For live-music lovers, there couldn’t be a better time to live in Richmond. Almost every night of the week you can find a fantastic show or dance party at a venue, bar or DIY space. But in the midst of Richmond’s music-renaissance, many notice as the scene rallies behind the same musicians, venues and styles of music without expanding the playing field to new people and ideas.
Enter Nu Richmond Fest, a two-day event designed to confront homogeneity in the local scene with an inclusive lineup and truly DIY ethos. Focusing on QTPOC artists from Richmond and beyond, this event is the first of its kind in the city.
Nu Richmond is the brainchild of Jafar Flowers and Christian Something of Ice Cream Support Group, and Chris Harper of Crystal Palace. We spoke with the organizers about how Nu Richmond came together, their inspiration for the festival and what to look forward to this weekend.
Before we dive into the festival, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves individually?
Chris Harper: My name is Chris Harper, and I book and promote shows at Crystal Palace. I also perform under the name DJ Pawn Shop Shawty. I’ve been really inspired by the QPOC artists around me who are really active in organizing and creating space for other QPOC in Richmond.
Christian Something: I’m a coder, formally, who wants to make art, create software and build worlds. I went to school thinking I wanted to code for someone else for the rest of my life and then I ended up just getting into photography. Now I create many different things.
Jafar Flowers: I’m a poet, writer and actor. I don’t think those things will ever leave me. However, as I started living in Richmond when I went to school here, I became way more active in organizing my own events/parties and becoming devoted to how I could use my skills to help with the black activism locally.
What was initial idea that inspired Nu Richmond, and what were your individual goals while organizing it? Were you inspired by any particular people or events to put this on?Was there anything you wanted to do differently with this fest than other DIY events you’ve seen around?
CH: I really wanted to see all the artists I’ve been following in Richmond all year have a platform to celebrate the work they’ve been putting in, especially the QPOC artists. I came to Jafar and Christian with an idea for a festival, and they had already been thinking the same thing. So we decided to join forces. Honestly Jafar and Christian are two of my biggest inspirations. Along with Lucky, Jasmin and Kotone who started 3 Moons and Heaven, Zaira and Mars who ran Rock Bottom. All of these people and spaces gave me a drive and direction I didn’t have previously; I’ve grown a hell of a lot because of them. They’ve helped build such a supportive and creative community, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
CS: Our series of daily events in July was definitely was inspired by BUFU from Brooklyn, which had done events all July a year or two ago. Healing, skill-building, discussions and more. No one in Richmond was hosting events that I felt like going to, and no one would be crazy enough to do it. So we did it.
MACROCK in Harrisonburg was the spark for Nu Richmond. So many people from Richmond felt like MACROCK was the right direction, but Richmond could do it too. Too much rock at D.I.Y fests in Richmond, not enough panels, movies, networking, fun, rap, DJ-ing, skill-building, etc. A lot of the fests don’t have people who look like me running it either or are inclusive to people other than white dudes. Or just like not fitting in at events.
JF: The spark for Nu Richmond for me happened after MACROCK. Christian, Heaven and I were driving back to Richmond, and we were talking about how cool it would be to make a DIY music festival happen in Richmond. We had the space, we had the people and we wanted to see everyone who has been putting work into their music and their craft be celebrated within our own city. Soon after, Chris Harper, who also attended MACROCK, hit up Christian and I and said that he wanted to put on a DIY festival this summer too. So we decided that we’d jump in and do it together.
I, personally, had multiple inspirations: festival lineups that also featured the out of town artists that are playing at Nu Richmond and Mackrock obviously was as well. I just personally wanted to see a festival where it was people of color. Queer folks. Femmes. I feel like there’s so much talent in Richmond, and I really wanted to see that talent be showcased, no if ands or butts. I wanted it to be a place where people could feel represented, inspired and safe.
Can you tell us about some of the touring and local artists you are excited to host at Nu Richmond?
CS: Some of the artists from outside of Richmond have either performed here before or we met at MACROCK. They are very good at what they do, and we love them. Additionally, the whole point of the fest was to give the underexposed artists and performers a platform. These artists are our friends! Richmond doesn’t know what they have, and anyone who wants to know what our scene is going to look like in the future should look right here. Everybody is down with the movement, the artists love it. This isn’t just a fest: this is telling everyone you can go organize your own stuff and have fun with your friends.
CH: I’m especially excited about the DJ’s we have coming from out of town, DJ Haram and DJ Sissy Elliot. Both times I’ve seen them were transformative experiences for me as a DJ.
JF: The out of town artists are :3LON, Joy Postell and TRNSGNDR/VHS who live in Baltimore, DJ Haram who lives in Philly and Baby Grill from DC. I was actually the one who ran communications with the out of town artists. It was definitely a learning process because it was my first time organizing something this big of scale. I’m really appreciative that I had Chris and Christian to offer advice. The acts from out of town are all very professional artists, so it made the process much easier. I was actually surprised at the amount of things that I learned about being the point of communications, information and relations for the festival.
Setting up an email and doing everything through that so that every artist knew what was going on and keeping everyone on the same page for the sake of transparency. Setting up a schedule and Google docs (with the help of Christian and Chris) so we could keep track of everything. It turned into me seeing myself in this role for future events and other projects.
Now that the festival is coming up this weekend, it’s very surreal to see the artists that inspired me playing at this thing we dreamed up because I was the one asking them if they wanted to play, setting up how they were getting here and asking about accommodations. I also had the gift of getting advice and help from Judy (stage name Baby Grill) because they’ve done so much formative work for MACROCK in the past.
As for the people that already live in Richmond, I was happy to also realize that I’m on a very good friendship level and professional level with every in town act on the bill. These are all people that I’ve shared space with throughout my 3 years here, and it’s wild to see how far everyone has come. I was able to reach out, meet up and give them everything they needed. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to do that.
What are the upsides and downsides of hosting the event at two DIY spaces instead of one or two venues?
JF: The amount of control and autonomy we have over the festival, how we’re running everything and keeping the venue a safer space is important. But sound equipment and lights are expensive. We reached out to local venues and didn’t get a response, so we buckled down and decided to do it ourselves. Honestly, I’m happy that this is the way it’s turning out. This is by us and for us, and it’s DIY to the core.
CH: Well I really like the intimate atmosphere that DIY venues offer, as well as having more control over decor and vibes. At a venue we would have more space, but we don’t expect that to be a problem this year.
CS: We did try to book venues to no avail. Upsides are being able to give legitimacy to D.I.Y spaces, freedom with times and overall comfort. Downsides are potential cleanup, size and not having a ton of money for a cool sound system.
Do you hope to bring Nu Richmond back for a second year?
JF: It’s been really amazing and formative for me to bring the acts that I saw and appreciated a couple of years ago back to Richmond. I saw :3LON and DJ Haram play about two years ago at Crystal Palace, and I think about how formative that night was for me to pursue the things I was interested in with my full heart. I’m also glad that it’s showed me how much I like the role of communicating with other artists and booking people to get something big together. Next year, I want to book even more of my friends, and go even harder.
CS: We essentially started planning this May-ish (exact date: May 8th, 11:28AM). And it’s stressful for sure, but it worth it. And doing it this year makes doing another one easier. I really want to do it again because I want more artists across Richmond and outside too. And I want a bigger venue.
CH: The experience has honestly been really fun. Jafar, Christian and I work well together and bounce off each other really well. Organizing has been really gratifying for me, and I’m super hype to do it again next year!
On August 25th and 26th Ice Cream Support Group, 3 Moons and Crystal Palace present Nu Richmond Fest.
Tickets are $7 per day pre-sale and $9 per day at door.
To find out more about the schedule and artists performing, visit the Facebook event page here.