Joye in Aiken will celebrate its 12th season with performances by 42 of world-class artists, according to a news release from the Performing Arts Festival and Outreach Program.

To commemorate the city’s unique relationship with The Juilliard School in New York City, the schedule of distinguished musicians will include both faculty and alumni of that renowned conservatory, according to the release. The dates for the festival are March 5-13, 2020.

Sandra Field, the president of Joye in Aiken, said the 2020 program will feature both returning favorites and exciting newcomers.

“Paul Jacobs, considered the world’s greatest living organist, will be back by his own request,” Field said. “We’ll have return visits by the St. Lawrence String Quartet – one of the most famous and highly respected of all chamber ensembles – and also by Sam Reider and the Human Hands, who were the runaway hit of the Joye of Jazz last year. We’ll have two of our most popular pianists back as well: Peter Dugan, performing this time with his mezzo-soprano wife, Kara, and Chris Pattishall, making his third festival appearance.

“Among the amazing first-timers, we’re especially excited to have Russell Joel Brown, star of 'The Lion King' on Broadway; our Joye of Jazz headliner, Bria Skonberg, winner of the Juno Award (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy) for the 2017 Vocal Jazz Album of the Year; jazz vocalist Alicia Olatuja, who came to national attention at the 2013 presidential inauguration; Michael Thurber and Tessa Lark, a charismatic and highly respected young string duo skilled in everything from classical to bluegrass; and trombonist Mariel Bildsten, bringing her hot jazz septet for the Swing Dance Party. It’s a fantastic and varied lineup.”

Field said the usual festival schedule will have some “exciting additions.”

“We want everyone to be able to participate in the festival, so in addition to the performances, we’ll have a number of other community events,” she said. “We’ll bring back the Funeral Parade downtown and the Community Fish Fry at Second Baptist, both of which were incredibly popular last year. We’ll also have a special Joye in Aiken Happy Hour Walking Tour, to be offered by Aiken Bites and Sites, and an exhibit of Brent Cline’s fabulous Joye in Aiken photos at the Aiken Center for the Arts.”

Field said a number of changes have been made to the format for the daylong Joye of Jazz mini-festival, in response to the overwhelming demand for tickets.

“Now, we’ll be offering dinner with the evening performance,” she said. “Brunch and afternoon will be combined into a single pass, so if you have that ticket you’ll be able to keep your seat for both sessions. And we’ll have two 75-inch screens in the dining room, so people will be able to watch all the live performances from tables there.”

Field said perhaps the most unusual offering at the 2020 festival will be “A Fiddler’s Tale,” a piece composed by Wynton Marsalis that draws both from 20th-century classical music and from jazz. The Decoda chamber ensemble; Riley Mulherkar, the festival's artistic director for jazz; and Brown, an actor and vocalist who played Mufasa in the Broadway production of “The Lion King” will perform the piece.

“It’s a dark tale about a fiddler who sells her soul to the devil to win fame and fortune,” Field said. “We’re giving it a sort of Mardi Gras vibe. It’s going to be fun, theatrical and full of surprises.”

Field said that, as extensive as the festival performances are, they are greatly outnumbered by the artists’ outreach events for area students.

“This year will be our largest Educational Outreach Program ever,” she said. “We’ll start in January with interactive programs by actor Russell Joel Brown for students from elementary school through college. We will follow that up with a four-day jazz residency by Riley Mulherkar and a full week of in-school instruction by the St. Lawrence String Quartet. And during the festival week, all the other artists will also be visiting schools, presenting outreach concerts and conducting master classes.”

Joye in Aiken Chairman Emeritus Steve Naifeh, who co-founded the festival and outreach program with Field and with the late Gregory White Smith, according to the release, noted that thus far the outreach program has reached more than 31,000 students in 382 schools.

“How wonderful it is,” Naifeh said, “that Sandra Field, the board, the donors, the many dozens of volunteers, the entire Aiken community, really, and, of course, all of the brilliant artists who have visited us over the years have continued to create such splendid opportunities for the community, and especially its children, to experience the arts at the highest level.”

Ticket sales for the Joye in Aiken Festival will begin Feb. 3, 2020. For the schedule and more information, visit

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.