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The Garfield Avenue Blues, Jazz, Gospel & Arts Festival

American Music and a Milwaukee Tradition

Jul. 17, 2008
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Since 1998, the Garfield Avenue Festival has shined a spotlight on local music while dishing out some of the best soul food in the city. After modest beginnings as a blues festival, the free event has grown each year, offering more food vendors, more street performers, more visual artists, more activities and demonstrations for young children and more music. The festival, which runs from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 19 on Garfield Avenue between 4th and 7th streets, now attracts about 15,000 people a year.

New this year is a DJ stage, but the focus is still on traditional, blues- and jazz-derived American music, so it’s only fitting that this year’s event honors Harvey Scales, for years a fixture of the local R&B scene with his group, the Seven Sounds. Scales, who takes home the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award, co-wrote Johnnie Taylor’s hit single “Disco Lady” as well as tracks for artists like the O’Jays and The Dramatics and, in more recent years has been an influence on rap artists like M.C. Hammer, Pete Rock and Beanie Sigel. He’ll perform with members of the Seven Sounds.

In a 2006 interview with the Shepherd, festival coordinator Andre Lee Ellis, a longtime fixture of the local African American arts and theater scene, said the festival largely draws adult music fans from around the city and families from the neighborhood, but teenagers can learn a lot from the musicians performing.

“We don’t want our youth to grow up thinking that hip-hop is the only thing out there,” Ellis said. “That music came from something that came before, it came from jazz and the blues. Our youth needs to have a better understanding of history, and this festival contributes to that.”

Although patrons from all over MilwaukeeCounty visit the Garfield Avenue festival, including many from the East Side, Ellis lamented that some people might be reluctant to attend the event because of its location, despite the event’s long history as a safe, inclusive event.

“Everything that happens in this area is negative if you watch the media,” he said. “They present it as a hood or a ghetto, and so people are scared to come here. But this Bronzeville area, especially the HalyardPark neighborhood, is one of the most beautiful areas of the entire city. If you come here, you can park your car and walk around and do all sorts of things.”

Ellis is disappointed with how the media depicts the neighborhood by reporting on crime while largely ignoring the community and how it works together.

“This is one of the lowest crime areas in the African American community of Milwaukee,” said Ellis, who grew up in the neighborhood and now owns Andre’s bar on Seventh and Garfield. “I know this area all too well, and it’s never been an out of control area. The only thing that’s really changed is that the people who live here get better and better every year, but they don’t show this on television.”

This year’s line-up is characteristically full:

The Jazz Stage
3rd Street & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive

12:00-2:00 pm    Somethin' Unique
2:00-5:00  pm     Adekola & Company featuring Berkeley Fudge
5:00-8:00  pm     Untitled featuring dawn

The DJ Stage
4th Street & Garfield Avenue

12:00-2:00 pm   J. Town
2:00-4:00  pm    Rock Dee
4:00-6:00  pm    Chris Levy
6:00-8:00 pm     Cecil Negron Jr. featuring Cache' (Salsa Music)

The R&B Stage
5th Street & Garfield Avenue

12:00-2:00 pm  Ms. La & the Band
2:00-5:00 pm    Joe Jordan featuring Soul Trio
5:00-8:00 pm   Duchie Rodgers featuring Black Earth Plus

The Children's Area
The playground of Garfield Street School on 5th & Garfield

12:00-2:00 pm  The HYPE Cheer and Dance Team
2:00-6:00  pm   Radio Disney and Street Jam
(The Milwaukee Public Theatre plus the Double Dutch Divas will be presenting throughout the day in the Children's Area)

The Main Stage
6th Street & Garfield Avenue
Hosted by Andrea Williams of Jammin' 98.3

12:00-1:00 pm  The Opening Ceremony
1:00-2:00 pm  Rodney Cunningham & Company
2:00-3:00 pm  The Unity Gospel House of Prayer Mass Choir
3:00-4:00 pm  The Roselette Dancers
4:00-5:00 pm  Jammin' 98.3 Car Giveaway & the Direct Supply Inc. Youth Talent Competition winners
5:00-6:30 pm  Jeannie Holliday & Company
6:30-8:00 pm  The Legendary Harvey Scales & Company featuring the Seven Sounds

The Blues Stage
7th Street & Garfield Avenue

12:00-2:00 pm  One One
2:00-4:00 pm  The Paul Curtis Band
4:00-6:00 pm  The Pressure Release Band
6:00-8:00 pm  The Misfits


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