J Carter talks 7 years of One Musicfest

The summer festival founder still upholds his original vision for creating 'unity through music'

Music OMF1101WELCOME BACK CARTER: J. Carter breaks down generational barriers when curating One Musicfest's lineup.Chad RadfordIn just seven years, ONE Musicfest has grown from a small, one-day hip-hop showcase into an Atlanta institution that brings together rap, R&B, soul, electronic music and more under the Lakewood Amphitheatre canopy. Despite the festival's impressive growth and popularity, founder Jason "J" Carter still strives to reach the same goals he set for himself from the very beginning: Diversity, inclusiveness and putting together a lineup that embodies the entire scope of Atlanta's many musical cultures. Carter's ability to curate music that appeals to multiple generations and tastes stands out among the increasingly crowded Atlanta festival scene, and that's the way he likes it.

Before ONE Musicfest returns Sept. 8-9, boasting performances by Thundercat, Migos, Tank & the Bangas and more, Carter took a few minutes away from finding order in the annual round of chaos to talk about the struggles of expansion, planning for the future and desegregating Atlanta's music fans through music.

How do you try to capture the diversity of hip-hop with your booking choices, and keep pace with its stylistic changes from year-to-year?

It's challenging since there are a lot of amazing artists and music out there. We have artists that are more alternative, and you have some that are huge names in the mainstream market, but they are pushing the culture forward and disrupting, and those are things we support. I grew up listening to everything, whether it was Southern hip-hop, reggae, rock, alternative or experimental music. That's how larger festivals are formatted where they have a little bit for everyone. So that's really our model.

The same people that would listen to Damian Marley may also listen to Mos Def and Jill Scott, but they may not be as familiar with Noname and may not be huge fans of Migos, but it may change the conversation when they see them perform live. It's a little bit of discovery, it's connecting communities and connecting cultures, and it's breaking down barriers.

What does ONE Musicfest bring to Atlanta in comparison to other major local festivals like Music Midtown?

I don't think it's just in Atlanta. I don't think you can travel anywhere in the United States and say, "this feels like ONE Musicfest." If you can find me one festival that would have Thundercat, Migos, Damian Marley and Mos Def, I'd like to see it. We program a festival and live music experience for a progressive music audience. For instance, last year I was having a conversation with Gary Clark Jr., who was probably one of the biggest touring artists of last year. I think he toured 218 out of 365 days of the year, and he mentioned he had never done a festival performance like this, and had never performed for this many black people in a festival environment. Our audience is 75 percent African American, and he had never seen anything like that.

It was also unique for him in another way. He's a big OutKast fan, and he had appeared on some lineups with Big Boi, but he had never met the guy. Last year at ONE Music was the first time Gary Clark Jr. met Big Boi and Andr̩ 3000, and that's exciting for us to hear. So now you have this artist that's in a more intimate environment, and he can actually be a fan. So the experience isn't just for the fans, it's for the artists as well.

How has the mission of ONE Musicfest progressed since you started in 2010?

It's really the same focus, our tagline is still "Unity Through Music." As culturally diverse as Atlanta appears, it's really sectioned off and segregated in a lot of ways. Just through my experiences in moving in a lot of different circles and communities, it seems like there were certain things that brought people together. One of those things is music. The cultural dynamic of Atlanta is very unique as far as a major metropolitan city, so how do you put your arms around that and create something that really brings people together? How do you take different types of music for different types of followers and put them in one space, and literally target the different fan bases? That's what it's been about.

It's become this real modern-day Woodstock, good energy, vibrations festival. And over the years we've gotten considerably more diverse, not only in ethnic background, but also in age. Finding a festival where an 18-year-old can feel as comfortable as a 47-year-old is really tough to do, but we've been able to capture that as well.

What challenges have you faced as ONE Musicfest expands?

Obviously, funding is always the biggest challenge. We're actually positioning ourselves now to raise some capital and expand to other cities in the future. I would say corporate partnerships are also a challenge. It gets difficult selling something that people aren't really educated on, so you really have to sell the experience to a lot of corporations. It's a different mold and monster in and of itself.

When you're curating these diverse lineups that have lesser-known artists, do you put a certain level of trust into the audience to appreciate artists that aren't as popular?

It's a gift and a curse. There's a percentage of the audience that are really music snobs, but the benefit of having a portion of the audience that are like that is that they are receptive to new music and new artists. You have Gen-X hip-hop heads who like Mos Def but may not know who J.I.D is and may listen to him and say "Yo, this young kid is the future, he's the truth." There may be some overlap there. The one thing you can count on is that once you leave the festival, you're a fan of an artist that you didn't know prior.

What are some more long-term plans you have for ONE Musicfest?

We're working on some broadcasting plans, some streaming to help spread the message. We're speaking with a couple of different trending platforms. Next year you should be able to see ONE Musicfest on a cable network, so we're excited about that.

Who's an artist that you'd like to see at ONE Musicfest that you haven't been able to get yet?

A few, and they're all over the place. I would love to see J. Cole, Chance the Rapper. I would love to see Kid Cudi. Hell, I'd love to see Sade and Stevie Wonder. I'd love to see Lenny Kravitz. That would put you in the mindset of what we're looking to do in the years to come.

One Musicfest. $48-$356. Fri., Sept. 8. The Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St. N.W.; Sat., Sept. 9. Lakewood Amphitheatre, 2002 Lakewood Way. www.onemusicfest.com.