Entertainment/Music Festivals: Atlanta's ONE Music Fest Founder, Jason Carter Dishes on Why the Festival is Needed in Today's Cultural Climate
"We are losing ground, getting watered down, segmented," he says. "Unless there's a platform for our music to breathe and flourish, our music will continue to be weakened."
-Jason "J" Carter
Founder of One Music Fest
Atlanta's One Music Fest was this past Saturday, September 12, 2015. I totally did not plan my schedule accordingly like I should because I was definitely supposed to go. The line up included everyone from Ms. Lauryn Hill to Big K.R.I.T. in the line up. The founder, Jason Carter sat down with
Creative Loafing about why he started the festival, and especially why something like ONE Music Fest is needed in today's cultural climate.
ONE Music Fest founder Jason "J" Carter has been sitting in his Auburn Avenue Studioplex office for months selling the show. Actually, he's been selling it since he launched the progressive urban music festival in 2010 at the King Plow Arts Center — in the parking lot. Whether buying ads with Atlanta media, blasting e-mails, designing fliers, posting Instagram videos, or securing sponsorships, Carter is on a mission to pack as many people as he can into Aaron's Amphitheatre. He hopes there are tens of thousands of fans who want to see the show that has put together featuring performances by Ms. Lauryn Hill, the Roots, and A$AP Rocky on the same bill as Raury, 8Ball & MJG, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, the Internet, and more.
He has succeeded, for the most part. If you visit ONEMusicfest.com, there is still limited general seating available, and, according to Carter, this year's ticket sales outpaced last year's about two months ago. But, when he opens up about the festival and the mark he wants it to make, marketing jargon stops, and he switches into activist mode. His voice lowers as he shuts the lid on his Macbook. He leans forward with his elbows on the table and puts his hand to his mouth as if he's revealing a secret. "We do this for the culture," Carter says.
He whispers, even though no one else is in the room. "We are losing ground, getting watered down, segmented," he says. "Unless there's a platform for our music to breathe and flourish, our music will continue to be weakened."
From Nelson George's 1988 book The Death of Rhythm and Blues to Nas' 2006 album Hip Hop Is Dead to Questlove's 2014 essay "How Hip-hop Failed Black America," much has been said on the state of black music (i.e. urban music) over the last 25 years. With Atlanta considered the black music mecca, it's astonishing, or as Carter says, "weird" that there was no consistent festival for every variant of it to be displayed. In the mid-2000s, the short-lived Atlanta Soul Fest came and went. In 2005 the VIBE Music Fest happened once but never returned. The Atlanta-based annual concerts that did appeal to black music lovers drew lines in the sand: If you want "real hip-hop," go to A3C. If you want rap, go to Birthday Bash. If you want Jazz, go to Atlanta Jazz Fest. If you want soul or R&B, drive all the way out to Wolf Creek Amphitheater or pray that Center Stage or Tabernacle books somebody.
Now in its sixth year, OMF has booked everyone from Jhené Aiko to Joey Bada$$ in hopes of pushing the "unity through music" agenda. The lineups have looked like perfect puzzles or clusterfucks, but Carter insists that it's all by design. "We don't book random acts, we look for overlap," Carter says.
Banking on the idea that there are people who enjoy Big K.R.I.T. just as much as they do Ms. Lauryn Hill, Carter boasts that booking Kendrick Lamar and Bilal last year led to them appearing on each other's albums. "All of this music is linked," he says. "But nobody is programming festivals like this. Everybody is taking the easy way, getting top 40 artists or whoever is on the radio. Where does a line up like this happen and why doesn't it happen?"
The only other festivals where Janelle Monae might share the stage with Scarface is at mega-festivals such as Coachella or Bonnaroo. But they would merely be two specks of urban music on a bill filled with pop, rock, alternative, electronica, and everything else. "There are too many times when hip-hop and urban music is the side dish when compared to bigger music at other festivals," Carter says. "To them, hip-hop is the parsley on the steak. But in my world, hip-hop is the steak."
After shooting from roughly 4,000 to 8,000 tickets sold at the 2013 festival, OMF drew the attention of Live Nation. As of now, OMF is still a homegrown, independent operation, but they did strike a deal to host the festival at the Live Nation-owned Aaron's Amphitheater at Lakewood in 2014, and again in 2015.
This year's fest will once again utilize parking lots and the amphitheater to include three stages featuring artists and 20-plus Atlanta area DJs such as Jelly, Jeremy Avalon, and Jamal Ahmed. There will also be a visual arts village, food trucks, and an activities area with merchants and games. By involving Atlanta entities All Vinyl Everything and ABL Radio, and securing support from MailChimp, Carter is ultimately building a platform where Atlanta's music, creative, and tech communities can co-exist. "If we grow this to where it links arms with other creatives, the brand can expand and grow, that is the core mission," says Carter. "When we said 'unity through music,' we stayed true to that."
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