Music festival season carried on in full swing as One Musicfest returned to Centennial Olympic Park this weekend.

The two-day festival has been around for just over a decade, celebrating its 11th event this year, but, like many events, was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saturday’s lineup featured a number of smaller artists, including Maeta, J. Howel, Tone Stith, Brianna Castro and Lucky Daye. But many in the crowd came for the big names of the night, which included Ty Dolla $ign, Ari Lennox and H.E.R., who garnered the biggest crowd.

Founder Jason Carter said he created the festival to fill a “lack of programming” he felt existed for Black music and culture in Atlanta’s festival scene. He estimated that about 40,000 people will attend across the weekend.

“It just feels amazing to one, to be able to plan something, and then two, just really just seeing the bodies and the faces, you know, back out in the park,” Carter said on Sunday. “There were so many unknowns with the pandemic, so as things started leveling out a little bit, we almost felt an obligation to at least attempt and try to do the festival. COVID is not really going anywhere, so we’ve really got to figure out how to live with it.”

Caption
Jason Carter founded ONE Musicfest, which was held this weekend at Centennial Olympic Park. (2018 file photo: Ryan Horne/AJC)

Jason Carter founded ONE Musicfest, which was held this weekend at Centennial Olympic Park. (2018 file photo: Ryan Horne/AJC)
Caption
Jason Carter founded ONE Musicfest, which was held this weekend at Centennial Olympic Park. (2018 file photo: Ryan Horne/AJC)

The event, following in the footsteps of Music Midtown and other festivals, required attendees to present either a full COVID-19 vaccination record or a negative COVID-19 test from Thursday or later.

Fears of COVID-19 spread didn’t deter attendees from enjoying themselves. The energy at Centennial Olympic Park was electric Saturday evening, even when performers weren’t on the main stage. DJs kept the crowd on their feet, dancing to 2000s era R&B anthems like “Swag Surfin’ " by F.L.Y. (Fast Life Yungstaz) and more recent music like Drake’s 2021 hit “Way 2 Sexy.”

Ashante Simpson, an Atlanta resident, said this was her first festival that she had attended in four years; the last one she came to see was One Musicfest in 2017.

“I came out to see H.E.R. and to see Lil Wayne,” the 34-year-old said. “I’m very, very excited, but I’m not worried about COVID because we’re outside, so I’m comfortable.”

Similarly, Kim Armstead, who has worked with her cousin’s business Dre’s Ice Cream at festivals for the past five years, said she was thrilled to return to Atlanta.

“We were here two years ago and it was really successful, so we’re happy to be back,” said Armstead, who lives in Philadelphia. “We’re all vaccinated, so we haven’t been worried, but we’re still masking up.”

Caption
Fans enjoy the return of the two-day One Musicfest on Saturday, October 9, 2021, at Centennial Olympic Park. (Photo: Anjali Huynh/AJC)

Fans enjoy the return of the two-day One Musicfest on Saturday, October 9, 2021, at Centennial Olympic Park. (Photo: Anjali Huynh/AJC)
Caption
Fans enjoy the return of the two-day One Musicfest on Saturday, October 9, 2021, at Centennial Olympic Park. (Photo: Anjali Huynh/AJC)

Headliners

Performing artists were as enthused as the crowd about returning to perform live in Atlanta.

“This might be the coolest city in the world,” said Ari Lennox in between songs during her set.

The artist, whose real name is Courtney Shanade Salter, first made a splash in the R&B world in 2016 with her E.P. “Pho,” and then again when she released her debut album “Shea Butter Baby.” That album’s title track featuring J. Cole made the Billboard Top 100.

Ari Lennox performed that song amid much crowd fervor, alongside others from that album including “Back Seat of My Car,” “I Been” and “BMO.”

Other artists kept the crowd entertained through surprise guests. The crowd enthusiastically cheered when Ty Dolla $ign brought out preeminent Atlanta rapper T.I., who said he wanted to perform because it was the 20th anniversary of releasing his debut album, “I’m Serious,” on Oct. 9, 2001.

Ty Dolla $ign, whose full name is Tyrone William Griffin Jr., has featured and been featured on several chart-topping songs with artists including Kehlani, Megan Thee Stallion and The Weeknd. He performed several of those songs by himself, including “Ego Death” (that originally featured Kanye West, FKA Twigs, and Skrillex), “Paranoid” (that featured B.o.B) and “By Yourself” (that featured Jhené Aiko and Mustard).

Thousands packed in front of the main stage in anticipation for H.E.R., a 24-year-old R&B singer-songwriter whose real name is Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson. The Grammy and Academy Award-winning artist has seen numerous hits reach the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The audience went particularly wild when she performed her hits “Slide,” “Damage” and “Best Part.”

She thanked the audience for supporting her growth, referring to her last performance at One Musicfest in 2019 as a non-headlining artist.

“I haven’t felt this much love in like two years,” H.E.R. said. “Make sure you dream big and know that anything is possible, I promise.”

In future years, Carter hopes the festival will expand to other cities and be broadcast live so others around the world can experience the event.

“One Musicfest is a culmination of really forward-thinking people, the founders and creators are Black, but this is a representation of all types of people from all walks of life,” Carter said. “Our tagline is ‘Unity through music,’ and that’s what we’re seeing this weekend.”

Sunday’s performances will feature Lil Wayne, Burna Boy and The Isley Brothers as headliners.

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