When Jack Kitchen stepped to the lectern yesterday to talk about the upcoming West Oak Lane Jazz Festival, he spoke of a neighborhood that once bore little resemblance to the West Oak Lane of today.
Kitchen, the president and CEO of the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation, said that 10 years ago, the average price of a house in zip code 19138 was $50,000. Now, it is nearly $100,000. He credits the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival with helping to re-brand the once unknown neighborhood.
On Monday morning, OARC held a press conference outside of Relish Restaurant to announce details and the entertainment line up for the 8th annual festival. This year’s headliners will include Chaka Khan, Chrisette Michele and Men of Soul. The free festival will take place from June 17 to 19.
The speakers also took time to reflect on how the festival got its start.
Sharmain Matlock-Turner, an OARC board member, can remember when state Rep. Dwight Evans (D. Phila.) went around saying something could be done to help West Oak Lane. It started off with small efforts, such as clean ups. Those small things eventually led to the festival, she said.
“It didn’t start off as a big jazz festival,” Matlock-Turner said. “It was just a little parade down Washington Lane.”
But the festival has grown, some say too big. Last year it took nearly $1 million in state funds to put the festival on. Organizers then said it would entertain 500,000 people, but photos and estimates by the Philadelphia Inquirer put the actual attendance at just a few thousand at times.
Evans and Kitchen have repeatedly disputed these numbers, and yesterday Evans said he expected more people to show up this year than did last year.
Evans invited attendees inside the restaurant to look at pictures of the neighborhood, so they could see how much it has changed. In his past position as Appropriations Chair for the state House, Evans has shepherded millions in revitalization funds to West Oak Lane through OARC. He said other communities use West Oak Lane as a model for revitalization.
“You can be what you want to be,” he said. “We have demonstrated it as a community.”
Government officials, OARC members and people from the neighborhood ate lunch at Relish as the Kenny Gates Trio played jazz music. The reception was meant as a small taste of what the jazz festival has to offer: local music and food.
Eighty-five percent of the musicians are from Philadelphia, officials said. Barbara Super, an OARC board member, has attended every festival, and she thinks it’s a great way to showcase talent and unite the neighborhood. She described the event as an enjoyable day.
Rick White, a co-producer for the festival and consultant for World Village Management, LLC, said this year’s event is a chance for him to reach well beyond West Oak Lane by making the jazz festival appeal to people nationally and internationally.
In the future, he hopes the festival will take place throughout the year, he said.
For more information about the festival, visit http://westoaklanefestival.com/.