FreakNik’s mini return to Atlanta sparks array of memories

Past versions of Freaknik made a mess of some important moments in Shaikia Burch’s young life.

Like the day she was born.

Her father told her how he had to abandon his car in gridlocked highway traffic and walk to Crawford Long Hospital to witness her birth. Then there was her 15th birthday party. Almost none of her friends made it through the traffic jams and parental worries to the roller skating rink.

“It was horrible,” Burch, now 24, remembered. Yet she was on the lawn at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood on Saturday afternoon happy to experience what was designed to be a far tamer variant of Atlanta’s most celebrated and criticized urban street party.

“This is supposed to be my Freaknik resolution,” she said, looking around the crowd. “People used to be getting nasty. Now everybody looks like they’ve got some sense.”

Her friend, 30-year-old Shay Davis, noted that some of the music was similar. But everyone in the crowd seemed to manage to keep their clothes on, a marked distinction from what she heard about and saw from the windows of her Atlanta home as a child.

FreakNik Atlanta '19 - The Festival, with its updated changes including a capitalized "N" in the name, centered on a concert lineup, including some old school music among the hip-hop artists. Organizers said as of Saturday afternoon about 15,000 tickets had been sold for the event. The venue's capacity is nearly 20,000.

It seemed far different from what had begun in the 1980s as a gathering of Atlanta University Center students and grew into an uncontrolled party in the 1990s that drew mostly young African Americans to Atlanta from all over the nation. Eventually, growing complaints about massive traffic jams, public nudity and crime led city leaders to squeeze out the spring urban party.

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"The old Freaknik, anything goes," said Charles James, a gray-haired 48-year-old Atlantan who paid $100 for festival tickets for himself and his wife. "It was a movement then. This is a concert now."

He wouldn’t mind seeing some of the old party atmosphere reborn, he said. But he recalled how his 30-year-old daughter asked what it was like. “I said, ‘Baby, you don’t want to know.’”

Marsha Thomas of Douglasville seemed just fine dancing to the music of the more mellow and mini version of FreakNik on Saturday.

“At my age,” the 46-year-old said. “I’m not looking for what it used to be.”

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Jgenisius Harris, a 27-year-old firmware engineer from Atlanta, showed up at the event wearing her uncle’s 1995 Freaknik T-shirt. She came for the music but had versed herself in Freaknik’s history. She had heard about the gathering’s ability to bring people together. She also had heard stories about sexual exploitation.

“I feel good and bad emotions,” she said. She wished she could experience some of the past revelry, but the concert festival was good, too. “I’m OK with this because at least we know we are safe.”