"Did you see it rain earlier?" said Jack Navar. "Looks like there is a jazz god out there, because now the sky is blue."
Navar and his wife, Susan, joined a growing crowd at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in St. Paul's Mears Park. The free event kicked into high gear Friday in Lowertown, where Grammy winner Branford Marsalis headlined the main outdoor stage.
More than 30,000 people attended last year's fest. With the recent opening of the Green Line light-rail service between St. Paul and Minneapolis and the addition of more venues, more people are expected at this year's jazz-a-thon, said Connie Shaver, spokeswoman for the event.
By Friday afternoon about 200 people had downloaded free bus and LRT passes offered by festival sponsor Metro Transit, Shaver said.
Cindy Tremblay and Ann Van Ert, both of Lakeville, used a free pass to ride an express bus from the Mall of America to the festival. They came prepared for bad weather.
"We thought it was going to rain, but I've got my umbrella," Tremblay said. "We are waterproof."
Sandy Barnes and Cindy Preston, who live and work in downtown Minneapolis, rode light rail to the festival. Preston said she seldom visits downtown St. Paul but decided to take a chance and hop on the Green Line for the first time.
"I planned my whole day around it," Preston said. "I brought an umbrella — I even have a ponytail."
No weather forecast was going to keep some jazz lovers away. "We brought rainsuits," said Dick McDaniel, who was there with Judi Albertson, both of Minneapolis. "We are ready to camp out if need be."
Plans are in place if rain rolls in as forecast on Saturday, the festival's final day. The outdoor main stage will shut down only if there are high winds and lightning, Shaver said. More than 20 stages are indoors, so they will remain open. Participating venues include Amsterdam Bar, Bedlam Theater and Union Depot.
Held the last week of June, the 16th annual festival opened Thursday with a multi-club "Jazz Night Out," followed by six hours on Friday. Music on Saturday starts at noon and runs continuously, capped by headliner Dianne Reeves (also a Grammy winner) at 8:30 p.m. on the Mears Park main stage.
Alongside veterans Marsalis and Reeves, anticipation is keen for a fast-rising 25-year-old Chilean saxophonist, Melissa Aldana. She and her Crash Trio take the stage at 6 p.m. Saturday.
In addition to the marquee-level national acts, the fest showcases Twin Cities musicians ranging from such veterans as Patty Peterson, Debbie Duncan, Prudence Johnson and the Wolverines to such younger stars as the Jack Brass Band and Chris Bates to even student ensembles. In all, about 130 acts are on the schedule.