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BAMS Fest brings Black joy, music and culture to Franklin Park

Olivia Grant
BAMS Fest brings Black joy, music and culture to Franklin Park
An appreciative crowd at this year's BAMS Fest. PHOTO: OLIVIA GRANT

The Boston Art & Music Soul Festival, or BAMS Fest, helped Bostonians celebrate Black Music Month by hosting its fifth annual event on June 22-24. This year’s multi-day festival included a new conference component called BAMS CONX (Connects) on June 22 at the Berklee Performance Center with panel discussions and opportunities for networking. The musical portion of the festival took place on June 23 and 24 at Franklin Park’s Playstead Field. The headliner was DJ and producer Grandmaster Flash, whose set was a tribute to 50 years of hip-hop.

Headliner Grandmaster Flash. PHOTO: OLIVIA GRANT

Grandmaster Flash played a sundown set to a crowd of enthusiastic festival attendees. His act included beloved classic “The Message” and an homage to some of the genre’s deceased artists, including Prodigy, Tupac and Boston-born Guru. Grandmaster Flash also took the audience down memory lane, starting his set with songs from the 1970s to the present.

While hip-hop was celebrating a major milestone, so was BAMS.

“I am completely overwhelmed, overjoyed and truly excited at the fact that not only are we five years old, but we have tripled the amount of days we have offered this festival and artists of color and specifically Black artists have a platform to showcase their talent,” said Catherine Morris, the festival’s founder and artistic director.

This year’s lineup listed 22 musical acts over Friday and Saturday. Boston-based performers included Terri Lyne Carrington, a Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer and Berklee professor, as well as kei, Cake$wagg and Nate Nics.

Catherine Morris, festival founder and artistic director with Mayor Michelle Wu. PHOTO: OLIVIA GRANT

In addition to the performances, there were a number of activities for attendees, including a Kids’ Play Zone and the Beat Feet Dance tent featuring dance battles. Food was offered at Soul Food Row, a lineup of food trucks from Black- and brown-owned restaurants. There were also 50 Black-owned businesses filling the Vendor Village tents with a variety of offerings, from niche gift boxes and artisanal hot sauces to T-shirts and art.

“We’re really impressed by the organization, and we feel really welcome,” said  Wasadrey Urban, a cofounder of the gift box company CrownBox and first-time BAMS Fest vendor. “Every other vendor here is very supportive and loving of each other.”

Festival attendees were impressed, too.

Multi-instrumentalist Mary Orji (center). and The Mary Orji Visionaries Collective. PHOTO: OLIVIA GRANT

“This festival is awesome and it’s one of the reasons why I made Boston my home,” attendee Sarah Dylan Breuer said. “It’s family, dog, bike and disabled friendly. It’s amazing to see the vendors. I want to support these businesses year-round.” Breuer also said the festival was a “total cultural high” and she appreciated the fusion of jazz and hip-hop performances.

“I just like being in a space with a lot of Black people, Black artists and Black vendors,” said Jazz Dottin, another attendee. Dottin also appreciated that the festival was free and accessible to all.

Morris noted that while BAMS is free of charge, it still needs support.

“Even though it’s free to the public, it’s a cost to the organization, so it’s important that people invest in BAMS Fest,” she said.

When asked about her hopes for BAMS’ future, Morris said, “I’m hoping that the relationship between Boston, BAMS Fest and our amazing African American community cements a new culture the city has always asked for.”

She added, “In order for it to grow, we have to actually collaborate, be consistent in those offerings and ensure that our culture and stories and heritage are preserved and amplified, so that we have deeper civic pride of being from here — and then tell it on the mountain to everybody else.”