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J Carter shares how ONE Musicfest became urban culture’s premier festival

J Carter shares how ONE Musicfest became urban culture's premier festival
Photo Courtesy of J Carter

Nine years ago, Atlanta club promoter J Carter set out on a journey to create an urban music festival that would highlight prominent acts of the past, present and future.

Although it was a remarkable idea, many music industry insiders believed that it was too far-fetched for him to achieve.

“I thought the culture needed it,” Carter said. “Nothing was there that embraced progressive urban culture. Speaking with a lot of different production houses, people said it wouldn’t work. They said Black folks don’t attend live shows. I disagreed. The same moments I saw people experiencing at the Coachella and Bonnaroo festivals, I thought we needed that. It’s something that embraces urban music.”

Beginning in 2009, ONE Musicfest was the little festival that could. The first show was held in a parking lot at King Plow Arts Center, an antiquated factory that had been transformed into a major arts complex for the commercial, performing and visual arts. That first show was a laid-back affair with about 2,500 people in attendance. 

Carter also had issues finding a mentor who could guide him through the process. “I was looking for mentors that looked like me,” he revealed. “The folks that were giving me direction were people that don’t look like me. People told me that if you can survive five years, you can probably break through. In our fifth year, it picked up daylight. It was initially difficult because what I’m presenting only happens one time per year.”

By 2014, the festival had moved to Lakewood Amphitheatre (renamed  Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood in 2017) and secured rappers Kendrick Lamar and Nas as headlining acts. In 2016, the Dungeon Family reunion — an  Atlanta hip-hop collective featuring OutKast and Goodie Mob — proved to be a pivotal moment for the festival, the city and hip-hop and solidified the importance of ONE Musicfest.

This year’s festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 8, and Sunday, Sept. 9, in Central Park in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. Scheduled performers include Nas, 2 Chainz, T.I., George Clinton, H.E.R., Big K.R.I.T. and Monica, to name a few.

“When you venture out on a journey, oftentimes you don’t realize that you may be a pioneer,” Carter said. “[Rapper] ASAP Rocky said he wasn’t used to being at Black-curated festivals. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t many festivals curated by Blacks. But it’s all about culture, music, community, food, art and fun.”

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