Bringing People Together with Jazz

By Hannah West | Tuesday, June 13, 2023

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For two years Duck’s picturesque Town Green fell silent over Columbus Day weekend, a time of year traditionally filled with the lively sounds of the Duck Jazz Festival. But in 2022, the music returned and with it came more than 6,000 festival goers over the course of the holiday weekend. The 14th annual Duck Jazz Festival, taking place on October 7 and 8, 2023, will certainly get the good times rolling.

“Jazz has a very colorful, lively music culture, and that's mirrored by the festival in terms of it bringing people together,” says Kay Nickens, Public Information and Events Director for the Town of Duck. “We can celebrate the fellowship that music creates.”

The Duck Jazz Festival is a free, non-ticketed event. Last year's festival featured acts like Bassel and the Supernaturals, La Fiesta Latin Jazz Quintet, John Jorgenson Quintet and the United States Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble.

Nickens, who is planning this year’s event, hopes that the festival can serve as an opportunity to foster a spirit of volunteerism and inspire folks to give back to our community. She is looking at ways that the Town of Duck can coordinate partnerships between local businesses and collaborate with local charitable or nonprofit organizations, like the SPCA, food banks, shelter services, disaster relief organizations and others that serve the needs of our area. The idea is to inspire festival goers to give back to the community in addition to having a good time and hearing great music.

“People always say that the Outer Banks gives them so much,” Nickens says. “But giving back is so fulfilling. It doesn't have to be money, it could even be just gaining an awareness of certain things like what resources are available here and what the needs of the community are. It could be looking into what the Outer Banks has to offer because it's more than just a travel destination, it is home to a lot of people.”

The year-round population of Duck as of 2021 was 581 people, representing a 57.5% change in population since the 2010 census – among the highest population growth rates in Dare County. The town has seen incredible change and growth as it has evolved into a highly sought-after vacation destination in recent years – a far cry from several decades ago when you might have spotted a “Stuck in Duck” bumper sticker, suggesting its isolated, undeveloped nature.

Duck is loved for its coastal charm, natural beauty first-rate shops and businesses. It boasts 7 miles of pristine coastline along the Atlantic Ocean with wide, sandy beaches. Its soundfront boardwalk not only connects a strand of unique gift shops and eateries, but also offers a first-row seat to some of the most stunning sunsets on the Outer Banks. The whole town is connected by a footpath making it easy and safe to walk or bike to almost any destination. The small-town feel draws millions of visitors each year, many of whom have decided to relocate and make Duck their year-round home. With a larger population comes a greater need for goods and services to keep the town the wonderful destination that it is.

“We've seen a lot more people move here,” says Nickens, who has worked for the Town of Duck since 2017. “Aside from the tourism part of it, we have a very heavily invested community. Residents do more than just go to the beach; a lot of people here in Duck are so invested in the Town, and we have so many volunteers that help us do things here. They are part of the inspiration for the festival.”

In looking at ways that the Duck Jazz Festival can support a positive societal impact on the Outer Banks, the event’s planners have embraced the concept of voluntourism. The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau promotes voluntourism on its website, highlighting that “you can turn a great vacation into a life-changing experience, for you and those you help.” They suggest that visitors take part in a beach clean-up, work a couple of hours at the food bank or volunteer their time at a nonprofit historic attraction or local event that needs extra hands.

Volunteer opportunities the week of the Jazz Festival will include helping out during the movie on the Town Green, children’s story time and at the Duck Sweep trash cleanup around town. Additionally, people can sign up to volunteer at the Jazz Festival itself.

“We are looking at how we can use tourism not only as an economic means, but also as something to better our community and to give people that opportunity to be part of the Outer Banks beyond just coming to a music festival,” Nickens says.

However they decide to volunteer their time or invest their resources in the community, visitors and locals are guaranteed an exhilarating lineup of national, regional and local jazz musicians, enjoyed on the sprawling lawn of the Town Green or at the outdoor Amphitheater nestled in a wooded grove nearby. A masterclass workshop for local high school musicians is in the works, with the First Flight High School Honors Jazz Band slated to play on the second day of the festival. Local businesses throughout town will feature live music and other special events and activities as well, livening up the easily walkable streets of Duck for one final hurrah before we move into the quieter parts of the year on the Outer Banks.

“I think the Jazz Festival would be a great opportunity to bring people together and, because it is one of the last off-season events of the year, it's kind of like a farewell to the people who come here,” Nickens says. “So how can we just get one last boost? Not just to support the Town of Duck but for all of Dare County?”

So come join the fun in Duck over Columbus Day weekend and maybe even think about how you might give back to a small town that gives so much to those who spend time there. In addition to its gorgeous beaches and businesses and an amazing annual Jazz Festival, Duck hopes to inspire others by putting the practice of voluntourism into action for all to see. Because, as Nickens points out, “the Outer Banks has people’s attention.”

Duck Jazz Festival

October 7 and 8, 2023


Rain or shine

Food and drinks are available for purchase, or you can bring your own.
Bring chairs or blankets (no umbrellas or tents).
Well-behaved dogs are welcome.

To sign up for volunteer opportunities the week of the festival contact Kay Nickens

About the Author Hannah West
Hannah West grew up on the Outer Banks and is a freelance writer and the author of Remarkable Women of the Outer Banks, published earlier this year.