Jazz & Blues Series Shines a Spotlight on Fort Mose

The stars aligned metaphorically and musically for the second installment of the Fort Mose Jazz & Blues Series. The event took place over two weekends in February and featured several big-name acts including Mavis Staples, Rhiannon Giddens, Kingfish Ingram and Gladys Knight.

Fort Mose is the site of the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in what is now the United States. In 1738, an estimated 100 Africans made Fort Mose their home and sanctuary in seeking liberation from enslavement. In 1994, Fort Mose was designated as a Historic National Landmark.

The schedule of performers was more than enough to bring big crowds to the grounds of Fort Mose Historic State Park for the concerts, surpassing numbers from the inaugural event in 2022.

“The attendance grew by 40%,” said Ryan Hall, public relations and sponsorship manager with the St. Johns County Cultural Events Division. “We realized we could expand the capacity, especially with acts like Gladys Knight.”

Hall said total attendance at this year’s shows was 4,200, outpacing the 3,000 attendees at the inaugural event in 2022. He said more tickets were sold because organizers were able to increase the capacity for shows from 500 seats to 1,200.

“For Gladys Knight, that sold out prior to the show,” Hall said. “For other shows we had to increase capacity.” He said overall the series was 84% sold out.

Hall said organizers monitored ticket sales and had plans ready to accommodate larger crowds at the event.

“The preparation in advance really allowed us to increase the capacities,” he said.

The concert series comes as the Fort Mose Historical Society is working on a project to build a replica of the original structure in the state park. Hall said the Jazz & Blues Series contributes to that effort.

“Not only does it bring in jazz and blues to the area, but it also helps tell the important and powerful story of Fort Mose,” he said, adding that while bringing musical acts and entertainers to the area is a positive, raising awareness about Fort Mose is just as important.

This year’s event raised nearly $46,000 for the Fort Mose Historical Society. Hall said all proceeds from the series are donated to the Society.

“A lot of people here in St. Augustine may not necessarily know about Fort Mose,” Hall said. “This is something we really felt was important to bring to them.”

Hall said work has already begun on next year’s Jazz & Blues series.