As a child, now 23-year-old Ronnie Smith Jr. grew up biking past the annual weekend extravaganza of music called Jazz in the Gardens. Saturday afternoon, the Miami Gardens native takes to the stage at Sun Life Stadium for a 25-minute set as Ronnie VOP ahead of an all-star two-day music festival with Charlie Wilson, Usher, Kool and the Gang, Babyface and others.
Is he nervous? “No,” the R & B singer said on the eve of the 11th annual music festival. “I’m excited.”
Don’t expect the crowds to be quite as large as the record 73,000 people who came last year. Ongoing construction to put a roof on Sun Life Stadium has shrunk the space.
But do expect the same energy that draws music lovers, including maybe a few celebrities, to the outdoor concert in Miami Gardens, just south of the Miami-Dade/Broward county line.
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“Fort Lauderdale and Miami coming together — it only happens in Miami Gardens, y’all,” said Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III at a kickoff press conference that introduced local artists interspersed in the two-day show from Ronnie VOP to April Raquel, CriStyle Renae and LaVie. “This is going to be an extraordinary weekend.”
Later, Gilbert said Smith may not be the first homegrown artist to perform across the decade of Jazz in the Gardens weekends. Miami Gardens’ own Melton Mustafa played two years ago. But, unlike Mustafa, who left for FAMU, Smith never did. Ronnie VOP, grandnephew of famed actor Sidney Poitier, credits his grandmother Barbara Poitier for teaching him a love of music, starting at age 5.
But he only stopped riding past on his bike and actually took in his first Jazz in the Gardens festival in 2013. His absolute favorite, Earth, Wind & Fire, was playing live.
This year’s host is comedian and radio host Rickey Smiley. Wilson stepped in to headline Saturday night when Aretha Franklin dropped out, capping a day that includes Michael McDonald, Average White Band, Kool and the Gang and saxophonist Najee and his JITG All-Stars. Sunday’s lineup include LaVie, Fred Hammond, Brian Culbertson, Baby Face, Janelle Monae and ends with Usher.
The gates open on both days at 3 p.m. and organizers caution concert goers that it might take a bit longer to park this year. The ongoing construction has not only shrunk the concert space — out of the path of any possibility of a falling crane — it means using different parking lots.
Producer Scott Gartner said the layout will be a bit different from last year. Food vendors, including the popular soul food favorite Keith the Crabmaster, will be on hand but staged a bit differently to try avoid some long lines. And the mayor said there will be more portable toilets to try to help people back to the show in record time.
Gilbert deftly ducked a Deco Drive question of whether fans can expect to see some celebrities — for example cast members of the FOX favorite Empire, in the crowd. “You got to show up with the camera and see,” he replied.
It was suggested at one point that, with a fair share of R&B entertainers, the program had strayed far from the promise of its title, Jazz in the Gardens. To which the major replied: “Jazz is a genre of music. It’s also a state of mind. We try to have something for everyone ... to fulfill all of your entertainment sensory desires.”
If you go:
Don’t forget the sunscreen. Also, organizers suggest, you budget a bit of extra time for parking since portions of the parking lots are off limits due to contruction of a roof at Sun Life Stadium. While tickets are available on site, organizers advise you can also purchase in advance online at JazzintheGardens.com or through Ticketmaster. Remember to print them out.
The doors open at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.