Highlights: 2017 Umoja Festival

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Sep 29, 2017 at 3:28 PM

This year’s Umoja Festival in downtown Johnson City will feature new events and old festival favorites, according to organizer Ralph Davis.

Along with a diverse lineup of live music on Friday and Saturday, new events scheduled for this year include mixed martial arts fighting demonstrations, an expanded children’s carnival and a health fair hosted by the East Tennessee State University Academic Health Sciences Center, as well as the return of wrestling and fan favorites, such as the Zulu Connection stilt walkers.

“The festival is a fun occasion for all ages,” Davis said. “It’s a family-friendly festival with a lot of good food and great entertainment.”

Friday’s Highlights

Zulu Connection Stilt Walkers 

The Zulu Connection stilt walkers, led by third-generation New Orleans stilt walker Shaka Zulu, will perform at 6:15 p.m. before Friday’s live music lineup on the main stage. They will return for two more street performances at 7 and 9 p.m.

Live music at the main stage 

After an opening drum ceremony by the Rev. Vincent Dial at 6 p.m., Kryss Dula and Friends will kick off the live music at 6:30. Also performing on the main stage will be the Billy Crawford Band at 7:15 p.m., Bleu Jackson at 8:15 p.m., Free Flow at 9 p.m. and of course, the Umoja Band, a group Davis described as a unique “fusion between R&B and jazz.” 

Animation festival and children’s carnival

Other highlights for Friday include the ETSU Digital Animation Festival at Hands On! Museum from 3-8 p.m. Entries will be judged by a panel of industry professionals and scored based on criteria, including artistic merit, story and technical proficiency. This event will also continue at 3 p.m. on Saturday. 

The expanded children’s carnival, which will now feature a petting zoo, will be from 4-8 p.m. 

“Of course, another thing we started last year was the children’s carnival. It was a big hit, so we expanded that,” Davis said.

Saturday’s Highlights

Unity Parade

Saturday’s events will kick off with the festival’s annual parade, which will begin at the Carver Recreation Center at 10 a.m. and end at the main stage in downtown Johnson City. The parade's grand marshal will be ETSU men’s basketball coach Steve Forbes, who will be joined by members of the team along with members of the ETSU baseball, softball and triathlon teams.

“It’s going to be the biggest parade we’ve ever had,” Davis said.

After the parade, the children’s carnival will return at 11:30 a.m. and continue until 8 p.m. 

Live music at the main stage

Live music at the main stage will be kicked off by DJ Sterl the Pearl at 11:15 a.m., followed by the Watoto Dancers at noon, 5 and 6 p.m. Saturday’s lineup will also include Motown Downtown at 7 p.m., The Lou Jerome Band at 8 p.m., Jae Marie Project Band at 9 p.m. and DJ Unk, who will be headlining at 10 p.m.

Other highlights

The newest addition to this year’s festival is Saturday’s MMA fighting demonstrations, which will feature 10 to 15 competitors at 3 p.m. Wrestling will also make its return to this year’s festival at 6 p.m. following the MMA event. Throughout the day, there will be three different performances by the Watoto Dancers and Drummers at 3:30, 7 and 9 p.m. Zulu Connection will be performing again at 1, 3:30, 7 and 9 p.m.

The ETSU health fair, which will offer free health services and screenings from staff at the ETSU College of Nursing and College of Medicine, will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For a full schedule of events, as well as more details on the Umoja Cultural Arts Committee, visit their website at www.umojajc.org.

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