Two decades ago, a group of residents and community leaders got together to discuss ways to promote their neighborhood and spur economic development. They decided to organize an outdoor event to celebrate the area’s cultural diversity, culinary competence and creative talent.
The result was the Jamaica Arts & Music Summer Festival or JAMS, which attracted about 7,000 people to its debut in 1996. Since then, the annual event has grown into one of New York City’s biggest summer destinations with almost 200,000 revelers filling 10 blocks of Jamaica Avenue and enjoying live performances, fashion, arts and more than 500 vendors.
This year, the fun begins on Friday, Aug. 7, with a free concert — JAMS Under the Stars — at Rufus King Park in the vicinity of 153rd Street and 89th Avenue from 5 to 10 p.m. Scheduled performers include Toni Ann Semple, a powerful singer who blends the nuances of her African and Native American heritages into soul, funk and jazz; DJ Jordan Knoxx, a mixologist from nearby Hollis; and Dallas Forte, a Christian crooner who hails from Guyana.
On the second day of JAMS, Aug. 8, organizers say that “an extra special artist” will present. They want this person’s identity to be a secret until stage time, but attendees can expect rap, R&B and even a martial arts demonstration by the Resobox Japanese Cultural Center. The stretch on Jamaica Avenue from Parsons Boulevard to 170th Street will be a pedestrian-free zone divided into sections.
A “kid safe play area” will host face-painting, arts and crafts, and a climbing wall, while a health expo will provide access to check-ups and wellness activities. There will also be a seniors pavilion and a classic car show.