Live Review: Portside Summer Festival @ Waterfront Park (Alexandria, VA) — 06/17-6/18/22

Eric Byrd Trio performs at Portside Summer Festival in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)

What do you get when you mix breezy, sunny summer afternoons, delicious food and beverages, an eclectic selection of musical groups, set it all on the spectacular Old Town Alexandria waterfront, and then make it free admission? You get the Portside Summer Festival, a wonderful annual event, produced by Visit Alexandria in partnership with the City of Alexandria’s Office of the Arts.

After the Festival’s cancellation in 2020 due to the pandemic, and in 2021 due to inclement weather, the newly revamped Festival combined the Alexandria Jazz Fest (now in its 44th year and formerly known as the Memorial Day Jazz Festival) with the Old Town Summer Festival and expanded the event to two days this year — June 17 and 18.

Watch the Eric Byrd Trio perform “Calvary” in January 2019 at The Hamilton Live.

The festival’s jazz portion began on Friday evening with Cubano Groove, VERONNEAU, and the Eric Byrd Trio, with each group bringing its distinctive jazz interpretations to an ever-growing audience as cooling evening breezes brought relief from the day’s heat (but not the fiery performances). Enlivening the event, two of Alexandria’s poet laureates, KaNikki Jakarta (2019-2022) and Zeina Azzam (2022) read selections of their work between musical performances. Two students from the Alexandria City Public School Poetry program, Allie (Elementary School Poetry Program) and Sylvia (Middle School Poetry Program) read their outstanding poems to a highly appreciative audience.

The festivities resumed on Saturday at just after noon with a full slate of musical acts that included Eli Lev, La Unica, ilyAIMY, Rob Curto’s Forró for All, Ras Band, and Pablo Antonio Y La Firma. This varied musical lineup mirrored the wonderfully diverse audience that partook of the delicious food options, locally produced beer from Port City Brewing, hands-on art, children’s games, and history activities.

Watch ilyAIMY perform “Use Me” on YouTube:

Zeina Azzam

For the 2022 Festival, Zeina Azzam wrote and recited a beautiful poem inspired by local jazz legend Duke Ellington and his synesthesia — his ability to experience sound as color. Synesthesia is formally defined as “a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” Clearly, one didn’t need to be a synesthete to appreciate the wide variety of voices, melodies, and percussion that sprang from the Portside stage this past weekend. We were all left with our senses filled to the brim with laughter, food and drink, and a renewed love for the arts.

Home-grown festivals such as the Portside Summer Festival may not have the renown of Coachella, Bonnaroo, or Lollapalooza, but they are essential for keeping community arts alive, giving local talent a place to practice their craft, and supporting the local economy. This year, the City of Alexandria’s sensible decision to combine the Jazz and Portside festivities meant greater musical variety and an extended event that allowed many more residents to participate. For more information on the sights, sounds, and flavors of Alexandria, please visit the City’s tourism website.

Here are additional scenes from Alexandria’s Portside Summer Festival. All images courtesy and copyright of Mark Caicedo.

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