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Gospel Fest returns to lift Jamaica’s spirit

Local music acts from southern Queens grace the stage at Gospel Fest in Jamaica over the weekend. Photo courtesy city Parks Department
TimesLedger Newspapers

Whether it was 15 people or 1,500, Susan Friedman-Diaz said all that mattered at the Queens Gospel Fest was that people walked away feeling the spirit.

“You cannot leave here without people feeling uplifted,” the city Parks Department’s director of special events and permits for Queens said. “It is a spiritual kind of event.”

Though the wind was blowing, the weather was spectacular Saturday as residents of southeast Queens visited Baisley Pond Park in Jamaica for an afternoon of free gospel and soul music. Local performers took to the stage to share their passion while kids flocked to a gigantic inflatable bounce house for their share in the fun.

According to Friedman-Diaz, Parks has been working to improve programming in southern Queens parks, with Gospel Fest as a key component of that mission. What started as only a few hundred people eventually grew into an attraction that drew between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors throughout the day at its peak, Friedman-Diaz said.

“They come out for the sense of community,” she said. “It is a great thing for the neighborhood.”

This year Parks collaborated with Queens College to orchestrate a concert series to bring the festival to the residents of Jamaica. The festival was sponsored by City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and included arts-and-crafts as well as several local performers.

Singer Heather Herring, who also acts as a deaconess at the Church of the Living God, on Jamaica Avenue, has become a regular performer at the spiritual festival. She said she enjoyed sharing her passion and her experiences with those who passed through.

“I keep coming back because of the people. It’s all about continuing the message of the Good News,” Herring said. “There is a great sense of family here and I love helping to uplift people and sharing my lessons.”

Herring was only one of the several local artists who sang for free at the event — a donation of time that Friedman-Diaz said showed the character of a community that deserves the community-driven programming opportunities. Musical acts ranged from DJs to solo singers to full local bands, all with the same goal of lifting up the spirits of those in attendance.

“They come here to perform for free, but still put their heart and soul and spirit into it,” Friedman-Diaz said. “That’s the way the Gospel is.”

This time around, Parks said it was rolling out Gospel Fest on a bit of a smaller scale as opposed to previous years, with a greater focus on community. While promoting and organizing the event, Friedman-Diaz said she wanted to ensure that local acts graced the stage so that residents could feel a sense of home.

“We wanted to give the community a program that they would enjoy,” Friedman-Diaz said. “You can hear the choir music and churches just by driving through the neighborhood. The people appreciate what Parks does out here.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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