Judging from the crowds lining up at the stands that sell festival merchandise, the festival T-shirt is a much sought-after item. At the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival some of the T-shirt sold out quickly, at 35 USD a piece. The T-shirts at the Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival (CNSJF) carried a similar price tag, which, to the island’s economic standards made them even more pricey. Then again, with a ticket price of USD 180 per night, the festival is the most expensive I’ve witnessed so far. Those who have dished out that much money surely want bring to home a tangible souvenir, and the price is not going to stop them.
The fate of many festival tees must be pretty sad. I, for one, have a decent stack of them at home, but I basically wear them around the house when doing chores. After all, the quality is usually rather poor, they tend to fade after a couple of rounds in the washer and many loose shape quickly. Still, buying a shirt is clearly part of the festival fun, and all those newly printed shirts, caps, scarves and tote bags at the vendor’s area certainly look alluring. Many head for that section straight away.
At the Summer Jazz Bike Tour (ZJFT) I photographed people who wore ZJFT-shirts from earlier editions. The festival has no fixed logo so the design changes every year. Most images play with musical instruments and bicycle parts, bringing out the unique and playful aspects of the event (past posters here). The design for 2011 had a sax with handle bars, 2008 and 2015 had a pump-like device that ended in a trumpet (‘a pumpet,’ as team member Nick Gebhardt called it), and the 2013 design merged a double bass with a unicycle (that sounds smarter in English than in Dutch). Not only are these shirts collectibles, they are also the perfect gear for biking from concert to concert, especially if the weather is as good as it was this year. By contrast, the CNSJF makes for a classy night out, and the festivalgoers wore much more festive dress than a printed festival shirt.
Everybody I asked at the ZJFT gladly posed for me, and those modelling their tee often announced they had a shelve full of them, typically of all the editions they had visited. With a T-shirt one supports the event financially and connects with the other attendants. But there is more. By wearing a festival shirt, the ZJFT-ers celebrate the festival’s heritage and traditions, which they have helped to shape. Indeed, the ZJFT has a high number of returning visitors, who truly perform the festival together with the organizers. After all, the event is as much about its tangible locations and concerts as it is about the intangible activity of connecting those locations by cycling through the landscape. That active role is understood by the participants, and the festival shirt helps to express it all.