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The 2015 Monterey Jazz Festival Survival Guide

We've been there. We've done that. We've bought the t-shirts. And the jackets. And the hoodies. And the coffee mugs. And the seat cushions. Lots of seat cushions. So if you're new to what is quite simply and delightfully the greatest jazz festival on the West Coast, we've got a few tips and tricks to help you make the most of your time at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

The Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest running jazz festival in the world, held annually on the 20-acre, oak-studded Monterey County Fairgrounds, located at 2000 Fairground Road in Monterey, California. This has been the site of the Festival since its inception in 1958. More than 500 top jazz artists perform throughout the weekend on numerous stages spread throughout the grounds.

Outdoor venues include the Main Arena (aka the Jimmy Lyons Stage), the Garden Stage, the West Lawn Stage, and the Courtyard Stage. Indoor venues include the Night Club (Bill Berry Stage), Dizzy's Den, the Jazz Theater, and the Coffee House Gallery. Each venue features five separate concerts throughout the Festival weekend: Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Gates open at 6 pm on Friday night, 11:30 am on Saturday, and 11 am on Sunday. Non-stop, live jazz entertainment continues until approximately midnight on Friday and Saturday; and 11:30 pm on Sunday.

Monterey Jazz Festival Tickets

All Arena Seating is reserved, available with the purchase of Arena Packages or Single Day Arena Tickets. Arena Packages and Tickets also allow access to the Grounds stages and all Grounds activities at no extra cost. There are no in-and-out privileges, although lockers are available for daily storage of personal items while attending the festival.

Grounds Stage Tickets include simulcasts of Arena concerts in the Jazz Theater and access to six additional Grounds stages and all Grounds activities.

The Festival's District 7 Premier Club (available with Arena or Adult Grounds Stage Ticket purchase) is billed as *the* VIP package at Monterey, and includes visits and meet-and-greets by MJF58 artists, Monterey wines by District 7 and gourmet cuisine by AQUA TERRA, plus closed-circuit Arena simulcasts, private restrooms, indoor and outdoor patio seating, no-host top-shelf bars, a complimentary MJF58 souvenir program, and more. Call 888.248.6499 for more info on Premier Clubpackages.

Our Not-So-Secret Tips & Tricks for a Great Festival
  • Get the app.
    The folks at Monterey have a free smartphone app that makes festival-going even easier, with a customizable schedule of performances, artist bios, a map of the fairgrounds, driving directions, festival news, and more. The app is compatible for iPhone and Android devices. Just go to Google Play or the iPhone App Store, search for "Monterey Jazz," and download the app.

    Rats. This was actually a very cool app, and now it's gone. Boo hoo!
  • Leave early for the Fairgrounds site.
    If you're a Bay Area resident and you're traveling down Highway 1 from Santa Cruz, be forewarned that traffic bottlenecks at rush hour on Friday afternoons along the narrow roadway south of Santa Cruz. A quicker route follows Highway 101 south to Prunedale, then west on 156 to Highway 1 south at Castroville. From Highway 1, take the Casa Verde exit, turn left at the end of the off-ramp, and follow the road straight up to the Fairgrounds.
  • Good luck with parking.
    As always, parking around the festival site is a challenge. That means you're on your own in hunting down nearby street parking... which is never pretty. Our suggestion: leave in plenty of time to find parking (unless you're parking out at Monterey Peninsula College or at a hotel that's either within walking distance or offering a shuttle service to the Fairgrounds). The best spots (shhh... don't tell anyone else) are the streets that run perpendicular to Fremont Street, right across from the Travelodge: Palo Verde Way, Del Rosa Avenue, and Alcade Avenue.
    On-site parking is available for advance purchase if you are an Arena Package or Premier Pass holder. One parking ticket will be issued for each vehicle for each day purchased and includes one space for the day with in/out parking privileges. Limited availability. Motor home, bus, and limousine parking is not available in the on-site Parking Lot. On-site Fairgrounds Parking is $20 on Friday, $40 for Saturday or Sunday, and $100 for the full weekend.
    There is also paid parking available at Monterey Peninsula College, a short distance from the Fairgrounds, that offers FREE Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) JAZZ buses back and forth to the Festival. Buses will operate roundtrip every 5-10 minutes during the Festival. General Parking is $15 per vehicle per day (cash only).
  • Plan ahead.
    There's more music at Monterey than any one pair of ears can hear. Grab a Festival program when you arrive at the Fairgrounds (or download a PDF of this year's schedule )and map out your plan of attack: who you want to hear, where they're playing, at what time, etc. The Nightclub and Dizzy's Den often fill to capacity early in the evening (especially on Saturday night), so get a seat early or include a few contingency plans.
    Download a full schedule of this year's music from the MJF website (Adobe Acrobat required; click here to download the free Adobe software).
  • Dress warmly, and in layers.
    Monterey's coastal weather is erratic at best; the late Joe Williams recalled performing more than once dressed in a heavy winter overcoat and gloves. When the sun shines, Monterey is quite beautiful, but if the fog comes in, prepared to get chilled to the bone. Bring along a wide-brimmed hat and plenty of sunscreen in case the sun breaks through the familiar shoreline cloud cover.
    Rain is rare at Monterey this time of year; in the almost 30 years I've been attending the festival, rain has only dampened things twice. Plastic garbage bags make a great rain poncho in the event of a sudden downpour.
    Right now, weather forecasters are predicting sunny skies and a warming trend that may well push temperatures up into the low 80s by Sunday. Visit weather.com for the latest updates.
  • Bring a seat cushion or blanket.
    Sitting for hours on (your) end can get mighty uncomfortable. The Festival sells seat pads around the grounds (proceeds benefit the Festival's educational programs), but an inflatable seat cushion works just as well. If you're spending your time hanging around the Festival grounds, bring a blanket to spread out on the ground (which can also be used to keep yourself warm in the chilly evenings).
  • Take lots of photos... if you can.
    Everybody has a smartphone with a camera these days. But artists (and especially artist management types) are becoming more restrictive when it comes to concert photography; past years have seen all types of cameras and picture-taking banned from the Main Arena, for professional and amateur photographers alike, during select performances. Be courteous, and resspectful of other people around you; the security folks at Monterey are generally pretty mellow, and keeping a good vibe going is everyone's responsibility.
    Oh, and please do NOT use your flash.
  • Shop early.
    Festival T-shirts, posters, and other collectible Festival memorabilia tend to sell out fast.
  • Assistance for Disabled or Hearing Impaired Persons.
    There is a passenger loading/unloading area with wheelchair/disabled access located at the main entrance (next to the Ticket Office) to the Monterey County Fairgrounds. Additionally, wheelchair-accessible shuttle buses are available for people who park at the off-site lots at Monterey Peninsula College. A limited amount of parking spaces are also available for disabled persons on Fairground Road.
    Listening devices for the hearing impaired are available at no charge at Patron Services, located on the Fairgrounds. A deposit of a valid driver's license or current credit card is required.

For more information, or to purchase tickets for the 58th annual Monterey Jazz Festival, please call 888.248.6499 or visit the Monterey Jazz Festival website.

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