Jazz Fest kicking off tonight in Strand Park

Hollis Brown, left, is the headliner Friday night at the Alexander City Jazz Fest, while Taylor Hicks, right, will be the headline act Saturday night at the Lake Martin Amphitheater to close out the festival. All the music is free to the public.

Grab chairs, blankets, coolers and friends and head out to the 28th Annual Jazz Fest event kicking off tonight at 6 p.m. and continuing Saturday night. This is a concert series with musical acts you won’t want to miss.

For 27 years, residents and tourists have eagerly awaited the annual Jazz Fest concert for a weekend of high-energy music, remarkable talent and fellowship with the community.

This free, family-friendly two-day concert began as a celebration for the 100t birthday of Froshin’s Department Store, once located in downtown Alexander City. Now, attendance reaches nearly 5,000 concertgoers, and it is one of the most popular and anticipated events of the summer.

The 28th Annual Jazz Fest will continue that tradition with a musical lineup that could be some of the best yet. Area residents have been awaiting Jazz Fest all week as it is coinciding with the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce Sun Festival celebration that has been going on throughout the week.

The time has come as three bands take the stage tonight at Strand Park in downtown Alexander City and three more bring the music and fun to Lake Martin Amphitheater on Saturday. Arrive early at both locations to snag a good spot on the lawn.

At 6 p.m. tonight, the Birmingham-based rock-n-roll band, New Devils, will open the concert series with its country twang and twist of soul. New Devils’ music tells an effective story, and tapping toes won’t be able to resist the beat. The three-man band consists of Jay McCarley on bass, Johnnie Shaneyfelt as lead singer and Joey Rudisell on drums.

Following the New Devils, New Orleans legend and Grammy-award winner Jon Cleary will grace the stage at 7:30 p.m. with his funky hits and soulful voice. Cleary has taken New Orleans by storm over the last 35 years and is an accomplished keyboardist and guitarist, with a deep appreciation for R&B.

Cleary’s music draws its influence from a varied background that includes ‘70s soul, gospel, funk, Afro-Caribbean rhythms and more. Originally from England, Cleary’s inspiration comes from being raised by a musical family.

Hollis Brown will rock the stage to close out the night at 9 p.m. Named after a Bob Dylan song, this rock-n-roll band has traveled internationally. The band formed in 2009 with Queens-natives and songwriters Mike Montali on lead vocals and guitar and Jonathan Bonilla on lead guitar. The two then recruited Cleveland-native Andrew Zehnal on drums and Adam Bock from St. Louis on keyboard and vocals. Hollis Brown has headlined or supported such bands as The Counting Crows, Citizen Cope and The Zombies.

Round two of this weekend celebration takes place Saturday at The AMP just south of Kowaliga Bridge.

Yonrico Scott will return to the Jazz Fest stage after his popular performance in 2011. At 6 p.m., the Grammy award-winning drummer will kick off the night with a wide range of tunes. As a multi-talented artist, Scott is a musician, painter and teacher who enjoys sharing his passion through workshops for young students.

At age 7, Scott began performing with gospel groups in Detroit, Michigan. He eventually moved into securing his own drumming career. Throughout his lifetime, Scott has recorded and/or performed with a long list of who’s who among well known artists, including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers Band and many more.

Another Jazz Fest repeat takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. after performing here just two years ago. Since then, Roman Street — the college brotherly band from Mobile — has expanded its style into chart-topping Jazz infusion, covering a range of musical influences. The band is named for an old Roman street in the Alps, and its members are internationally trained in the improvisational fusion of classical, gypsy and contemporary jazz, Latin and Nuevo Flamenco.

Roman Street prides itself on keeping it simple with acoustic instruments, either as a guitarist duo or with the backing of a band.

Stick around for the big closing act at 9 p.m. when “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks amps up the crowd. Originally from Jasper, Alabama, Hicks got his start performing throughout the Southeast; that is, until his fame from the fifth season of television’s popular singing competition show made him a countrywide star.

His energetic performance features classic rock, blues and R&B. Hicks is a self-taught musical artist, starting with the harmonica at age 16; writing his first song at age 18; and learning to play the electric guitar at age 19.

He has performed on Broadway and did a national tour with the show “Grease” in the role of Teen Angel.

Aside from the music, the event will have T-shirt sales with this year’s signature design by winner Justin Clayton, and food vendors — including Cesar’s Concessions and Nothing Bundt Cakes — will be available with goodies to purchase.

A new addition to this year’s festival will be a display of all the submitted Jazz Fest artwork from local children, as well as the adult submissions. Attendees can view the artwork at the soon-to-be-renovated Alexander City Theatre II Fine Arts Center on Tallapoosa Street across from Strand Park from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Artists may pick up their work after 7:30 p.m. or retrieve it at the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce at a later date.

As usual, the tradition of decorating tables and vying for prizes will be a big part of the fun. There is no set theme for this year’s Jazz Fest, so creativity could come into play for participants who will be judged on food presentations and table decorations. First place in each category will win a cash prize.

The theme for this year’s table contest is actually a non-theme: It’s Your Theme, Do What You Want To Do. Participants will be judged on food and table presentation. First place will win a cash prize.