Thursday, August 12, 2010

Umoja Festival moves to downtown Johnson City


NET News Service

JOHNSON CITY — Following the theme of the Umoja Festival, which promotes unity and diversity, organizers have lined up an entertainment schedule that touches on a lot of genres and demographics.

The 14th annual unity-themed festival opens Friday in downtown Johnson City. It will offer plenty of music, food, and arts and crafts, much of it with an African-American theme. But the idea is to attract people from across the social and ethnic spectrum.
“That’s why our lineup is so diverse. We’ve got something for everybody,” said Elmer Washington, one of Umoja’s main organizers and director of the entertainment lineup. “There’s Mexican, there’s Latin jazz, there’s rock, there’s roll, there’s soul, there’s old-time, there’s blues.
“We’ve got storytelling, comedians, dancers — something for everyone. The entertainment is as top-notch as it possibly could be.”
It’s the first time for Umoja downtown after a long stay at Freedom Hall Civic Center. Organizers are hoping the shift in location is a boost for the event as it follows the same outlines and general plan as the successful Blue Plum Festival held downtown each June.
“By coming downtown, we’re hoping to get more exposure and more sponsorship, which will help us bring in better entertainment,” Washington said. “We just think it’s a great thing to come down and be a part of helping to grow downtown.
“So far everything is going very smooth. All the businesses are very supportive, the people are kind, and they just want to help — to make a better festival.”
The festival’s opening ceremony is Friday at 3 p.m., and then the music kicks in and includes the Call to Drums with the Rev. Vincent Dial and Zulu Connection.
Then it’s on to a night of music and comedy featuring local bluegrass/traditional artist Amythyst Phillips, rock oldies cover band Bag a’ Cats, acclaimed old-time group the Brother Boys, the young local jazz/funk band Unlimited, and headliner Plunky and Oneness playing horn-based soul, smooth jazz and funk.
“The reason we chose Plunky as our headliner is because he has a following here,” Washington said. “He’s played here, and people remember him and like him.”
tinged style of soul and R&B.
“Everybody pretty much knows them,” Washington said. “And if they don’t remember, then once people hear them they’ll remember them. They’ll probably remember where they were back then and probably get that same good feeling again.”
For the first time in the festival’s history, beer will be sold, and people who have bought a wristband can take their beer outside into the streets, as long as it’s in a plastic cup and they stay within festival boundaries.
Umoja organizers have followed the same city ordinance and guidelines as Blue Plum on beer and boundaries.
For more on the festival, visit
The lineup includes popular local comedian Xavier as well as Atlanta’s touring professional, MC Lightfoot, who sets the stage for Plunky.
Lightfoot also performs on Saturday night.
“We thought it would be a good avenue to have a big-time professional comedian come in. So we’re real happy to have MC Lightfoot,” Washington said. “We saw him in Las Vegas and thought he’d be a good one for Umoja.”
The Main Stage will be set up at the same place as Blue Plum’s Main Street Stage, while Umoja will have Stage Two at the other end of the festival featuring several acts each day, including Zulu Connection, JaB Band, the 4.0 Band, the mariachi band Mombra de Mexico, and even a drum circle percussion ensemble from Lake Ridge Elementary School.
Saturday’s schedule is packed, with the annual parade at 10 a.m. starting at Carver Recreation Area, a free Health Fair from noon to 5 p.m., Water Wars and a Children’s Carnival going from 4 to 9 p.m., a Gospel Fest from 1 to 4 p.m., and a lineup of more live entertainment on the Main Stage.
There’s Appalachian dance (Stoney Creek Cloggers) and Latin jazz (local jazz hit Frito Puente), blues (Bleu Jackson, “godfather” of the local blues scene) and the Heartbeats, a Johnson City R&B/ Motown group.
The headliner SOS Band had some big hits in the 1980s and still plays a smooth, danceable disco.

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