Las Vegas jazz, blues festival celebrates 20 years

It's back and, according to its unbiased producer, better than ever. The Las Vegas City of Lights Jazz Rhythm & Blues Festival celebrates 20 consecutive years Saturday and Sunday with its biggest show to date.

"The entire show was booked with excitement in mind," says Michael Schivo, the festival's producer and founder. "That's the reason it's lasted so long. ... There are no slackers in our show."

The majority of the lineup for the festival at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater is Grammy Award-winning performers. The nonslackers include saxophonist Boney James, who performed at the festival when it debuted in 1992, guitarist Norman Brown, saxophonist Gerald Albright, trumpeter Rick Braun, flutist Althea Rene and funk and jazz English band Down to the Bone.

And those are just the jazz performers.

The festival is split into two genres over two days. The smooth jazz performers take the stage Saturday and typically bring in a demographic of 35- to 64-year-olds. Sunday is dedicated to neo-soul and draws the younger, 25-50 crowd.

The second day represents the evolution of R&B and the new sound and interpretations of it, which are actually reminiscent of R&B generations past. "Next year, when we look for artists, they won't have to be older," he says, "because the younger artists are sounding older."

Sunday's performers include Eric Benet, veteran R&B band Morris Day and the Time, Melanie Fiona, Rahsaan Patterson and Goapele. The neo-soul sound many of them represent is a departure from the genre that used to be celebrated the second day of the festival: '80s funk.

That "went stale," according to Schivo. The neo-soul lineup has worked well the past two years and the genre borrows many of the jazz elements represented the first day. It makes it easier for the audience to justify attending both days.

The festival has become a tourism event. Last year the audience represented 38 states and Schivo estimates 80 percent of the crowd were tourists.

"Everyone loves to come to a jazz festival, but to come to one in Vegas makes for one plus one equals three," he says.

Contact feature writer Xazmin Garza at or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.