Urban Music Festival celebrates African-American culture, music

Jordyn Zitman

Next weekend, thousands of music lovers from all across Texas will gather in Austin to enjoy R&B, hip-hop and rap performances from an impressive lineup of artists. 

The Urban Music Festival celebrates Afrocentric culture and music, drawing huge crowds each year. The festival was founded 13 years ago on the heels of Austin’s Quality of Life Initiative, which the city manager’s office introduced in an attempt to address social deficiencies facing African-Americans in the community.

Kevin Cokley, professor of African and African diaspora studies, said the Urban Music Festival is an effective response to the initiative.

“For African-Americans in Texas, Houston and Dallas are the cities that have traditionally offered more cultural outlets catering to black people,” Cokley said. “One of the complaints that I have heard about Austin is that there are not enough activities geared to African-Americans.”

Homer Hill, a festival founder and coordinator, said he and co-founders Donell Creech and Donnie Little created the Urban Music Festival to unite members of the Austin community around their love for urban music.

“We came up with this concept to create an opportunity for African-Americans and others to enjoy the Afrocentric aspects of music and culture,” Hill said. 

Hill said the Urban Music Festival is targeted to people of all age groups and to families.

The festival’s lineup consistently features artists such as En Vogue and Johnny Gill, who Hill believes will appeal to parents as well as their kids. Hill said that the festival, despite the genres of music it features, also does not allow artists to use profanity in their performances, as articulated in their contracts. Hill said that he considers himself fortunate that very few artists have attempted to break this rule. 

The Urban Music Festival is relatively new compared to other Austin festivals. Hill said the festival will continue to grow with its audience, because kids who came with their parents will return in pursuit of the nostalgic feeling the music evokes. 

“Once the kids get to the festival, they enjoy the diverse group of people and a festival different from any other in Austin,” Hill said. “Then, they grow up and bring their friends, so the festival continues to appeal to young people as a cool environment with solid entertainment and respectful music.” 

Hill said he also hopes to increase UT student presence at the festival. 

“The University sponsors us, so we really want students to come out,” Hill said. “UT students are welcome, they are invited, and I think they’ll have a great time exploring something different.”

Undeclared freshman Josh Antell said he is an avid urban music fan and has attended various festivals and concerts in the Austin area. However, Antell said there are ways that the Urban Music Festival could more effectively cater to UT students. 

“More promotion would be great,” Antell said. “Also, a student discount would really draw more people. A 10 percent discount on tickets with your UT student ID would encourage people to check it out.”

Hill encourages students to come, not only to enjoy the music but also to embrace new cultures and perspectives.

“This is how we make Austin a better place,” Hill said. “The only way we get better is by truly knowing each other and trying to get to know each other.”