FolkWorld #77 03/2022
© Devon Léger (Hearth Music)

Across the Western Ocean

Fort Worth African American Roots Music Festival

“We have been there since the beginning of this music”

Fort Worth African American Roots Music Festival - March 19, 2022. New Festival Explores Blackness in American Roots Music.

Fort Worth will be the epicenter of a historic live music festival when award-winning artists from across the country convene for the Fort Worth African American Roots Music Festival (FWAAMFest) on March 19, 2022. It is the only major city festival in the nation focused on the genres of old-time, jug band, early blues and jazz music that is Black-led and showcases Black performers. Produced by Decolonizing the Music Room, a nonprofit that works to center Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian voices in music education and related fields, the event will be hosted at Southside Preservation Hall from noon-10 p.m.

Kaia Kater

Artist Video Kaia Kater @ FROG

“There are few old-time music festivals in our region of the country,” said Brandi Waller-Pace, Founder and Executive Director of Decolonizing the Music Room. “Typically, you have to travel quite a distance to experience this type of music; especially to hear the caliber of artists who are performing at this event.”

Headliners at FWAAMFest include Grammy award-winning musician Justin Robinson and JUNO-nominated artist Kaia Kater, as well as Steve Martin Banjo Prize recipient Jake Blount - who claimed top honors at the prestigious Appalachian String Band Music Festival and whose research has been shared at the Smithsonian Institution and Yale University.

Event organizer Waller-Pace was able to attract such top-tier musicians to perform at FWAAMFest because they share her vision and commitment to expand awareness about the Black roots of old-time music. The sound of old-time music is considered by many to be quintessentially American, yet the extensive Black influence - from the creation of the banjo and fiddle traditions to the roots of social dances performed alongside the music - is not widely talked about.

Jake Blount

Artist Video Jake Blount @ FROG

“We have been there since the beginning of this music, yet there is little to no representation in the large music festivals that cater to this genre,” said Waller-Pace. “We aim to change that.”

FWAAMFest premiered online in 2021. Waller-Pace envisioned the event placing Fort Worth in the vanguard bringing awareness to the oft-forgotten presence of blackness in this piece of America’s musical history.

“I have a passion for music making, racial equity and highlighting marginalized and erased narratives,” said Waller-Pace. “Creating our own spaces is really valuable, when we look at the history of places where Black people could safely go and accessibility. Now we have something in our city that provides more accessibility. For a community that says it wants to be more inclusive, celebrating music with accurate representation of the contributions by Black people is key.”

As a first-of-its-kind festival, FWAAMFest will broaden the local music scene in Fort Worth. It can also impact tourism and the local economy by becoming a landmark event for the traditional music community. Well-known old-time festivals in other regions have a history of drawing visitors from across the country.

Fort Worth African American Roots Music Festival (FWAAMFest) is the first-ever major city festival in the nation for early American traditional music (including styles such as old-time, jug band, string band, early blues, and jazz) that is Black-led and Black-centered. It is part of the programming of Decolonizing the Music Room, a nonprofit based in Fort Worth, Texas. The festival was created to broaden the local music scene and put the city on the map among traditional music circles, bringing awareness to blackness in American roots music. FWAAMFest debuted online in 2021.

Decolonizing the Music Room is a nonprofit that uses research, training and discourse to center BBIA (Black, Brown, Indigenous and Asian) voices, knowledge and experiences in music education and related fields. Through its work it aims to disrupt the minimization and erasure of non-dominant cultures and identities to build a more equitable future. Decolonizing the Music Room was founded by Brandi Waller-Pace in 2019.

Photo Credits: (1) Fort Worth African American Roots Music Festival, (2) Kaia Kater, (3) Jake Blount (unknown/website).

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