The 27th annual JCB NeighborFEST season beginning June 2 downtown offers far more than music, from rock to reggae.

Just listen to Geri Handley, the Columbus Area Arts Council’s marketing manager. She’s been attending since the series began via the Downtown Council in 1990, long before she recently became part of the arts council’s staff of organizers.

“It’s totally a big social event,” Handley said.

“There’s the benefit of hearing some really great music, of course. And then there’s the idea of seeing all your friends there. And you’re also in a great, outdoor atmosphere.”

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Plus, ample food and drinks, including beer and wine, abound for purchase. And the event itself is free due to JCB’s sponsorship — a key since major NeighborFEST sponsors were scarce just a few years ago.

Bloomington-based Fistful of Bacon, winner of the 2014 Indiana Blues Challenge and the KBS Kentuckiana Blues Challenge 2015, will open the season.

The group, which formed in 2010, performed at last summer’s local BBQ, Blues & Brew festival in downtown Columbus. Its members also have performed several times at The Garage Pub & Grill on Fourth Street in Columbus.

NeighborFEST crowds range from 500 to 800 people along Washington Street in front of The Commons, said Tami Sharp, the arts council’s program director who books the acts.

“Attendance has been steady (over the years),” Sharp said.

She has said that good music — including jazz, country, blues and many other genres — clearly matters at the gatherings. But she also considers stage presence and audience interaction as factors that encourage listeners to sway or dance at the edge of the stage.

The laid-back atmosphere allows parents to bring their youngest in strollers, and the audience age range often includes nearly every generation.

Concerts are scheduled on the first Thursday of June, July, August and September.

The schedule

June 2 – Fistful of Bacon

July 7 – Jai Baker

Aug. 4 – Groove Essentials

Sept. 1 – Hudson Hornet

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Where: In front of The Commons, 300 Washington St., Columbus

Rain location: Inside The Commons

Cost: Free

Food and drink: Available for purchase, including beer and wine

Information: Columbus Area Arts Council, 812-376-2638 or artsincolumbus.org

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.