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In its second year, Music at the Intersection in St. Louis will get bigger and louder

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Chris Hansen, executive director at the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, on Monday outside the Big Top in Midtown. The venue on Washington Avenue will host Music at the Intersection’s main stage next month.

During the inaugural Music at the Intersection festival last year, it was clear something big was going on in Grand Center. Music fans packed restaurants and wandered around the neighborhood.

But festival producers weren’t able to get permits for big, outdoor concerts because of the coronavirus pandemic, so the shows were all indoors. The Fabulous Fox Theatre, Jazz St. Louis and the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries hosted performances with audience capacity strictly limited to 25% of the seats.

This year will be bigger and louder.

“We wanted to see it happen last year, but this year we get to bring St. Louis a real full-fledged festival,” Kranzberg Arts Foundation Executive Director Chris Hansen said, “something that is of the same scale as the major festivals all over the country that people enjoy going into, but that was deeply rooted in St. Louis's footprint on the American Songbook.”

The two-day festival, which kicks off next Friday, will feature three fully outdoor stages plus the Big Top, more than 40 local vendors and live art-making. Top acts scheduled to perform include Eryka Badu, Gary Clark Jr., Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington and Oteil Burbridge & Friends.

It will be preceded next Thursday and Friday by the mini-music conference Intersessions, led by music industry professionals. Conference sessions are free to attend.

Organizers expect 7,000 to 10,000 people to attend the two days of music. And beyond the total attendance, Hansen said he has specific goals about audience makeup: He’d like to see women comprise about half of the crowd, and for African Americans to make up 40% or more of all concertgoers.

Many cultural happenings in and around Grand Center lack that level of diversity.

“We hope everyone sees themselves here, and we're going to bring St. Louis together,” Hansen said. “That's what we need to do.”

Sounds like St. Louis

The festival’s lineup has a strong St. Louis flavor, including tributes to music greats from the region. Next Saturday, St. Louis-raised Seviin Li will perform a set in honor of Tina Turner, who moved to St. Louis as a teenager and got her start in the business here.

In a showcase devised by Jazz St. Louis Artistic Director Bob Bennett, a group of jazz musicians led by Adaron “Pops” Jackson will play a tribute to drummer Montez Coleman of East St. Louis, who died in January. In one of the festival’s final sets, Lady J Huston will lead a 10-piece group of fellow alumni from the band of Albert King, who lived in Lovejoy, Illinois, while he came to fame developing his blistering guitar style in the blues clubs of 1950s St. Louis.

The festival is filled with enough blues, soul, funk and jazz to display the strong imprint of the great Black artists who built the legacy of St. Louis music.

“I don't think you can tell a story about St. Louis music without understanding that as a black story,” Hansen said. “St. Louis and African Americans artists have created, fostered and stewarded these great genres — so that the rest of the world, now, can celebrate and play them. So this is a real story of that history.”

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Music at the Intersection Festival
Hundreds of festivalgoers wait outside of the Big Top on Washington Avenue during a recent Music at the Intersection festival.

But first, let’s talk

The two-day Intersessions conference is a new addition to the Music at the Intersection weekend. Sessions are geared for working musicians and other professionals in creative fields.

“I think that there’s kind of a void in St. Louis of conferences or thought leadership around the creative space,” said Sam Foxman, president and cofounder of local event production firm Eventiv, who was a key conference planner. ”We don’t really have a conference or a yearly thing that would allow people to gather and learn.”

Music industry professionals will lead sessions and workshops on topics such as how musicians can maximize exposure on YouTube and the intersection of music, technology and commerce.

Many of the conference events are focused on artist development, said Carl Nappa, a Boston native who moved to St. Louis at Nelly’s request to become the rapper’s personal recording engineer.

“I interface with a lot of younger people who are like, ‘Hey, I really want to go to that Grammy event you’re throwing, but I feel kind of uncomfortable. I’m like, 'Don’t feel uncomfortable. Everyone wants to talk to you,'" said Nappa, who will lead a discussion about working in recording studios. “So the idea is to get people to come in and feel comfortable being around industry professionals.”

At St. Louis Recording Club, his recording studio on the Hill, Napa works with many local musicians. He also is chair of the audio aesthetics and technology department at Webster University.

“The whole idea is to continue to create a sense of community here for the music and arts community,” Napa said. “We have the talent, but we have very little infrastructure. And we don't have the sense of helping each other out. I think there's a lot of people trying to do that and doing it really well, but we just need to come together a little tighter.”

Conference organizers aim to make it an annual event, with plans to charge for entry next year. Hansen said the music festival is also built to last.

“This could be one of the most important economic generators for the arts that exists in 20 or 30 years,” Hansen said. “It's also part of civic pride and just loving your city and wanting to be out celebrating it.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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