East Tennessee State University is partnering with the Umoja Cultural Arts Committee for this year’s Umoja Festival, which will take place in downtown Johnson City on Friday, Sept. 29, and Saturday, Sept. 30.
Daytime activities on both Friday and Saturday include a children’s area, the annual ETSU Animation Festival, MMA cage fighting, wrestling and festival food. Vendors will showcase and sell artwork, jewelry, clothing and crafts. Throughout the festival, and capping off each night, will be a selection of bands and musicians from rock and roll, rhythm and blues, rap and gospel music.
The children’s area will have a colorful autumn theme and will include a petting zoo, interactive activities, face painting, a coloring contest, inflatables and much more. In addition, health screenings and informational booths featuring ETSU and other non-profits will be prominently located on the streets of downtown Johnson City.
From New Orleans, festival favorite the Zulu Connection stilt walkers, featuring Shaka Zulu as well as the Wato-to Dancers, will perform throughout the day.
The ETSU Digital Media Program will hold its annual Animation Festival during Umoja. Since 2005, the Animation Festival has showcased the work of international animators of all skill levels. Entries will be judged by a panel of industry professionals and scored based on criteria such as artistic merit, story and technical proficiency. A cash prize will be awarded to the animations that score the highest in the student, independent and professional animator categories. In addition, a critic’s choice award will be given to the animation that scores the highest overall, and an audience choice award will be given to the animation that receives the most votes from visitors.
The Friday evening main stage lineup includes Kryss Dula & Friends; the Billy Crawford Band, featuring one of East Tennessee’s premiere blues guitarists; Bleu Jackson; and Free Flow, performing a mixture of funk, soul, and R&B covers with an original twist.
The Friday night headliner is The Umoja Band. Although its name is the same as that of the festival, this five-piece band hails from Atlanta. Umoja’s extensive repertoire covers a wide variety of music from the timeless classics to the wonderful sounds of Motown to the latest dance songs of today. Umoja has also performed as the opening act for recording artists such as The Commodores, Jerry Butler, Peabo Bryson, Jennifer Holiday and OutKast.
On Saturday, the festival kicks off with the annual parade beginning at the Carver Recreation Center at 10 a.m. and ending in downtown Johnson City at the Umoja Unity Festival Main Stage. The grand marshal for this year’s parade will be ETSU Men’s Basketball Coach Steve Forbes, who will be joined by members of the team. Also featured in the parade will be ETSU Women’s Basketball Coach Brittany Ezell and the team, as well as members of the ETSU baseball, softball and triathlon teams. The ETSU Marching Bucs will kick off the festivities along with beloved ETSU mascot, Bucky.
Musical entertainment on Saturday includes Melanie DeMore on the Youth Stage. Born in the Bronx, but raised in Anchorage, DeMore has lived in Oakland, California, for the last 21 years. The songwriter, troubadour and emissary of tolerance, kindness and harmony through the sound of her voice, has traveled the world and was a founding member of the Grammy-nominated vocal ensemble Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir. Also featured on the Youth Stage will be B.J. Goliday from Bristol, Virginia. Goliday is a musician, singer and dancer. His album, “Just Slap the Bass,” is a mix of old school funk, dance and R&B.
New this year will be Mixed-Martial-Arts (MMA) cage fighting, and wrestling will return to the festival.
The Lou Jerome Band from Philadelphia will perform on the main stage Saturday night. They have opened for Cuba Gooding, Stephanie Mills, Bobby Womack and Vivian Green at the African American Cultural Festival. Johnson City’s own The Jae Marine Project Band will also perform.
The headliner for the main stage Saturday night will be DJ Unk from Atlanta. American rapper Anthony Platt, or DJ Unk, is best known for his smash hit, “Walk It Out” from his debut album “Beat’n Down Yo Block.” The song peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was the first top-10 single of his career. In 2013 he released the single, “Have a Toast,” followed by “Wait” in 2014.