Founder and creator of one of Atlanta's staple music festivals, Jason Orr, talks about the future of Funk Jazz Kafé. Video by Ryon Horne and Melissa Ruggieri

FunkJazz Kafe celebrates its 25th year - and possibly last on land

“We pulled off something that nobody else has done on this planet,” Jason Orr says.

Coming from most people, that might sound like a statement of eye-rolling arrogance.

But Orr, in his white linen jacket and sunglasses, hair twisted atop his head, pulls it off with an essence of cool.

“We’ve held a medium-to-large scale music festival for 25 years and we don’t even announce the talent,” he continues. “I find that is a success.”

Orr, an Atlanta-based promoter, entrepreneur and, in a recent addition to his resume, operations manager of Wolf Creek Amphitheater, is the creator of FunkJazz Kafe. The annual event, which will celebrate its 25th year on Aug. 10, is recognized for its creativity and fluidity. 

It isn’t strictly a music festival, though the years have witnessed breakout sets from Janelle Monae and India. Arie and surprise appearances from Goodie Mob to Big Boi to Jamie Foxx, none of which are announced in advance. 

It isn’t exclusively a lifestyle festival, either, although health and wellness are key interests to Orr, a vegan who changed his eating habits when he started FunkJazz Kafe as a 23-year-old stocked with ambition.

Jason Orr, the founder of FunkJazz Cafe, stands next to a mural in the Tabernacle, honoring his 25-year-old event. The mural was painted by Maurice Evans, an Atlanta artist who is a regular at the event with Orr. The event happens Aug. 10 at the Tabernacle. Ryon Horne / RHORNE@AJC.COM

“I knew in order to do FunkJazz, I needed brain capacity and energy. FunkJazz was whipping me into shape and I realized if you want to do this, you need more hours in the day,” he says with a smile.

So he spreads his gospel at the Tabernacle, where one floor will stage a vegan food court, another, a fashion lounge. Local artists will be scattered about the stage level area to paint portraits of deceased soul legends such as Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke – at least until the music starts – while upstairs will host a craft beer room, as well as the House Party Suite, where different genres of music will be played in 15-minute spurts. The Tabernacle’s usual VIP lounge, where Orr is sitting this day on one of its rich, plum-colored sofas, will serve as the poetry room, while nearby, the Healing Suite will offer massages and facials.

If you’ve never experienced FunkJazz Kafe before, Orr suggests simply opening your mind.

“It’s really not a complicated concept,” he says. “It’s just putting it out there and letting people experience it.”

It’s also the last year that the Atlanta staple will be held on land, as the ever-aspiring Orr, who funds FunkJazz Kafe through his own money and sponsorships, intends to take his concept to the water.

“I’m curious about cruises. I like the idea of taking over an entire ship and having the different components go on all day,” he says, adding that the demographic that flocks to FunkJazz might be better suited for a cruise event. “There are more people in the 45-54 age range (coming), but then the 55-plus range is tripling. These younger cats, the 18-24 (group), they’re not interested in us, in preserving the culture. And when you think that to put on a production of this scale for a very reasonable $35 ticket – other festivals you have to have a payment plan to get one ticket! – I think it’s good for FunkJazz (to move into a different environment).”

Portrait of Jason Orr, the founder of FunkJazz Cafe. The event's 25th anniversary will happen Aug. 10 at the Tabernacle. Ryon Horne / RHORNE@AJC.COM

While Orr initially conceived of FunkJazz Kafe as a model that could be established in other cities, he also believes that its success is due to the essence of Atlanta.

“I always felt like Atlanta was WHY it happened, because I was – and still am – in the community of artists and go-getters. I know fashion designers, I know pattern makers. I know visual artists and pottery artists and metal sculptors. Atlanta had an abundance of that and it was vibrant,” Orr says. 

And, while music is only a slice of what FunkJazz Kafe presents, it’s a whopping one.

“There is no question that Atlanta music has colored the entire world in rap and R&B. We’ve always had a rich legacy in R&B with Brick and Cameo, and that gave birth to Organized Noize and Outkast and Jermaine Dupri and Dallas Austin. Those are trees that have gone on. And fast forward to the 21 Savages and Lil Uzi Verts. That’s Atlanta. Atlanta is very pivotal to what FunkJazz Kafe has become.”

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EVENT PREVIEW

FunkJazz Kafe

8 p.m. Aug. 10. $35-$50. Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.livenation.com

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About the Author

Melissa Ruggieri
Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.  
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