Friday, August 12, 2011

Umoja ‘a festival for everyone’


NET News Service

JOHNSON CITY — It’s unity in the community. That’s what the 15th annual Umoja Festival hopes to bring to downtown Johnson City.

The festival starts today at 3 p.m. with an opening ceremony and call to the drums, featuring Shaka Zulu and the Zulu Connection, on the Main Stage at Fountain Square. Then it’s music all night plus a host of other festivities throughout downtown today and Saturday.

Umoja promotes unity and cultural diversity. It originates from Johnson City’s black community but, as Umoja Chairman Ralph Davis emphasizes, “It’s a festival for everyone.”

Admission is free. There will be music on the Youth Stage at Roan Street and on the Main Stage. People can see both local and national talent, with headliners Shirley Murdock and Zapp Band tonight, then Chocolate Buttermilk and Con Funk Shun on Saturday night.

The weather report calls for a high of 85 degrees today, mostly sunny, with not much chance of rain during a pleasant evening. For Saturday, there’s a 40 percent chance of late-evening thundershowers, so people should come prepared.

Wristbands to bring beer on the streets (in a plastic cup) cost $3 per night and can be purchased at all downtown clubs. People are required to keep their beer within festival boundaries, which are clearly marked. Friends of Olde Downtowne is in charge of wristbands.

Festivalgoers are reminded not to bring backpacks or glass bottles, and pets are not allowed.

The festival will be highlighted by the Kings of the Blacktop 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament in the parking lot on Spring and Tipton streets. It will be going on each evening, with a cash prize to the winner. East Tennessee State University great Tim Smith is giving a pre-tournament free clinic for ages 16 and under at 5:30 p.m. at the tournament site.

The Umoja Unity Race 5K is tonight starting at 7:30 near the Main Stage, and runners will go up into the Historic Tree Streets before returning to the start/finish.

“We’ve had a tremendous response for the 5K and Kings of the Blacktop,” Davis said. “We hope those events turn out great.”

The Umoja Parade will take place Saturday starting at 10 a.m. at Carver Park and will finish at Fountain Square. U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st District, will lead the parade in a limousine provided by The Charles. The parade is a tradition of the festival and always highlights the African dancing and drumming of Shaka Zulu and the Zulu Connection, stilt walking, dancing and drumming along Main Street.

The Children’s Carnival takes place Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m. at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church. There will also be graffiti art on display and a graffiti artist who will give a demonstration.

As always, Umoja will offer a health fair Saturday starting about 10 a.m. with free medical screenings.

A hot wing-eating contest will take place Saturday about 5 p.m. in front of the Youth Stage. Elmer Washington, a festival organizer and co-owner of Taste Budz, will provide the wings, and he’ll be adding some extra kick to how he usually serves them.

Entry for the contest is free, and people will be given a short amount of time, and a bottle of water, to see how many wings they can eat. The winner gets a cash prize.

For more information visit or find Umoja, Johnson City Tn on Facebook.

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