Kuumba Festival continues to grow

Three Free Spirit Stilt Dancers tower over the crowd June 21 at Knoxville's annual Kuumba Festival.
Three Free Spirit Stilt Dancers tower over the crowd June 21 at Knoxville’s annual Kuumba Festival.

This year’s Kuumba Festival kicked off Thursday, June 20, at Krutch Park, as a diverse group of musicians, artists, and dancers led this four-day celebration.

The Kuumba Festival is an annual event that takes place during the summer and serves as the largest African arts festival in East Tennessee. Large crowds gathered to enjoy West African song and dance routines by performers of all ages, while more than 30 vendors set up shop selling self-made foods, clothes, and keepsakes.

“The African community here (in Knoxville) knows how to party. Every year hundreds of new faces show up, not knowing what to expect but glad they came.” said Devante’ Sales, an ex-drummer and graduate of Kuumba Kamp. “When the first drum sounds, get ready to move your feet.”

The Watoto Dance and Drum Line, a youth group with over 100 members, was only one of the many acts over the course of this weekend. Grammy award winning artist Alvin Garret and American Idol’s Ruben Studdard took the stage Saturday but The Free Spirit Stilt Walkers, an African dance group from New Orleans directed by Naimah Zulu, seemed to be the crowd’s favorite overall. Standing on 7 feet stilts, they posed for pictures and participated in many dance routines.

Four year Kuumba Festival participant Shana Ward said the stilt dancers were nothing short of amazing, tip toeing around like “giants in the clouds.”

Crowds spilled into Market Square after the annual Kuumba Junkanu parade Saturday, June 22, which was shortly followed by a youth talent show and pep rally. Parents was given a chance shop at the African Marketplace, composed of varies independent vendors, while the children cheered on their peers.

Sunday, June 23, was dedicated to Gospel in the Park and ended the Kuumba Festival with a performance by BET Sunday’s Best finalist, Jacqueline Calhoun.

Roy Greys, a craftsman and Kuumba Festival vendor, remembers his first time attending Kuumba and says, “This event has taken place 24 consecutive years and every years it gets bigger and better as more people find inspiration in a new culture

African-American Appalachian Arts and other local businesses helped sponsor this event.

Bullfeathers’ Sing Your Way to Nashville karaoke competition underway


Forty people competed in the second annual Sing Your Way to Nashville semi-finals at Bullfeathers, karaoke bar in Knoxville at 8 p.m. on June 23.

This round of competition was narrowed down to the final 20 singing hopefuls whom will then compete for the grand prize. First prize receives $1,000 cash and a recording session at Quad Studios in Nashville. There are also cash prizes of $500 for second, $250 for third and 125 for forth place respectively.

“We are happy to host and help up and coming acts to achieve their goals,” Bullfeathers DJ, Rich Ferdy said. Ferdy helps run and organize the competition, as his family owns the bar.

Finalists were selected by audience ballot voting. Each person who entered the door before 8 p.m. received a ballot and was eligible to vote.

Many finalist were celebrating their night and were “so happy that people I do not even know came out and voted for me,” finalist Balthazar Hoskins said. He was one of the few to advance by singing a ballad that won over the crowd.

After the finalist were chosen, karaoke was open to anyone and many of the singers got on stage multiple times.

“Even though we are not advancing, karaoke is still a great way to bring different groups of people together,” attendee Madeline Lodeiro said.

The bar and competition is 21 and over.

Bullfeathers karaoke finals are on June 30 at 8 p.m.

Blue Plate Special Draws Downtown Crowd

Jim Avett, father of the Grammy-nominated Avett Brothers, headlined the Blue Plate Special concert series in downtown Knoxville on June 21.

The free concert, also featuring The Green Boys band, was held inside the Knoxville Visitor’s Center and is part of a summer series that includes live lunchtime performances six days a week. More than 75 people attended the show, some bringing their own lunch.

“We have two performances every day and we love the crowd that comes out, their energy attracts the performers we are lucky enough to book,” said Tony Lawson, program director for WDVX.

Avett has played in New York, California and Nashville in the last two months but enjoys coming to Knoxville. Being raised in North Carolina, on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains, he sees the similarities in the people and feels comfortable here.

Explaining to the crowd that he usually plays Knoxville when he is passing through to Nashville, he sang “Leaving Knoxville”, his song about running from a woman although he loved the town. Written in Knoxville, the smooth tune led many Knoxvillians to follow along with bobbing heads and tapping feet.

Avett told stories about each of the six songs he played, from revealing that he wrote “Leaving Knoxville” in a Strawberry Plains motel room to warning young men about the danger of certain phrases uttered by their lovers.

“When she says ‘I love you, but’, you’re headed down the toilet, son,” Avett joked with the crowd.

While Avett has toured since the ‘70s, The Green Boys formed two years ago and recently released their first album. What they lacked in folksy stories, they made up for in energy.

Featuring an upright bass, guitar, banjo, mandolin and lap steel guitar, the four-piece band combined the sounds of Appalachian bluegrass and honky-tonk country. The diverse footwear of the crowd, from boots to sneakers to a barefooted man, went from tapping to stomping.

Dressed in neckties, black slacks and boots, the Virginia-based band played six songs from the album they released in May, taking breaks to make jokes about having bottles thrown at them in bars and admit to their lack of touring experience.

“We’re trying to play regionally now,” said guitarist Sean Green, “this is the end of our 12 day tour through North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.”

The concert series runs from Monday through Saturday until July 31. Listeners can also tune in to WDVX 89.9 FM to listen if they cannot attend the show on Gay Street

Electronic artist Borgore to release “Legend” EP


Electonic artist Borgore will release a series of EPs this year, the first will be released on June 25.

On June 25, Los Angeles-based electronic artist Borgore will release a series of EPs on his own independent imprint Buygore. The first EP in the series to be released, Legend, will be out in June and the second EP will be released later this year.

The new EP features “That Lean,” a song featuring singer Dev and artist Carnage and instrumental banger “Sonata In F Minor.” An exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the official “Legend” music video premiered worldwide on June 11.

Earlier this summer on May 18, Borgore performed at Knoxville’s NV nightclub and is now touring to promote his new EPs as well as his debut album set for release later this year.