One Musicfest returns as in-person event this weekend in Atlanta

The sold-out event will feature performances from Lil Baby, Jazmine Sullivan and others

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, event producer Jason “J.” Carter felt the live music and festival industry needed a hard reset. Supply chain issues, price gouging and outlandish artist demands became problematic, but pushed him to stand by his original mission: to continue to give Black people a space to find some happiness.

His creation, One Musicfest (OMF), is returning in-person as a multistage, genre-spanning, open-air festival for progressive Black music on Oct. 8 and 9 at Central Park in downtown Atlanta. Performers for the sold-out festival include Lil Baby, Jazmine Sullivan, Rick Ross, Gucci Mane, Jeezy, Chloe Bailey, Larry June, DVSN, Amerie and Ms. Lauryn Hill.

Once held at King Plow Arts Center, Historic Fourth Ward Park and Lakewood Amphitheatre, OneMusicfest will be a combination of “black Woodstock” meets HBCU homecoming season.

“Our audience doesn’t just want the turn up or alternative R&B,” said Carter, who came up with OMF more than 10 years ago after noticing a dearth of multi-stage Black music and culture festivals. “It’s having a balance of it all. We’re not buttoned-up corner office execs trying to make a buck. We want to create something that we’d want to attend and love.”

Now in its 13th year, OMF now has four stages instead of three: the Main Stage, Freedom Stage, Toyota Stage and the Vegan Village stage, sponsored by local plant-based restaurant Slutty Vegan. Bikes will be available for rental for concertgoers to commute from stage to stage.

Vegan Village marks the first restaurant-sponsored stage at OMF. “We’re showing people that Slutty Vegan is more than just a restaurant,” Slutty Vegan founder Pinky Cole said. “We are a lifestyle brand, so we’ll infuse ourselves in every single department.”

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Carter’s vision is to create balance by offering his audience a diversity of musical options while also exposing them to a broad palette of progressive Black music and culture.

“It’s not about who’s the hottest artist on the charts right now but asking the question how can we paint the perfect picture?” Carter said.“Will the Jagged Edge fans relate to the Lil Baby fans or will Lil Baby’s fans relate to Jazmine Sullivan and overlap with Lauryn Hill? They do all share some common space.”

Carter typically holds multiple whiteboard sessions across several months with his staff to plan festival activities and settle on a roster of performers. The brand strategist born in Harlem, New York and raised in Stone Mountain chatted frequently with the organizers and producers behind Shaky Knees Music Festival to come up with OMF’s full layout, design, logistics and venue this year.

“There’s so much talent out there,” said Carter, who once owned the Underground Atlanta staple venue Sugar Hill. “I can’t push everything on one stage, and there’s so much beautiful and incredible music out there to share and for people to experience, you’re limited when you try to put it on one or two stages.”

In addition to music, OMF includes a food truck village and more than 100 minority-owned vendor stations. And in partnership with television network BET, half of a tennis court in Central Park has been transformed into a skating rink.

During the pandemic, Carter turned OMF into a virtual event, with virtual movie nights, voter registration drives, financial literacy conversations and online concerts.

Carter said part of OMF’s mission is to give back. Black-owned watch company Talley and Twine collaborated with OMF on the release of a limited edition custom timepiece with some of the proceeds benefitting Future Successes, a mentorship and college readiness nonprofit organization (Carter also serves on its board).

On Oct. 8, OMF and Fearless Foundation will present the Unity Grant, which includes $10,000 and ongoing mentorship, to an entrepreneur or a small minority-owned business. Carter, a Florida A&M alumnus and active member of Mayor Andre Dickens’ transition team, also teamed with HBCU Change, a mobile app setting out to raise $1 billion over the next five years to disseminate across all historically Black colleges and universities.

“It’s Black excellence,” Carter said. “Once you have a platform that gets a certain amount of eyeballs and influence, it’s lifting as we climb and highlighting other incredible Black creators in other spaces and finding ways to give back to the community at the same time.”

The last time OMF had a kickoff party was in 2018. This year, the Welcome to Atlanta party hosted by Jermaine Dupri is kicking off festival programming at the Tabernacle on Friday, Oct. 7. There’s also a panel discussion and awards dinner honoring film producer Will Packer and Quality Control Music founders Pierre “Pee” Thomas and Kevin “Coach K.” Lee.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“It’s a way to give folks a taste of what they’re in for ahead of the weekend,” Carter said.

OMF has plans to expand to another city in 2023, with a spinoff festival that will pair food and mixlogy with the live music experience.

Carter’s hard reset encouraged him to remain authentic and intuitive about his vision. He compares cultivating a musical experience to “a painter letting his hands go with his palette on a canvas.”

“It’s so easy to get off track, but remember what got you there and stay true to your base as well as your plan,” Carter said. “Trust your gut. There’s no one better to build something for the culture than someone that’s rooted in it.”


Festival preview

One Musicfest

Oct. 8-Oct. 9. Sold out. Central Park, 400 Merritts Ave. NE, Atlanta. onemusicfest.com