A Jammin' Opportunity Lost

The May 9 fax message about Pepsi Jammin' on Main came directly from a machine at Music Hall. The banner at the top of the page identified the sender as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The contac

May 17, 2001 at 2:06 pm

The May 9 fax message about Pepsi Jammin' on Main came directly from a machine at Music Hall. The banner at the top of the page identified the sender as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The contact was Mike Smith, the CSO's director of project development and Riverbend Music Center.

Four weeks after Music Hall staff was evacuated due to the April street riots, Smith sent the fax announcing that Jammin' on Main, scheduled for May 11-12, had been suspended.

Of course, a key question is why the fax came from the CSO and not the event's producer, Cincinnati Arts Festival Inc., and its executive director, Bob Elias. The only thing he will state publicly is that Jammin' on Main will be back.

The May 9 fax spoke about "preserving the future" of the event, a regular springtime event since 1994. In a May 14 phone message, Elias reiterated his position that Jammin' on Main will definitely return next year.

It's clear that changes are already underway for future Jammin' events. The fact that Cincinnati Arts Festival Chairman Nancy Heffner Donovan is also on the CSO's 2001 Board of Overseers helps explain some of the synergy between Jammin' on Main and the Symphony.

For now, supporters of Cincinnati's premier street music festival can only speculate about its future until a further announcement is made.

Various sources have said that Cincinnati Arts Festival Inc. pulled the plug on its other music event, the more eclectic World Jam, earlier this spring. With the cancellation of this year's Jammin' on Main, the future viability of Cincinnati Arts Festival itself is unclear.

The streets around Over-the-Rhine were to have been packed with people May 11-12. Jammin' on Main is described as a rain-or-shine event, but it's safe to say that Elias wasn't planning on civil unrest. Local bands like Opi Yum Yum and Oval Opus were to have joined national acts on three outdoor stages in the downtown area near the Main Street entertainment district.

But continuing anger over the fatal shooting of Timothy Thomas by a Cincinnati Police officer had a public impact and certainly gained plenty of public attention for Rev. Damon Lynch III and other supporters of the Black United Front. At the same time, the cancellation of Jammin' on Main is another setback to an already battered Over-the-Rhine. For businesses, social agencies and arts organizations determined to improve the neighborhood, the Jammin' setback confirms just how much work lies ahead.

To many disappointed festival-goers, the May 9 announcement about pulling the plug on Jammin' on Main seemed abrupt and quick. But it's safe to say Cincinnati's tense racial atmosphere affected the decision to cancel.

There's no evidence that Lynch or Black United Front cohorts contacted Elias or anyone at Cincinnati Arts Festival directly. Maybe the decision to cancel Jammin' on Main was based purely on speculation about the threat of street violence at the event.

I don't know what type of event Jammin' on Main will be next year. It would be good to see an increased commitment to diversity and outreach to the African-American community. But the opportunity for the Black United Front to use this year's Jammin' as a public platform to express their frustrations has been lost.

Musicians and small business owners who have taken part previously in the event are the same people speaking out in support of the African-American community. Many of these small business owners were relying on Jammin' crowds to help offset losses resulting from the April riots. For these people, the festival's cancellation has an economic impact. A lot of goodwill from Cincinnati's creative community has been lost, too.

The one clear statement from Elias is that Jammin' on Main will be back.The other clear statement, still unspoken, is that when the downtown music festival returns, it won't be business as usual.

Contact steve ramos: [email protected]