Crystal Taylor, founder and CEO of The Underground Collective, called me to say she was running a few minutes late to our meeting in Durham Central Park. She was picking up water for Black August in the Park, which was going to be held there that weekend. It was fitting because she and The Underground Collective are in the middle of so many things culturally in Durham.
Taylor noted the word was out on Black August in the Park. It had gotten good media build-up, and almost everyone in cashier’s line where she was picking up water had heard it was coming. She hoped a few weeks from now that she would be able to say the same about the Beats and Bars Festival which will take place Friday and Saturday, September 16th and 17th at The Pinhook and The Palace’s Vault.
As we sat on benches designed and constructed by one of our Liberty Arts friends, Jackie MacLeod, Taylor explained to me that she was in the basement at a private salon of local heads, cultural creatives, when the idea for the Beats and Bars Festival first came up.
Taylor didn’t want Durham’s and the area’s vibrant Hip-Hop community to go without a festival of its own. As great as we all agree the Art of Cool is, as fun as Moogfest was, as many acts as Hopscotch books, none of these festivals is Hip-Hop focused.
Within an hour after the private, cultural makers rap session, Taylor was hunkered down in the corner of the original Cocoa Cinnamon with her festival planning partner, DJ. Her first question was, “Will you be on my team?”
People in Durham know Taylor’s The Underground Collective for putting on great shows and events, but this event, now christened the Beats and Bars Festival was to be her biggest challenge yet. The Underground Collective (TUC) started out with beat battles. Taylor knew she had a network of MCs, producers, and DJs. Her degree is in marketing. She had a lot of bases covered, but not all of them. The reason she called DJ first is because he “had faith in her” and he wouldn’t think she was “crazy”. (Or in this case overly ambitious.)
DJ walked over from the DIY District to Central Park to join our conversation on Jackie’s bench. He had a serious cast to his expression. After hearing Taylor’s praise of his ways DJ explained that some people are “made to manage a large task” — and that “other people need to follow a playbook and are better of working for some Megacorp or McDonald’s.” It was clear to me right away which group DJ fell into.
Gradually the pair brought in other members of The Underground Collective. Taylor says she is proud of her team, referring to them as a “well-oiled machine”. Her goal from the beginning was to hold a “purposeful” festival. Taylor says this is because she and DJ value learning. She didn’t want a festival that was strictly about listening to music.
And it won’t be. The Saturday “Fresh Effects” Panel features topics like “Branding: What’s Your End Game?”, “Hip-Hop and Academia”, and “The Business of Beatmaking” with speakers like Dasan Ahanu (recently returned from a Harvard fellowship) and Pierce Freelon, one of the founders of Blackspace. She wants artists to know and to learn the methods that allow one to make a career out of performing, making and writing music.
“Hip-Hop and Academia” is a panel DJ and Taylor, who, like me, are old enough to remember some of the genesis of Hip-Hop culture, are especially enthused about. They want their audience to go home with knowledge. They want younger folks to know that Hip-Hop was born out of certain societal and economic circumstances and experiences. NWA was conceived in a particular place and time in response to what was going on. Public Enemy was not coincidentally writing songs like “911 is a Joke,” they were writing them from the heart. DJ and Taylor emphasize connecting with the community and how music effects and reflects culture. They want young people to rep the culture, to rep themselves. They know the passion is out there. They want to share the skills and the story.
As for the music, Taylor, who is “huge on lyricism” says, “I believe in these performers. I have extensively listened to everyone who is on the schedule…DeFacto works so hard…Well$ has so much talent.” She gushes about the less well-known Burlington artist, OC from NC, “He is bubbling up. Makes no compromises. Deserves a bigger stage.”
The music takes place at Durham’s nexus, The Pinhook. Friday and Saturday, September 16th and 17th. The panels will be held in “The Vault” underneath The Palace International on Broad Street. All the panels will be on Saturday the 17th of September.
Tickets for both are available at http://www.theugretrokids.com/
Don’t miss out.