Each year thousands of people descend upon Miami Gardens from March 15-18 to enjoy a weekend of music at “Jazz In The Gardens,” of the most respected jazz festivals in the nation.
Incorporated in 2003, Miami Gardens is a suburb located 17 miles north of Miami’s metropolis. Hailed as “The city of progress,” Miami Gardens has a population of over 100,000 residents–of which 80,000 are African-American. It is also the third largest city in Miami-Dade County.
Festival promoters are using Mayor Oliver Gilbert III, a solidified secret weapon, to heighten awareness surrounding the event’s unique atmosphere. Gilbert is also a staunch advocate for the city in which he was born and bred.
“We’re selling an experience, not just a musical performance,” Gilbert said.
In the days leading up to the festival, attendees can select to attend a range of events including a cuisine experience hosted by celebrity chefs, an F-MAC Conference which stands for film, music and art, and a women’s empowerment luncheon.
Over the past 12 years, the festival grew from a small concert to a large affair with celebrated international acts. “We wanted to try and reclaim the conversation about Miami Gardens to be a destination place,” Gilbert said.
“To see how it grew from these few people, to local jazz artists to this thing that we’re promoting in D.C., New York and L.A. To see how persistence happens,” he continued.
Past performers included jazz great Herbie Hancock, rapper Common, jazz bassist/singer Esperanza Spaulding and songstress Jill Scott.
This year, spectators are especially excited as Chaka Khan and Anita Baker were announced as festival headliners. In January, Baker tweeted the festival would be one in a series of concert stops signifying her retirement from music. Gilbert revealed he’s especially looking forward to hearing Baker perform her song “Fairytales” when she hits the stage.
Other performers expected to grace this year’s stage include native son Trick Daddy, Joe, Fantasia, Smokey Robison and Salt-N-Pepa, just to name a few.
“We have Rickey Smiley hosting of course and he’s hilarious, but then we have the party that happens with people. What you find is that people will party with you. Everyone is just there to have a good time.”
Gilbert, the festival’s executive producer, embarked on a multiple city tour in early February to amplify the festival’s awareness.
“I’m walking around every section the whole time, not because I run stuff but because I want to ensure your experience. I can’t remember every performer at every Jazz In The Gardens, but I can remember how the event made me feel. People remember the feelings.”
The two-term politician who was elected in 2012, also serves as the president of the African-American Mayor’s Association.
“My main concern is always changing the content that’s available to people about my city,” Gilbert said. “Because bad things will happen and people will focus on those bad things. I want an opportunity to create as many positive contacts on the web, in the news, in the media as possible. And I’m hands on for that reason.”
Gilbert is decorated with accolades from some of the nation’s finest institutions–he received his undergraduate degree from Florida A&M and his law degree from the University of Miami School of Law. Prior to becoming mayor, he served as Assistant State Attorney for the Broward County Attorney’s Office.
The colorful politician is fiercely proud of his hometown and uses any opportunity to show love to the city’s residents. When he visited HelloBeautiful’s office he sported a custom suit designed by one of his residents–many of which he knows personally.
“When I talk to my residents I set the vision that we can do big things. Stop thinking that government was meant to do small things,” Gilbert said. “Don’t think of the word ‘government.’ When you think of government, think of all of us together saying what our expressed values are and then putting our resources behind it to make it happen.”
Though he won’t be seeking re-election, he feels especially tied to JITG, having seen the exponential growth and reach of the festival.
“I’m doing 25,000 steps a day. I’m going to walk the entire time. I’m going to talk to everybody, I’m going to dance with everybody. I’m taking 1,000 pictures with people,” Gilbert said.