Athens In Harmony 2018

For Immediate Release:

By Pat Priest-Event Director and Founder

Sunday, January 14th, 2018, the return of Athens In Harmony breaking racial barriers through music and community engagement.  Sometimes it seems that blacks and whites in Athens live in parallel universes, never the twain shall meet. Even our celebrated music scene is as segregated as our neighborhoods, churches and friendship networks, though so many of us wish we could meaningfully unite across the divide.

A couple of years ago I attended a rally at City Hall in Athens where a diverse group gathered to protest yet another not-guilty verdict against a police officer who had killed a black citizen somewhere in the United States.

People were bristling with anger, and I was impressed when our new police chief Scott Freeman, a white man, moved through the crowd to introduce himself and another officer to the organizer, Mokah Johnson, co-founder of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. They were all cordial but seemed wary of each other.

I saw the tension, felt the shared despair in the crowd, and thought: Now is the time. I had been meaning to organize an event that would pair some of the best black musicians in town with superb white performers to sing duets, but some other project always came to the fore instead. I contacted Mokah and her husband Knowa, who co-founded the Hip Hop Awards in Athens, and we pulled together a concert we called Athens in Harmony. And aside from all the terrific duets and the fun sing-along at the end to John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance, the best part was that Mokah and the police chief were the spirited emcees of the show. Those two are solid gold together!

I was worried about one thing at the outset: could we pair rappers with singer/songwriter types for some of the duos? For example, we had the dynamite Elite tha Showstoppa performing with chanteuse Caroline Aiken, rapper Squallé with rocker Chris McKay, and Black Nerd Ninja rapping with Bain Mattox, who sings and writes his own songs.

Two reviews of the results came immediately after the concert from my older sisters, in their sixties, who had driven to Athens for the show. They enthused: “That Stop the Show guy and other rappers were fabulous! Wow!” And they had been showstoppers!

But I’ll never forget the other pairings, too. For example, Monique Osorio, a young student at the School of Music, belted out a gospel song with local icon Rosa Thurmond; R&B vocalist Repunza sang “Where is the Love” with Jay Gonzalez of The Drive-by Truckers; and high-voltage singer Reverend Tribble performed with the famed spoken word artist Celest Ngeve. Each song was beautiful and moving; many were protest songs from the 60s and still relevant today. Something magical had happened, and when it was over, no one wanted to leave.

The next Athens in Harmony should be as memorable and probably magical, too, with another stellar line-up that includes rapper Lingua Franca; Mike Mantione of Five-Eight; Laura Carter of Elf Power; gospel singers Sharmar Stevens, Keisha Burgess, Shirlepa Howard-Litwin and Jaclyn Brown; Andrea DeMarcus of Cicada Rhythm; singers Jamon Holt, Seth Hendershot, Dave Marr, Dodd Ferrell, A.T. Martin, and Amanda Kapousouz; Flynne Collins of Nihilist Cheerleader, hip hop artists Kaliko and Minnie Lea; and blues musician Rick Fowler.

My husband Neal and Mokah’s husband Knowa are fine singers, too, but we didn’t want to put them in the first show because it might smack of nepotism. But this year they’ll sing — and dance to! — a classic song by the Temptations.

The concert — with a strong backing band led by Michael Wegner — will be at the Foundry on the Sunday of the Martin Luther King holiday (January 14th at 7 PM). And Chief Freeman and Mokah Johnson will again emcee. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. For more information or to schedule an interview please contact ppriest@charter.net.

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