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Datebook: Live Music and Medici Together Again With Return of Craft Beer And Jazz Fest

Kevin Hart and the Vibe Tribe (pictured) are the first band scheduled to play at the Craft Beer and Jazz Fest in Uptown Normal.
Courtesy of Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart and the Vibe Tribe are the first band scheduled to play at the Craft Beer and Jazz Fest Saturday in Uptown Normal.

Booze and jazz music are common bedfellows. Rarer is the pairing of jazz with craft beer in a family-friendly environment.

Saturday in Uptown Normal, Medici revives its popular street festival dedicated to all three. Local businesses will spill onto North Street from 4-10 p.m. with live bands, craft brews, food and fun for the whole family.

Medici general manager Joe Slane says the inspiration behind their annual Craft Beer and Jazz Festival — which began in 2014 — is to draw people to Uptown while leaning on the restaurant’s specialty.

“We have always been known for our craft beer selection," said Slane. "So, immediately when we did our first event, we knew it was going to be a craft beer event, because that’s what we do. We were looking through the portfolios of music and wanted to do something a little different. Normal does a lot of music, but we didn’t really see anybody that was doing a jazz festival.”

The beer list, which includes more than 50 brew options, will be a bit of a surprise, even for Slane. Each year’s lineup is curated by bar manager Alex Eerbt with local and regional breweries in mind. White Oak Brewing, Keg Grove and Destihl are scheduled to appear, with additional taps from throughout central Illinois and the Midwest.

What’s not a mystery is the selection of bands, Kevin Hart and the Vibe Tribe opening, followed by sets from Elaine Dame and Andy Brown, and The Tim Fitzgerald Quartet featuring Abigail Riccards.

Hart, a band leader based in central Illinois, has played at the festival every year except 2020, when it was cancelled due to COVID-19. Hart is a multi-instrumentalist and teacher in the music department at Illinois State University. His latest endeavor, Kevin Hart and the Vibe Tribe, features Hart on the vibraphone, a mallet instrument with a unique sound. He’ll be joined by saxophonist Jonny Beckett, guitarist George Turner, bassist Brandon Mooberry and Tom Marko on drums.

The vibraphone is what Hart calls “a big hunk of aluminum,” often compared to a xylophone.

“A vibraphone is different in the fact that the bars are made of aluminum,” he said. “It has resonator tubes that are made of aluminum. There’s a baffle in the tubes that creates a soothing vibrato effect. It is a beautiful instrument.”

Hart is part of a rich central Illinois jazz scene that dabbles in all styles of the genre. In addition to the Vibe Tribe, Hart ran a Latin jazz group, plays piano with the Kevin Hart Trio and experiments with newer fusion forms.

“These days, I do more contemporary jazz and do reworkings of pop tunes,” Hart said. “When you’re in central Illinois and playing instrumental jazz, it’s not the popular music. To be able to have some melodies and things that are recognizable, whether they’re film music, TV show themes or pop songs, it’s nice to have something people can relate to.”

And, with the restaurant and performing arts industries hit especially hard by the pandemic, it feels particularly important to bring the community together in a fun, relaxing and safe atmosphere.

Proceeds from the Medici Craft Beer and Jazz Festival benefit the Children’s Discovery Museum and Uptown Partners. The event runs from 4- 10 p.m. Saturday on North Street. Admission is $5. Beer tickets are available for $1 a piece, and most 4-ounce pours cost between two and eight tickets. Medici’s annual Oktoberfest kicks off Sept. 18.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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