R&B Soul Picnic mixes mental health awareness with good vibes

Touring outdoor music party happens May 11-12
R&B Soul Picnic hosts its first event in 2022 at Piedmont Park.

Credit: James D. Love

Credit: James D. Love

R&B Soul Picnic hosts its first event in 2022 at Piedmont Park.

In March 2020, festival producer Ais York Almahdi was in Miami promoting five spring break events when he received an unwanted phone call.

The venues he booked for the events were closing because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tragedy struck again in later months, when Almahdi’s aunt and several acquaintances died from COVID-19.

He created the R&B Soul Picnic, he says, not only for lovers of R&B and soul music but also as a solution for grief and depression, which he remembers battling at the time along with friends and family.

“In our community, we don’t like to address mental health because it’s a taboo subject,” Almahdi said. “I saw a lot of bad things. Entertainers and people in hospitality were struggling [during the pandemic].”

R&B Soul Picnic, an outdoor music-focused event that raises mental health awareness, is taking place at Westside Park this weekend. Now in its third year, the two-day festival will feature musical entertainment from Atlanta-based talents like Cee Lo Green, Bryan-Michael Cox, DJ Mars, DJ Trauma, Traci Steele, Stormy Monroe, DJ Tephlon and DJ P-Nut.

“Breakfast Club” co-host DJ Envy and Kid Capri are also spinning feel-good tunes.

When Almahdi conceptualized R&B Soul Picnic in 2021, his goal was to celebrate deejays for setting the tone through sound.

“I wanted to dial in to the different people within the R&B and soul space who are the orchestrators of striking emotional chords with people,” said Almahdi, a Rutgers University alumnus.

Almahdi spent two years in his home in Atlanta planning the first R&B Soul Picnic at Piedmont Park in 2022. He says he paid close attention in the beginning to see if the music and environment were connecting with the audience.

“People were crying and letting it out when the songs came on,” Almahdi said.

Almahdi says he’s intentionally holding the event during Mother’s Day weekend and Mental Health Awareness Month to honor moms and their sacrifices.

“The mother is a strong pillar in the household,” he said. “She goes through a lot and is the emotional sponge within the family unit.”

Attendees are encouraged to bring coolers, blankets, lawn chairs and beach towels to the park. Vendors and food trucks will be present.

R&B Soul Picnic returned to Piedmont Park for the second annual event from May 13-14, 2023.

Credit: James D. Love

icon to expand image

Credit: James D. Love

R&B Soul Picnic’s main attraction is the “soul healing tent,” a pop-up mental health center staffed with up to six licensed therapists both days of the event. Each festivalgoer can receive five minutes of complementary mental health screenings.

“It’s about doing it in a way that’s digestible and highlighting mental health outlets in our community,” Almahdi said. “We want people to come with their families and just vibe out.”

Silence the Shame, the mental health nonprofit founded by former record executive Shanti Das, is one of R&B Soul Picnic’s community partners. The organization will give a presentation around ending stigma around depression and mental health during the festivities.

Dr. Marcus Green, founder of Atlanta-based counseling agency New Beginnings Today, is hosting the soul healing tent. He says his team will answer questions and distribute pamphlets during the consultations.

“Therapy is not a dirty word. It’s a safe place for you to become your best self, and we’re there to provide a sense of hope,” Green says.

Cox, a Grammy-winning songwriter and producer, says the process of writing megahits, like Usher’s “U Got It Bad,” “Burn” and “Confessions (Part II),” starts with him spending a full day with the artists to talk about their personal lives.

Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Bryan-Michael Cox is among the talent appearing at R&B Soul Picnic at Westside Park from May 11-12, 2024.

Credit: Kobe Boateng

icon to expand image

Credit: Kobe Boateng

“You find out through conversations that we’re all going through the exact same things,” Cox said. “We want to tell a story because in those moments, you sometimes feel like you’re by yourself.”

R&B Soul Picnic is stopping through New York and North Carolina this summer. Almahdi says he hopes his music festival grows to become the standard outdoor event for others to address mental health and post-traumatic stress.

“I want to be the R&B version of Ultra Music Festival [in Miami] and heal souls all over the world,” Almahdi said.

R&B Soul Picnic happens May 11-12. Details are available at RNBSoulPicnic.com.