Clearwater Jazz Holiday isn’t just about the jazz anymore, nor is it free for everyone. But the impressive lineup of artists hitting the 33rd annual Holiday makes it worth the price of admission. Organizers seemed to have adopted a NOLA Jazz Fest philosophy when it comes to venturing outside the genre, and have lightened up the smooth factor via a high-buzzing neo jazz fusion artist and several acts that aren’t really jazz at all but appeal to younger and (dare I say it?) hipper audiences and/or folks who might have otherwise avoided Holiday completely. Highlights and schedule below.
THURSDAY: A sought-after songwriter who has penned lyrics for the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Trisha Yearwood and others, Maia Sharp (6:30-8 p.m.) delivers pretty, melodic roots rock, her strong soprano soaring as the sun fades to dark. Aforementioned blues and folk-rock songstress Raitt — who’s been delivering smoky drawling serenades for more than four decades over 16 albums (including 2012’s Slipstream) — brings the Thursday night festivities to a resounding close with her fiery guitar-slinging sizzle (8:30-10 p.m.). Also performing: Carol Stein and Friends (5-6 p.m.).
FRIDAY: The smooth jazz feeling is in full effect on Saturday, and while the obvious draw is sax mistress Mindi Abair, Down to the Bone serves up a more groove and funk-oriented brassy bang for your buck (6:30-8 p.m.). Also performing: Common Ground Reunion (5-6 p.m.), Mindi Abair & Friends feat. Jeff Golub and David Pack (8:30-11 p.m.).
SATURDAY: Plenty happening all throughout the day but make no mistake about it, the highlight of the entire weekend’s jazz offerings is Esperanza Spalding Radio Music Society (9:15-10:45 p.m.). Spalding is a 27-year-old classically trained musician with chops on both upright and electric bass, and a rich, far-ranging, velvety-airy vocal that she’s capable of putting through impressive feats of melody and scat acrobatics. Her music is tastefully arranged jazz fusion kissed by neo soul, bossa nova, Latin and Cuban jazz; 2010’s Chamber Music Society earned her a Grammy win for “Best New Artist” in 2011 (the first given to a jazz artist in that category) and her 2012 fourth, Radio Music Society, introduces gospel and big-band swing to her repertoire. Also performing: Pat Close & The Groove (2-3:15 p.m.), El Nino Garcia and the Latin Knights (3:45-5 p.m.), Tia Fuller Quartet (5:30-6:45 p.m.), Kurt Elling (7:15-8:45 p.m.), Fireworks (10:45 p.m.).
SUNDAY: Closing out the Holiday weekend is a much-anticipated appearance by the beloved heel-kicking, emotive ballad-making folk and Americana-purveying Avett Brothers (7:30-9:30 p.m.), led by Seth and Scott Avett on lead vocals and an ever-changing set of instruments, joined by high-spirited or understated accompaniment from their three bandmates (drummer included). New album The Carpenter debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200. Also performing: Ruth Eckerd Hall/Clearwater Jazz Holiday Youth Jazz Band feat. Mindi Abair (2:30-3:30 p.m.), The Cave Dwellers featuring the Reinhardt Brothers (4-5 p.m.), Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds (5:30-7 p.m.).
Details: 33rd Annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Oct. 18-21, Coachman Park, Clearwater, $10 per day advance/$15 at the gate each day, $15 Saturday-Sunday passes advance/$25 gate, and $30 four-day pass, $45 gate (children 12 and younger enter free), clearwaterjazz.com.