Gospel Fest Slated For Saturday
After 27 years, a community event may be ending.
The Gospel Fest has been held in Chadakoin Park since the late 1990s and has been the brainchild of Jamestown resident, Jean Thomas.
However after saying that she wouldn’t think of stepping down for five years, Thomas said that this year’s event could be the last Gospel Fest.
“This wasn’t my plan to keep going,” Thomas said.
While the idea of Gospel Fest is known particularly in Jamestown, the genesis of the event was planted in Rochester. The reason for this was that Thomas originally grew up there and experienced gospel music in various parts of the city. Her family was also musically inclined. Her father was known to quickly learn musical instruments and even made his own guitar which he played for his church.
“We (her family) didn’t have church. We always had gospel singing. And I missed that (in Jamestown),” Thomas said. “A lot of my family sings. We always got together as a family and sung.”
Thomas said that she still has family that sings regularly in music groups in the Rochester area.
In 1979, Thomas moved to Jamestown. She said that at that time there was no venue for gospel music.
“When I moved to Jamestown there was nothing. It was so boring (to not have gospel music regularly),” Thomas said. “I missed it so much. I’d go home and listen to gospel music all the time.”
She wondered if she could start an event in the community that would incorporate gospel music.
“I asked my pastor could I do a Gospel Fest and he was like sure,” Thomas said.
Thomas also invited some of the same musicians and gospel groups she had seen and heard in Rochester to Jamestown. The first Gospel Fest was held in 1992 at New Life Christian Center on Chandler Street.
“I invited a lot of groups down (from Rochester), we sang, and gave away hot dogs. We had a good time.” Thomas said. “It’s been going on ever since.”
In addition to Jean Thomas, her husband Jacob also supported her organization of the first Gospel Fest. He would continue to provide that support every year for the next 22 years.
“He supported me all the way,” Thomas said.
The event moved to Chadakoin Park in 1998.
The goal of the event was to try and bring “something new” to Jamestown. Thomas also saw an opportunity to reach persons who weren’t inclined to attend a church.
“My whole purpose was so many people that won’t go to church for whatever reason can be blessed just through (hearing) the music,” Thomas said. “That’s my real reason to keep going with this.”
When asked about attendance numbers for the event, Thomas said it varies with each year. However, Thomas said she has seen attendance levels between 70 and 200 people.
The reason it may be the final year for Gospel Fest is that Thomas said the past five years of running the event have been especially hard. She credits the difficulty to her husband’s death in 2014.
“Since he passed away all the weight is on my shoulders,” Thomas said. “It’s been really hard the last five years I’ve been doing it.”
Thomas also cited the difficulty in finding help to arrange the event as a burden for her. She said that the thought of stopping is frustrating because her husband gave her full support.
“I know he would hate for me to give up on it.” Thomas said.
Thomas also said the frustration extends to her work at The Resource Center. She has regularly used TRC residents as volunteers for the event.
To support the event over the years, Thomas has worked overtime at her job, collected New York state bottle deposits, and paid in full for use of the park and performers and similar tasks.
“This is my last year,” Thomas said. “I’ve had people (say to me) ‘you don’t know how much of a blessing this is.'”
Thomas also said she will miss her family and other out of town participants making the trip for the event.
In spite of her struggles in putting the event together every year, Thomas said that she would love to see the event continue annually from another individual or organization. She also said that she is looking for volunteers to help this year.
Thomas said that after she announced her departure from the event last year, many people came to her and stated how much of an asset the event was to the community.
This year’s Gospel Fest will include four musical groups. Of the three, two are from Rochester. They are the Truly Committed, a female vocal group and The New Gospel Times. The third group performing is Brothers In Christ of Jamestown. Thomas and members of her family will also perform throughout the event.
Thomas cited the Rev. Leecroft Clarke of Healing Word Ministries Church of God, Save-A-Lot on Fluvanna Avenue and many volunteers as being helpful during her years of hosting the event.
Thomas said attendees can expect to see “old school” gospel music.
The 2019 Gospel Fest will be held at the pavilion in Chadakoin Park from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m on Saturday. Hot dogs, chips and drinks will be served throughout the event. The pavilion is located at 11th and Lafayette Streets in Jamestown.
To learn how to volunteer or donate call 338-2253 or find Jean Thomas on Facebook.