues where audiences could focus on the music. The first monthly concerts were in the former LabourLove Gallery in Golden Belt. The venues expanded for the 2012 season.
The concerts proved so popular that during the group’s first anniversary celebration, Mitchell announced plans to pursue a Durham music festival. Focus groups, sponsorships, a Kickstarter campaign and bookings followed. Friday and Saturday, music fans will get to hear some 48 national, international and local artists performing at 10 indoor and outdoor venues. The festival’s main performances (a VIP event was held Wednesday) begin Friday at 4 p.m. with a free concert in Durham Central Park.
While the festival focus is jazz, the artist lineup is highly eclectic. The headliners are saxophonist Maceo Parker, who worked with James Brown and George Clinton; flute player Hubert Laws; and violinist and band leader Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Atwood-Ferguson will direct Carolina Soul Tribute, a concert paying tribute to North Carolina-born musicians Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.
Performers include the Clayton Brothers (saxophonist Jeff Clayton and bass player John Clayton), guitarists Thundercat and Cody ChesnuTT, trumpeter Russell Gunn, vocalists Alice Smith and Amel Larrieux, Christian Scott and Butcher Brown.
The festival also has strong local representation: Brian Horton, Shana Tucker, Shirlette Ammons and the Dynamite Brothers, Nnenna Freelon and Maya Freelon Asante, The Beast (led by Pierce Freelon), and the North Carolina Central University Big Band, Faculty Combo and Vocal Jazz Ensemble.
All of the festival venues are in or near downtown. The festival is happening during a time when new music venues, as well as restaurants and art galleries, have opened and continue to open downtown. The time seems to be right for this kind of festival, observers say. “So many people have moved to this area from other cities that have a strong jazz tradition,” said Sherry DeVries, executive director of the Durham Arts Council. “I think we have a fresh audience to cultivate with the festival,” DeVries said.
While Durham is known nationally for its food, craft brews, basketball and baseball, “music in Durham has flown a little bit under the radar, and I think what Cicely is doing with Art of Cool is putting Durham on the map” for music, said Shelly Weitz, director of corporate marketing for ReverbNation of Durham. With its eclectic mix of artists, the festival should “pull in a much broader audience, and in Durham, which is known for its diversity, that’s the perfect mix,” Weitz said.
The organizers are getting high marks for their pre-festival preparations. DeVries called it “a really exciting, well-planned festival event. They’ve really done their homework with developing a jazz audience locally.”
When she first met Mitchell and heard about the festival, vocalist Kate McGarry, who will perform at the festival, told herself, “Wow, that’s ambitious. I had not heard about something so big happening in such a short time,” she said. “I’ve been really amazed and inspired by her ability to engage the community, the businesses, the audience, and let them share in her vision that this can be a vibrant jazz scene,” McGarry said.  


For a full schedule and ticket information, visit