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BAMS Fest returns to Franklin Park

Festival centers around Black and brown artists

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
BAMS Fest returns to Franklin Park
BAMS Fest 2023 PHOTO: KBARBERPHOTOGRAPHY

Banner Arts & Culture Sponsored by Cruz Companies

Boston Art & Music Soul Festival (BAMS Fest), the only Boston music festival designed to specifically highlight Black and brown artists, is back this month with a lineup of national and local names featuring BJ the Chicago Kid, Rapsody, Xavier Omär, Elle Varner and many more. This sprawling two-day music festival in Franklin Park has become a beloved summer tradition among Bostonians.

A performance at BAMS Fest 2023. PHOTO: KBARBERPHOTOGRAPHY

In addition to more than 30 musical artists on the main stage, the festival has a Beat Feet Dance program, where attendees can learn Afro-diasporic dance styles from local choreographers; a Vendor Village of local Black-owned businesses, curated by Black Owned Bos.; and Soul Food Row, a curated selection of food trucks dishing out jollof rice and fried chicken to energize the dance moves.

“Discovery is huge,” says BAMS Fest founder Catherine T. Morris. “[Festivalgoers] enter into a green space and they are transformed, they are empowered, they are encouraged, they feel the love, it does feel soulful. And that their own perception about our city, historically, is changed … in a positive way.”

New to the festival this year is Kidchella, a stage featuring local youth musicians ages 14 to 22, intended to highlight the next generation of BAMS Fest artists. This stage was made in partnership with Beat the Odds Boston, the Josh Kraft Mattapan Teen Center, Zumix and 617Peak.

Enjoying the music at BAMS Fest 2023. PHOTO: KBARBERPHOTOGRAPHY

The Rep Your City visual art program will also have a fresh spin. Since 2018, BAMS Fest has had regional artists make and showcase work during the festival. This year, three artists will create work live, paying homage to Boston, and visitors can view an exhibition of 14 works collected by the festival over the years. The exhibition artworks are for sale and 75% of the proceeds go directly to the artists.

Roxbury native singer-songwriter Karim, self-dubbed “The Last Roxburian,” will perform at BAMS Fest for the first time this year. Karim’s music blends years of influence from jazz, R&B, hip-hop, gospel, classical and more. He also uses fashion and textiles to make a statement, working with local designers and shops like Lola and Clothes by Tomo.

Fun for everyone at BAMS Fest 2023. PHOTO: KBARBERPHOTOGRAPHY

Festivals like BAMS Fest are important, Karim says, “Because a lot of local artists don’t get the platform that they deserve. And there’s so much talent in the area, but it gets looked over a lot, especially in the more inner city parts. People don’t even think there’s Black people here, but we make 25% of the city.”

BAMS Fest has consistently grown since its inception in 2018. Morris expects between 10,000 and 15,000 attendees this year. Though the Franklin Park festival is the headlining event of the BAMS Fest organization, it’s hardly the group’s only cultural contribution to Boston. The organization hosts between 30 and 50 additional concerts and events throughout the year.

Art-making at BAMS Fest 2023. PHOTO: KBARBERPHOTOGRAPHY

BAMS Fest’s big event this year takes place Saturday, June 29 from 12–9 pm, and Sunday, June 30 from 12–8 pm at the Franklin Park Playstead field. The site is near the Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park, where in 1966, Elma Lewis began the tradition of featuring Black performers. Nearly 60 years later, BAMS Fest and other summer concerts continue that tradition.

The festival has been and continues to be free and open to the public. But the organization is adopting a pay-what-you-can model for entry, so that the event can continue to be accessible to all while attendees with the resources can help support the BAMS Fest mission.

“BAMS Fest is an organization that really is on the frontlines of fighting for some very important things, especially through an arts and culture lens, so that everyone benefits and that they just have fun,” says Morris. “It’s OK, let your hair down, you have permission to be your authentic self. You have permission to bring your alter ego to the festival.”

arts, BAMS Fest, Boston festivals, Catherine T. Morris, Franklin Park, music