Multifest returns – and grows – in its 33rd year

By Kate Mullaney Shirley, RealWV

The Sternwheel Regatta may have gotten most of Charleston’s attention in July, but it’s not the only summer festival in town. Multifest, a celebration of the community’s diversity, returns for its 33rd year on Thursday. 

Even in a summer full of festivities in the capital city, Multifest is noteworthy. “It’s the oldest, most tenured diversity festival in West Virginia,” said Johnathan Frazier, the festival’s marketing director. 

So, what is Multifest? “It’s a family, it’s a party, it’s community,” said Frazier. The festival, which is free to the public, features musical acts, arts and cultural programming, a wide range of food vendors, and group fitness and educational opportunities. 

Multifest seeks to expand its reach even further beyond the Charleston area to the rest of the state and even the wider region. “We want to be right in line with the state fair and Regatta,” said Frazier. To that end, the festival expanded to four days this year and is offering, for the first time, an after-party with headlining artists on Saturday. (Tickets for this special event are only available in advance on EventBrite.)

Multifest was developed by African-American community leaders in 1989. “Despite Charleston being one of the most diverse cities in the state, and per capita in the country, there was not an African-American cultural festival that catered to the music we – as well as other cultures – appreciate,” said Frazier. “As the largest minority here in West Virginia, we’ve had to share some cultural aspects with the majority. We just want to offer an opportunity for everyone to experience what we have grown up on.”

This year’s festival features an exciting lineup of musical acts, all of which can be found at the Schoenbaum Stage on the Haddad Riverfront. Thursday starts off strong with DC-based E.U. Band, a pioneer in the funk subgenre go-go. Friday night is ladies’ night – get your all-white outfits ready! – with rapper Yo-Yo and R&B singer-songwriters Sunshine Anderson and Keke Wyatt. 

The music continues with funk, soul, and R&B offerings on Saturday from Jon B., Lyfe Jennings, and the 90s R&B trio NEXT. Sunday closes the festival with performances from GAPX THE BAND, prolific gospel artist Chrystal Rucker, and rapper Yung Joc, beloved by millennials for his 2000s hit “It’s Goin Down” and his verse on T-Pain’s “Buy U a Drank”. 

Other groups will perform throughout each day, and there are even opportunities for festival-goers to take the stage in the Multifest Talent Show on Thursday. “It’s a great opportunity to see Black excellence as well as community excellence on display,” Frazier said.

Khandice Lofton, a Charleston transplant who immediately got involved in the local community, cites Multifest as one of her favorite events. “It brings out the music and culture that I love most,” she said. “It is such a special time to be a part of Appalachia and experience this festival; it’s a must-go for everyone.”

Multifest offers more than just music. “There are health care educational opportunities for those that need it and those that want to be educated on the issues that we as minorities face,” Frazier said. Other health and wellness offerings on Saturday include vital checks, COVID-19 vaccination and boosters, and group exercise events like yoga, body combat fitness, and plenty of dance workouts. 

Frazier joined the board this year and is its newest, and youngest, member. “Multifest has made a really strong push to ensure representation at pretty much all age groups,” he said. However, he’s no stranger to the festival.

“I’ve been to pretty much all of them throughout these 33 years”, said Frazier. “I was able to come as a young kid and even perform as a local artist when I was an adult.”

One of his top Multifest memories is when legendary gospel artist Tye Tribbett was scheduled to perform, but transportation issues left him stranded. Rev. Dr. David Fryson, currently Multifest’s president, was a vice president at WVU at the time. “We were able to garner the WVU private jet to bring [Tribbett] in,” Frazier recalled, and added that 25,000-30,000 people attended that performance.

“The festival provides a consistent emphasis on diversity in a not-so-diverse state,” said Frazier. “We love our state and the opportunities we have to share our way of life culturally. We are mountain people, but we are also a robust African-American community that is growing leaps and bounds in West Virginia.”

For a complete lineup of Multifest events, visit multifestwv.org or follow Multifest’s Facebook page.

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