Worth the Cover Charge

The 20th San Jose Jazz Festival was a shining success—for itself, and also for Downtown San Jose. The festival showcased straight-up jazz, Latin jazz, blues, and Brazilian music, at outdoor stages scattered throughout the Downtown. Many of the Downtown hotels were filled with visitors, which means money for the City of San Jose in the form of transit occupancy tax (TOT). Forty percent of this tax goes to the general fund, and the balance is split between the convention center, cultural facilities, cultural grants and arts groups. 

After the stages were closed down, the restaurants in the Downtown were filled with patrons spending money and listening to live music. I thought to myself: “If someone was visiting San Jose for the first time, they would be very impressed with our Downtown.” There was something for everyone.

At one time, the San Jose Jazz Festival was free. However, over time the event changed and the organizers decided to charge an admission fee. In some ways, this was a risk. We can usually count on people attending a free event as long as it is advertised, however, changing a free event to one with an admission is a gamble.

Although I appreciate free events, for example, Farmers Markets and Music in the Glen, I do believe that people will pay to attend an event if they see the value in the entertainment. Once someone buys a ticket, they commit to staying for most of the event vs. a quick walk through. In addition, the cover price usually can keep the crowd manageable and diverse which I believe benefits the attendees and the sponsors.

For example, at the Jazz Festival, there were many happy people vs. people that sometimes are looking to cause trouble. In a day in age when sponsorships are harder to come by and cities have fewer resources, I believe events that have a cover charge may be the way to go.

Of course, if you’re the Jazz Festival in Montreal and your main sponsor is a cigarette company, then perhaps funding is not such an issue. However those types of sponsors are not so popular in healthy California.

So perhaps Music in the Park, put on by the Downtown Association on Thursday nights, might consider a $2-$5 cover; or the same for Dancing on the Avenue in Willow Glen. Outdoor events are expensive to put on and a nominal amount of money per person could help to cover the costs and be treated as a partial tax deduction for the attendee if the festival is benefiting a charity of some kind.

On another note: I attended the ribbon cutting for the Ericsson Campus in North San Jose last week where I met the CEO from Sweden, Carl-Henric Svanberg. I thanked him for his investment in San Jose but also noted that as they grow partly by purchasing other companies that San Jose is the perfect place to be since so many new technologies are created and funded through local Venture Capitalists.

Ericsson is the world’s biggest supplier of cell phone network equipment. Ericsson bought Redback Networks and others to make a presence in Silicon Valley and make San Jose a premier global Research and Development facility. Ericsson has great signage and is located in several buildings along 237 next to Force10 Networks and the new headquarters under construction for Brocade. Kudos to Ericsson’s expansion during these times and providing 1,400 jobs in San Jose.



  1. “For example, at the Jazz Festival, there were many happy people vs. people that sometimes are looking to cause trouble.”-Pierluigi O.

    I have been involved and attended the festival for twenty years and must say that the crowd quality has not changed at all since the minimal charge was introduced. Though an admission fee can discourage “troublemakers”, in the case of the Jazz Festival,there was never any trouble to begin with. It always amazed everyone but the jazz music brought out the best in so many.

  2. Music in the Park’s fine the way it is. Let’s not muck it up with an unnecessary cover charge. If the sponsors can’t make a go of it on food, booze and merchandise sales they might have to re-think the event. Right now it seems to be fine; leave it alone.

  3. Thanks you for not being a typical politician. A typical politician would have claimed they created the jobs. This was all done by a private company and not government.

  4. I have attended the festival for more years than I can remember precisely.  I never saw a problem when it was free of charge.  One could put chairs and coolers and food at a stage, stay there a while, wander to other stages freely without annoying fences and wrist band checkers who also told you what you could not bring in, and come back to find all one’s goods intact.  Now they restrict the types of chairs, outlawed coolers.  It’s not as mellow as it once was.  No probelms, but I felt like I was entering and exiting a refugee camp or a prison as I walked from venue to venue surrounded by ugly fences. Gitmo without the razor wire. I definitely do NOT like the current setup. 

    So, charging a fee has not reduced the number of problem people, since there weren’t any problems to begin with.

    Charging a fee did introduce ugly fences, an increased staff to check for wrist bands, and cut off one stage from another. 

    It’s difficult for me to believe the cover charge covered anything more than the cost of the fencing and the added staff.  The fences just introduced a vibe I don’t have the right words for, except that I don’t like it.  It feels like a prison.  Am I repeating myself?  probably, ‘cuz I really don’t like the fences.

    I read the Murky News articles where it was alleged that this years attendance was just a bit down from lat years. I don’t believe that for a minute.  A couple of years ago they had a dozen stages, most of which were packed with people all weekend.  This year there were only eight or nine, most of which had very noticeably fewer folks at them than two years ago when there were more stages, most of which were packed with folks having a good time. 

    More stages packed versus fewer stages sparse leads me to the conclusion that there were far fewer folks in attendance this year.

    Funding is always an issue.  AT&T & Cisco saved the festival this year.  Who knows if they’ll be back next year.  It would be sad to see it die for lack of funding; but it’s difficult for me to believe that the minimal charge pays for itself given the added cost of fencing and security/badge checkers (unless they are ALL volunteers).

  5. Maybe if we asked for a couple of dollars from everyone at Discovery Park on 4th of July we could have had fireworks.

  6. I think the Jazz Fest is the one time out of the year where one can actually say “I was in downtown San Jose this weekend” with pride!  The one time out of the year where it rises above Santana Row, Valley Fair, and the smaller downtowns of Silicon Valley.  It could be like this on a regular basis, but it will require a lot of work, a stronger economy, and a change from club-“all you can drink!” culture to sophisticated Jazz/piano bar culture.  And as witnessed over the Jazz weekend, it’s not about race or age.

    Family feels admission charge keeps out the “rift raft,” but I agree with David 1467 in that there wasn’t much trouble to begin with.  Even the “rift raft” I saw in the free days behaved, probably because they were outnumbered by decent folk of all ethnic backgrounds…the way downtown San Jose should be!

    Great post Pierluigi!

  7. #8,
    For the record, I’m Mexican-American (aka a minority) and Cisco Field in Downtown San Jose will be PRIVATELY financed (meaning it won’t be at taxpayers expense).  You’re welcome.

  8. I just read an article in the “Jazz Times” reporting that The Newport Jazz Festival, which is The Granddaddy of all U.S. Jazz Festivals, almost died this year due to lack of funding. It cited several other jazz festivals on the verge of folding due to lack of corporate sponsorships.

    Newport was saved at the last minute by a multi-million $ infusion by its founder.  SJ Jazz festival was saved at the last minute this year by AT&T & Cisco, and others.  Can that continue in this economy?

    Jazz Festivals can’t print money as the Obama administration has.  So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    At the end of the day, perhaps onlt NASCAR will survive.

  9. Did anyone go to Music in the Park last night? Sonny Landreth was excellent. If you were not there too bad. They should have him back next year.