Over the past decade, destination festival culture has exploded, with acts from all across the board and people from all over the world gathering in one place to party up with peers who have the same tastes. Now, Brooklyn, New York's best kept black secret, Afropunk, has a ticket price and international offshoots. Chicago has Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. California has Coachella. Nevada has Burning Man. In other words, we're way past Woodstock.
But what if you didn't have to go anywhere? What if you could convene in your own backyard and celebrate the music that's been made right at home, showcasing its pioneers in all of their emergent glory? Soon, the inaugural Kindred Music & Culture Festival will touch down in Roosevelt Park, and thanks to founder Leah Hill, Detroit will have a brand new festival to add to its lineup of summertime fun. The festival was originally scheduled for Saturday, July 21, but was postponed until Saturday, Aug. 18 due to inclement weather.
Hill says she aspires to entice different pockets of the city's music and culture scene to create an experience that feels familiar. "For me it's always been wanting to do business, but wanting to do business that means something," she says.
The day of performances, vendors, and activities has been outlined since Dec. 15, 2016, when Hill was completing an entrepreneurship class at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. She says she wanted to shake up the status quo with an idea that was people-focused and impactful. In its green-inked rough draft form, filling up one page of notes in Hill's U-M notebook, the "Black Culture Fest" outline included key event planning elements like city permits and promotions, plus a bulleted list of sponsors. She pegged the festival's initial projected date at early June 2018. This idea has since grown into the Kindred Music & Culture Festival. As they say, a goal is a dream with a deadline.
While in school, Hill says she toyed with the idea of following a more traditional path by scoring a flashy job as a fashion buyer for Bloomingdale's, where she'd likely have to move to a bigger city and wear all black every day per the company guidebook. When we visit her, Hill is the lone employee in a three-person PR firm called Mario Morrow and Associates; the rest of the team has left for the day. Hill has a fresh fade between a pair of hoops, and she dons a breezy black sundress (selected by choice, not by company policy) and a small stack of silver and gold chains. As she moves from her desk to a more fitting seat at a board table in the center of the office, she talks about how she got from business school to launching her own festival in a notoriously musical city.
"I wanted to do something that would feed the culture in a way that we don't necessarily see in Detroit," she says. "I hope that Kindred can allow people who otherwise move in different circles to find this place where they're all together and there's this opportunity for young black people in Detroit to walk away having built some relationships across the city."
Shortly after returning to Detroit, Hill realized that the festival idea couldn't be a one-woman show, so she enlisted the help of two other women, Veniece Session and Chelsi Modest, to bring her green scribbles to fruition. Session, the production manager describes her role as "making sure it has that boom and that kick." Modest, Hill's business school mentor-turned-accounting aficionado, is there to ensure that the festival is economically feasible. The trio hit the ground running and held their first team meeting on New Year's Day (no better day to embark on new resolutions) to talk through the big ideas as well as the necessities, like a venue and an artist lineup.
The crew did a temperature check of the city's music scene and chose an array of artists, hailing from the east and west sides, some singers and some rappers, some with a crazy fan base and others fresh off of a new project.
"To some extent, the Detroit sound is so what people want to hear that if you're not that it seems like you don't get as much recognition from the city," Hill says. "Then it's weird because the Detroit sound doesn't make it out the city."
The initial idea was to entice big name acts to grace the city with their presence, but the team pivoted to exhibit a more accessible and immediate roster of music- and culture-makers from the city. They landed on a unique selection featuring soul singers, newcomers, and rappers. The lineup boasts a fairly even male-female representation with a multi-talented roster including Tiny Jag, Willie Mac Jr. Monalyse, Supakaine, Bevlove, SupercoolWicked, and headliner Payroll Giovanni, plus a DJ set by Dej Loaf's official DJ, WS Kharri. In addition to the daylong artistic extravaganza, attendees are encouraged to support the incoming generation of Detroit creatives by bringing new paint supplies that will be donated to Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School.
Kindred Fest was intentionally designed to bring Detroit's creatives of color together — a place where attendees can feel seen and heard. "I'm looking forward to seeing genuine black smiles in Detroit," Session says.
Kindred Music & Culture Festival will take place from noon to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18 at Roosevelt Park (rescheduled from Saturday, July 21); 2405 Vernor Hwy., Detroit; kindredfestival.com; General admission starts at $35. Tickets will not be available at the gate but tickets will be sold on Eventbrite until capacity.
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