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Multifest bringing family friendly festival to downtown Charleston

By Autumn Shelton, WV Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The state’s largest and longest-running multicultural festival, Multifest, is returning to the Capital City this summer. 

Now in its 33rd year, the family friendly festival will take place in downtown Charleston at the Haddad Riverfront Park from Aug. 3 through Aug. 6. This year, the festival will feature four nights of free concerts on the Schoenbaum Stage with some of music’s biggest names. 

On Thursday, the iconic Washington, DC, based go-go E.U. band will take the stage. 

Friday, “Ladies Night,” will feature Keke Wyatt, Sunshine Anderson and rapper Yo-Yo. 

Saturday, typically the festival’s most attended evening, will feature the R&B trio NEXT, Lyfe Jennings, Jon B. and saxophonist Justin Young; and on Sunday gospel recording artist Chrystal Rucker, Gap X The Band and Rapper Yung Joc will perform. 

Additionally, on Thursday, local musicians will be taking the stage to showcase their talent. 

According to Multifest President David Fryson, who is no stranger to the local music scene having once been a drummer for the popular funk group Ebony and The Greek back in the ‘70s, local acts are always welcome to play at Multifest. 

“The Stratus Band, The Unit Band, and the legendary Bob Thompson have all performed,” Fryson noted. 

Although Fryson said that Ebony and The Greek have no current plans to perform, there was “some talk about resurrecting” the band. 

“Who knows?” Fryson said with a laugh. 

Food vendors and merchants will also be lining Kanawha Boulevard to provide festival-goers with the chance to enjoy different cuisines or shop in-between concerts. A “Kidz Zone,” information booths and more will be available at this location as well. 

A three-on-three basketball tournament will take place at the MLK Rec Center on Donnally Street on Saturday, Aug. 5. There will also be a special screening at the Kanawha County Public Library of the film “River of Hope,” which tells the story of how former slave Mary Barnes Cabell and her children founded West Virginia State University. 

Fryson said that the history of the festival, which celebrates diversity and enriches multiculturalism, dates back to a lack of inclusion in the popular Charleston Sternwheel Regatta.

“Thirty-three years ago, Mr. Stephen Starks led a delegation of people to negotiate with the then Sternwheel Regatta about the need to have more diversity,” Fryson said. “At the end of that meeting, which did not go particularly well, Mr. Starks decided that, rather than begging for diversity in the existing institutions, that he would start an institution that was devoted to the idea of diversity and inclusion. That was the year that Multifest started.” 

Fryson was a practicing attorney at that time, and he accompanied Starks to that meeting with the city’s leaders. 

He said the first Multifest was “interesting” in that it was organized in just two weeks with local group, the Stratus Band, taking the helm as the first act to perform. 

“Until 2015, Multifest was held at the Capitol grounds,” Fryson stated. “From the humble beginnings of that very first festival, Multifest continued to grow literally every year. At one point, the Sternwheel Regatta actually went out of business, but over these many years Multifest has always been a summer festival.”

“Everybody from Kool & The Gang to Isaac Hayes and many hip-hop artists, who have now become famous, have graced the stage of Multifest,” he continued. 

Today, Fryson said the best part of Multifest is that there is something for everyone. 

“What Multifest really brings to the Kanawha Valley, to the State of West Virginia, to the greater Charleston area, is this whole idea of bringing in acts that otherwise would not be heard from in the Kanawha Valley. Multifest has dedicated itself to bringing in up-and-coming acts, but also many acts that are established. It brings this idea of diversity into the Charleston area. West Virginia is often not known as being a very diverse state, so it is a very important complement for the Charleston-area.” 

Although Multifest has had a history of ups and downs, Fryson said that it has provided continued stability for those who count on attending year after year. 

“Right now, we are regrowing Multifest and we hope to bring it back to and beyond its former glory,” Fryson said, adding that as a non-profit, help from the community is always appreciated to keep the festival going. 

To learn more about ways to support Multifest, or to learn more about performance times, check out their website www.multifestwv.org or call 304-545-8928. 

Lastly, Fryson said Multifest organizers encourage everyone to come out and support the Charleston Dirty Birds baseball team on Tuesday, Aug. 8, for African American Heritage Night.

“It’s not just for the minority community. It’s for everyone,” Fryson said. “Everyone should come out to support Multifest.”

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