This year’s Colorado Black Arts Festival, “InnerVisions… OuterVisions,” could not have been more appropriately titled. The theme which underscores an inward reflection of creative spirit and imagination which in turn is outwardly expressed through visual, performing, literary arts – proved true to its mission.
Celebrating more than three decades of anything is a great achievement for anyone and the Colorado Black Arts Festival’s leadership is at the top of the list with 33 years under their belt of celebrating arts, culture and history.
More than 50,000 people attended the three day event as first time festival-goers and regular festival supporters were in for a treat from Friday to Sunday with something for everyone and every age. In addition to mouth-watering food and African wares and artwork at the Watu Sakoni People’s Market Place, there was the very popular Boogaloo Parade, the Joda Village and the presentation of the Louise Duncan Award. Strolling through out the grounds of the historic Denver City Park, attendees enjoyed the Art Garden, Visual Art Row, and a host of pavilions including the Opalanga D. Pugh Children’s Pavilion for Art and Learning, the Health Highways Pavilion, a Film Pavilion and the Natural Hair Pavilion. The Youthfest presented DJ’s who took to the stage spinning some of the most soulful house music ever recorded all weekend long.
This long standing event and the planning, displayed the strength of the organizers and its Founder and Artistic Director M. Perry Ayers who has been at the helm for 33 years.
Organized by local performer Ron Ivory, the non-stop live entertainment on the Kuumba Stage included local artists performing a wide range of genres including funk, hip-hop, jazz fusion, neo-soul, contemporary jazz, soul pop and classic R&B. Highlighting the stage on Saturday was nationally recording artist – saxophonist, composer, producer songwriter and vocalist – Eric Darius.
On Sunday, the Kuumba Stage was filled with gospel music, praise dancers and the special presentation of the annual Louise Duncan Lifetime Achievement in the Arts award ceremony. This year’s award honoree was Marilyn Joyce Robertson. Highlighting and closing out the festival on the Kuumba Stage on Sunday was national recording gospel artist – singer, musician and songwriter – Le’Andria Johnson.
Live entertainment does not always get the respect or support it deserves locally and also nationally. And true artists understand that challenge, but do not allow it to deter them from displaying their love of their talent when the opportunity presents itself. This weekend the performers rose to the occasion and proved their commitment to beautiful art of music.
Planning festivals during the summer in the Mile Hi City is always concerning – hoping that Mother Nature will be on its side. And for the most part over the three-day festival it was. However, the weather did take its toll and rained on Eric Darius parade preventing him to perform on stage because of unsafe conditions that included lightening. But the scintillating performer who says, “The key to my success has been the five P’s: practice, persistence, perseverance, patience, and prayer,” did not want to disappoint his fans and leave them hanging provided a short impromptu performance in the VIP tent. He says, “Those are the five P’s that have really laid the groundwork for, where I am today,” but with the adverse weather conditions that were presented we can also add a “C” for courage.
Lastly and certainly not least, for those who were not in attendance for the closing night performance of gospel music standout – you missed the highlight of the festival. The stage was already warmed up from the Restoration Church Christian Fellowship choir who had set the stage by the musical director Jeroan Adams and promoter Bernard Wesley. But for those who did not know the Gospel sensation Le’Andria Johnson, she took the audience by storm performing gospel greats such as “Exodus,” “Jesus,” and melody of some old Christian songs. Setting off her performance and her connecting with the audience was her revelation about her challenges with battling alcoholism and going to jail after reaching stardom. The Sunday’s Best Season Three winner announced she was eight months sober and had one more month to wear the ankle monitor (bracelet) visible on her left leg. She left the stage and walked through the crowd and while singing “Better Days,” she testified touching people in the audience – as many broke down crying, feeling the gospel and her spirit.
As a woman who has faced adversity, Le’Andria Johnson sees “better days” because she has faith, gives love, and shows grit.