NEW ORLEANS – It started out with a second line that wound its way through one of the most culturally important parks in America.
Armstrong Park is known as the birthplace of jazz, and Thursday’s Jazz in the Park was designed to pay tribute to Armstrong Park's rich cultural history, and keep that spirit alive.
“Our goal is to make Armstrong Park the hub of the cultural economy,” said Emanuel Lain, president of People United for Armstrong Park, which organizes the concert series.
The event is part of an effort to bring people back to the newly renovated Armstrong Park.
For years, the park had a reputation as a dangerous place. Now, People United for Armstrong Park say the park is safe, clean and open for business.
“I thank the city of New Orleans and parks and parkways for getting Armstrong Park up and running, but I think we got it from here. We're putting activity in the park,” said Lain.
“When I told people I was coming, people would say, ‘Oh be careful.’ I say, ‘Armstrong Park is nice now!’ I'm not worried about being here. I'm good,” said Michelle Galley, an event attendee.
“This is just a historical site that needs to be brought back to life,” said Rasyanel Freeman, owner of Freedom Crafts, a vendor at the series. “It’s exciting to be on the ground level of it.”
The concert series kicked off with Flow Tribe and James Andrews, and hundreds came to listen.
In its third season, organizers say the free event costs thousands of dollars to produce.
Proceeds from food and drink sales go to People United for Armstrong Park to pay for the event.
“Our first season we did really well, but our second season we had bigger acts,” said Lain. “I had to personally come out of my pocket. The vice president had to personally come out of his pocket. But we are so dedicated to what we're doing.”
For some, the free event is bringing them back to their roots.
This marked Will Smith's first time back in Armstrong Park in more than 50 years. The Louisiana native was visiting from San Antonio and decided to visit the park when he saw the activity inside.
“We used to come out here and play football and sit in the park,” said Smith. “It’s amazing to be back.”
Now organizers hope the series will garner enough support to grow for years to come.
"Jazz in the Park" runs every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. through June 13.