The ever-growing Ocean City Jazz Festival in North Topsail Beach celebrates a milestone in 2019. The annual fest, which turns 10, celebrates a decade of bringing cool jazz to the historic Ocean City Community Center with an expanded four-day event featuring musicians at the top of their art perform July 4-7.
From award-winners to up and comers, festival goers can catch the ocean breeze while taking in the sounds of young saxophonist Jazmin Ghent; two time Grammy award winner John Dillard; singer and songwriter Selina Albright; saxophonist Eric Darius; the always versatile John Brown Quintet; and the local Ocean City All-Stars among others.
“Obviously we’re very, very excited about not only the tenth year for the Jazz Festival but for the 70th anniversary of Ocean City,” said Kenneth Chestnut, president of the Ocean City Beach Citizens Council. “We’re excited about how the festival continues to grow and about helping people learn about the history of Ocean City. It’s a part of our history that we don’t want to see fade away. We want to continue to make people aware of it.”
Founded in 2009, the festival was conceived by the community's citizens' council who sought a summertime family celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of Ocean City. Located 3 miles north of Surf City, the stretch of beach was developed by the efforts of Edgar Yow, a white attorney, and Dr. Samuel Gray, a black physician, both of Wilmington. Yow, who owned the 1-mile stretch of beach on Topsail Island, approached Dr. Gray with the idea of creating an African American beach community where residents could own a beachfront home. Dr. Gray turned to Bertram, Wade, Louise and Robert Chestnut, siblings who purchased the first tracts of land in what was to become Ocean City.
The first homes were built in 1949, followed by a motel, chapel and camp dormitory. Ocean City became the first North Carolina coastal community in which African Americans could purchase land, 15 years before the Civil Rights Act. To celebrate the rich history of Ocean City, the council approached the community about holding a jazz festival, and the idea was welcomed with overwhelming positivity.
The festival had humble beginnings on the porch of the community building with adjacent tent and chairs. Within a few years, the tent size increased and two years ago the festival had to be moved across the street to handle the growing crowd that gathered for the celebration.
“It has expanded and evolved over the years,” said Chestnut. “But the community mission is still there. The enthusiasm is still there. We still use the festival as an opportunity to educate people about Ocean City and in addition it helps provide funds for the chapel and community center.”
Despite its growth, Chestnut said it continues to be a small, intimate venue. It’s not uncommon to see performers mingling with the crowd and hanging out under the tent to take in the sets of fellow musicians.
“We have been fortunate to draw some really excellent artists and performers through the years and this year is no different,” he added.
The Ocean City Jazz Festival continues to be a one of a kind event for Topsail Island and as it grows, it adds new events to draw even more music lovers to the shores.
The 10th anniversary edition begins on Thursday, July 4 with a wine and beer tasting and a Kickoff All-White Party featuring the smooth sounds of John Dillard from 7:30-9:30pm. Things really get going Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 5-7, with music beginning at 5pm each day. In addition to the four nights of jazz, folks can enjoy worship service under the tent and the festival’s first Jazz Gospel Brunch on Sunday, featuring Richard Dawson, Cyrus Chestnut and John Brown.
One-day admission is $60 for Friday and Saturday and $50 for Sunday. Two-day tickets are $110 and three-day tickets are available for $160. All can be purchased at oceancityjazzfest.com. The event includes food trucks and a merchandise market that features a variety of food, beverages and souvenirs. No picnic baskets or coolers are allowed.