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Unknown Pleasures: Jersey Fresh Jam

The Jersey Fresh Jam is about graffiti writing and murals, lots of them all around the exterior walls of TerraCycle headquarters in Trenton. Photo: Lauren Otis.
The Jersey Fresh Jam is about graffiti writing and murals, lots of them all around the exterior walls of TerraCycle headquarters in Trenton. Photo: Lauren Otis.

August is the height of the dog days of summer, a month when cultural events and festivals in many cities take a hiatus. Not in Trenton. Some of the best-attended events of the year take place in Trenton, yes in August, including the Jersey Fresh Jam, a graffiti-writing festival at the TerraCycle headquarters in North Trenton

A participant at a recent Jersey Fresh Jam. Photo: Lauren Otis.
A participant at a recent Jersey Fresh Jam. Photo: Lauren Otis.

The Jersey Fresh Jam, organized by artist Leon Rainbow, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, making it Trenton’s longest running festival.

In 2006, the “graffiti jam” (it has had several names before “Jersey Fresh Jam” was coined, and stuck) consisted of only a dozen graffiti artists, from New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, “and one European guy who was visiting New York,” says Rainbow.

“The first year it was just us, it wasn’t really an event,” Rainbow says. Rainbow, artist Will Kasso, and fellow writers from the graf collective called Vicious Styles Crew were schooled by Pose 2, a well-known writer who organized the B-Boy BBQ in Philadelphia, after which they modeled their own graffiti jam in Trenton.

When it takes place this weekend, on Saturday, August 22, the 10th anniversary jam will feature around 50 artists, have a full lineup of hip hop and other musical acts and DJs, and attract thousands to what has grown into one of Trenton’s premier art events. Still featuring mainly East Coast artists, the Jersey Fresh Jam has played host to graf writers from Africa, Europe, Japan and Mexico too.

Live painting at the Jersey Fresh Jam. Photo: Lauren Otis.
Live painting at the Jersey Fresh Jam. Photo: Lauren Otis.

“So many people come out, so many people love it,” Rainbow says.

Despite the huge banks of walls around the TerraCycle building, which is an active partner and supporter of the Jersey Fresh Jam, Rainbow says the event has “maxed out” and is unable to accommodate more artists, as much as he wishes it would. Other growing pains include the increasing demands of putting together such a large event, which Rainbow says mostly just breaks even although it is technically for profit.

Rainbow says he was disappointed this year when he couldn’t find a paint sponsor, a first for the event (graf muralists use lots of paint). He hopes sponsorships and other support will increase, so he can help pay participating artists expenses, which they take care of themselves now.

Still, despite the trials, at some point during each jam, Rainbow says he looks around and realizes all the work has been worth it. “I like the fact that everyone comes out and enjoys themselves so much,” he says.

The Jersey Fresh Jam takes place at TerraCycle headquarters in Trenton, 121 New York Avenue, on Saturday, August 22 from 12 noon to 8 p.m. Admission is free.

The crowd at the Jersey Fresh Jam. Photo: Lauren Otis.
The crowd at the Jersey Fresh Jam. Photo: Lauren Otis.

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Written by Lauren Otis