Flint, MI—For eighteen years Pat Cronley has been driving his truck, outfitted with a stage in back, to different events in the city, bringing people live music.

Pat Cronley playing his keyboard. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

This year marks a special year, as he has upgraded from the old 1973 Dodge to a newer and more reliable truck. This year is also the first year he started doing Friday Night Jazz.

Since early May, Cronley’s non-profit, Jazz on Wheels, has been offering free concerts every Friday night from 5-7 p.m. in the parking lot of the old Flint Farmer’s Market, located on Robert T. Longway Blvd., and East Boulevard Drive. It’s an event that allows people to enjoy live music in a socially distanced environment.

“The idea was mine along with a drummer from Flint, who has since passed away, his name was Ricky Silky Moon. We always talked about how cool it would be to have a stage traveling the streets, similar to Dr. Billy Taylor, who was a jazz educator and performer from New York City. He’s a nationally known guy. He had a program called the Jazz Mobile.”

Attendees either sit in their cars to watch the concert or bring lawn chairs and blankets and sit at a safe distance from others. There are also food vendors at the event.

Cronley started Jazz on Wheels in 2002 as a means of filling a void he saw for music and arts programs for youths.

“I try to involve as many young musicians as possible,” he said.

Attendees of Friday Night Jazz can expect to see some of the same faces on stage every week, as well as many newcomers.

Concert-goers bring their own chairs to view the Jazz on Wheels concert in Flint. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Cronley says, “I have a core group. I’m using two of my sons, I have two sons, and actually my daughter. My kids play with me when they can. We switch it up. It’s usually different people. I like to have a variety and get as many people involved as possible but specifically young musicians. I like to give them a chance to play because that’s what they need is an opportunity to play. So, that’s what I give them.”

At last Friday’s event people were enthusiastic about the show.

“I just like being in the park and listening to nice music,” said Sheila Winn, a Flint native who says she was laid off from her job as a clerk for the Mass Transit Authority due to Covid-19 and is still waiting to return.

“So, I’m back on the job market,” she says. “I’m going to retire soon and here I am back starting at zero again. But God is good. I’m convinced he’s going to make a way.”

Concert-goers dance before the rain storm at a Jazz on Wheels event in Flint. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Winn finds a silver lining in having time to attend the concerts. “I’m able to do things now that I wasn’t able to do before [Covid]. Usually only on Saturday could I do something like this.”

Gwen Pennyman-Hemphill singing at the Jazz on Wheels event in Flint. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Cronley says he will be updating the schedule soon to extend the dates for Friday Night Jazz.

“We’re going to keep going forever. This has been such a unique year with the lockdown and everything, that’s why Friday nights are so successful. I would never have anticipated that we would be the relief team during this episode, but we are. People say, ‘you know there’s nowhere to go and see live music.’ This is free and it’s outside.”

To learn more about the non-profit Jazz on Wheels and to see a schedule check out their website.

Allie Powers

Allie Powers is a world traveler, avid gardener, and graduate of the University of Michigan- Flint campus. Alongside English and ecology, she studied journalism. She is involved with a small non-profit...