From the humble beginnings of a community picnic at Carver Recreation Center, the Umoja Festival has grown into a two-day downtown Johnson City event, where downtown merchants, restaurant owners and out-of-town vendors and entertainment combine to give local residents a taste, sometimes literally, of different cultures.
Ralph Davis, chairman of the festival that will be held Friday and Saturday throughout downtown Johnson City, said this year’s musical entertainment comes from all genres.
“We try to do a variety of different music and last year we had what we call our Young Adult Stage. We’re really promoting it hard this year again, to try to do some things for the younger people,” Davis said. “On the Main Stage, of course, we’re going to have some country, a little rock and roll, jazz and R&B.”
According to a festival news release and schedule, Friday’s Main Stage headliner will be Free Flow, starting at 9:30 p.m., and Saturday, the musical group Lakeside will perform at 9:30 p.m.
Davis said while the festival will have a variety of craft, merchandise and public information booths set up, there are two new additions to the vendor list this year.
“We have two really unique vendors that have come on board this year. One is Norfolk Southern Railroad. They’re bringing in a … railroad safety exhibit and they want to educate the population on railroad safety and some of the things to look out for,” he said. “One of the neat things about it, is they’ve got a mascot that they’re bringing that will be walking the festival.”
Davis said the other addition is an exhibit from the Gray Fossil Site.
On Saturday, the Umoja Parade is set to begin at 10 a.m., starting at Carver Recreation Center, 322 W. Unaka Ave., and traveling downtown. The parade will include a caravan of entertainers, including Shaka Zulu, Zulu Connection stilt walkers, Watoto drummers and dancers, the Science Hill High School drumline, and members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in various national costumes, according to the news release.
Other clubs and organizations will also be represented in the parade.
A car show will also be set up in the parking lot bordered by West Market and West Main streets, Windsor Way and Commerce Street, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
According to the release, registration to participate in the show is $20 per car and plaques will be awarded for best of class and best of show.
Another new item on the event schedule this year is the first annual James “Jazz” Akins boxing event. The event honors Akins, who was one of the festival’s charter board members. Akins passed away about a year and a half ago.
“He was a big boxing enthusiast,” Davis said.
Scheduled to be held in the old JC Penney building on East Main Street on Saturday at 5 p.m., festival-goers can watch 20 or more bouts for $5 for those 12 and under and $10 for adults.
According to the release, VIP tables are priced at $100. All proceeds from the boxing event will go to support local youth.
Boxing age groups will range from 5-35 years old.
According an East Tennessee State University news release, the ETSU Storytelling Program will be partnering again with the festival and will feature renowned storyteller Jeff Gere.
Gere, from Hawaii, will be in the region as a Teller-in-Residence at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough from Tuesday-Saturday. He is scheduled to perform at the festival at the Gazebo Storytelling Stage on Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m.
According to the release, there will also be a Children’s Carnival at the festival Saturday from 2-8 p.m.
And if you’re coming down to the festival, be sure to come hungry. This year’s food vendors range from Cajun-, Caribbean- and African-style foods to traditional festival foods, such as funnel cakes, hot dogs, barbecue, fish and chicken.
“What we emphasize is unity,” Davis said. “Everyone’s welcome.”
For more information about the festival, call 426-2851 or visit the website at www.umojajc.org.