‘All roads lead to Cork’ for return of jazz festival

Covid restrictions don’t kill the buzz after musicians ‘come home’ following year hiatus

Social distancing and Covid certs gave the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival a very different feel this year but the constant rain provided a touch of familiarity.

On Saturday, young and old were queuing outside to get into the Metropole Hotel on MacCurtain Street in Cork city, where the festival originated 43 years ago as a replacement for a cancelled bridge tournament.

Katie Swayne from Midleton and her friend Aoife Healy from Blarney, who are both in their 20s, said they were delighted to see the festival return after it was cancelled last year due to the pandemic.

Swayne expressed admiration for the hospitality sector which she felt was making a huge effort to keep bars safe in a time of Covid.


“It is nice to see [the buzz] around the place. A lot of places are taking it [Covid] quite seriously. They are still checking your Covid pass when you go in but we are getting back to normal a bit. There is still a bit of life in the community.”

Healy referred to a street market which was running down a side street next to the Metropole. She said that a lot of innovation has come from the Covid-19 pandemic with businesses putting in the hard work to stay open but safe for staff and patrons alike.

“A lot of good has come to Cork in the last year. And everyone is still being cautious. We are being asked for Covid certs everywhere.”

Roger Russell, general manager of the Metropole Hotel, said while it was wonderful to have the festival up and running again "capacity will have to be monitored very carefully to ensure all our guests and all our team members are safe. That is really important.

“But one of the things about the festival is that that it always brings a smile to faces and the atmosphere is always so warm and friendly.”

James Lancaster of the New York Brass Band is celebrating his 10th year at the festival.

“It is really exciting. We missed it last year. We kind of feel like part of the furniture when we come to places like the Metropole. We feel like we have come home.”

Meanwhile, publican and restaurateur Ernest Cantillon, who owns Electric bar/restaurant and Sober Lane bar in the city centre, said they were busier this bank holiday than in 2019, when the festival last took place.

He is finding that both the public and management in pubs and restaurants are still very aware that the country is opening up at a sensitive time in the pandemic with rising numbers of Covid-19 patients in hospitals.

“I could have booked [the restaurant] out 10 times over. People are very Covid conscious and if they weren’t asked for their Covid certs I think they would nearly say it to you,” said Cantillon.

“In Sober Lane last night, we had a really good brass band that would nearly be impossible not to dance to so we asked them to take a bit longer time between songs. People would go down to their seat and it calmed it down a bit. We are kind of getting cute like that.

“We had Covid compliance officers in last night [Friday]. They were very polite. They asked about our systems and as everything was right off they went. This was at 11pm.”

The festival is normally worth an estimated €35 million to Cork city but with fewer events, a closed airport and Covid-19 regulations it is expected it will add considerably less to the coffers of hotels and bars this year.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Colm Kelleher, says that local business owners, bars, hoteliers and musicians are "thrilled" at the return of the festival.

“The hugely significant economic impact as well as the vibrancy and energy it brings to Cork city and surrounding area is unparalleled – there is nothing else like it.

“Covid hasn’t gone away. We have to be aware of that but that doesn’t mean we can’t get back to some sort of normality. This weekend all roads lead to Cork.”

The festival was the brainchild of Jim Mountjoy, the then Metropole Hotel marketing manager, way back in 1978.

Over the years it has featured many greats including Ella Fitzgerald, BB King, George Shearing, Art Blakey and Mel Tormé. The line-up has become more eclectic over the last decade and incorporates different types of music, a move that has had its supporters and detractors.

Headline acts this year include trumpeter Matthew Halsall and the hugely popular Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, made up of seven brothers from the south side of Chicago. Yasiin Bey Big Band (fka Mos Def) will close the festival on Monday evening.