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St. Louis Arts Leaders Say New Festival Will Support Artists And Boost Music Scene

Katarra Parson released 'Cocoa Voyage' last November.
Tyler Small
Singer/songwriter Katarra Parson will perform at the Music at the Intersection festival in September. The festival will feature performances from more than 60 regional and national artists.

A new music festival coming to St. Louis in September aims to highlight local musicians and get fans back into music venues.

Music at the Intersection will run Sept. 10-12 at six venues in the Grand Center area. The festival will feature more than 60 jazz, R&B, blues, rock and soul musicians from the region and national artists. The festival is presented by the Steward Family Foundation and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation.

“We've historically been known for birthing genres, trendsetting players, and we wanted to build a festival that really celebrated that past, really showcased and highlighted all of our St. Louis favorites today, and then put them next to artists that had a real relationship and a connection to St. Louis,” said Chris Hansen, executive director of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation.

Organizers had planned to kick off the festival last year but postponed it because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hansen said it took shape after years of roundtable discussions with artists, nonprofit leaders, civic leaders and committees.

Among the performers will be singer Lalah Hathaway, jazz singer Gregory Porter, vibraphonist Roy Ayers and jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold. Local musicians booked to perform include jazz singer Anita Jackson, singer/bassist Tonina, singer/keyboardist Katarra and blues performer Marquise Knox.

St. Louis gospel singer Kenny DeShields is looking forward to being in a festival with Hathaway and Porter. He said being able to perform on the same stage as some of the artists he reveres is an honor.

St. Louis needs a large festival to support artists, DeShields said.

“In some capacity, St. Louis has been overlooked in terms of even some of the touring shows,” he said. “This is an opportunity for our city, our local music scene and community to get a chance to support a huge festival right here in our city and in the Midwest and also for other cities to get a chance and see that St. Louis has the space, the artist and the draw for these types of performances.”

Kenny DeShields is ready to release his debut album, "The Real Love Project." DeShields has been working on the album for 10 years and plans to release the record in May.
Bailey Elizabeth Rogers
St. Louis-based gospel singer Kenny DeShields will perform at the Music at the Intersection festival in September.

Hansen said the festival will maintain some socially distant seating and ask guests to wear masks.

The arrival of Music at the Intersection comes at a pivotal time for the St. Louis music scene, which is still recovering from the loss of LouFest. Its organizers canceled the annual festival in 2018.

Hansen said the fall festival isn’t meant to take the place of LouFest but can serve as a new way to highlight the region’s local music scene, especially as the pandemic has shuttered local venues and eliminated a source of revenue for many artists.

“What we saw in a LouFest falling and many venues closing and all these challenges that arts are facing is that we have to have events like this that are sustainable, that have good business practice that have strong civic support, strong corporate support, and that are rooted in something that is more than making money,” Hansen said. “It is not a replacement, but it is absolutely something that St. Louis deserves, and it deserves to be stewarded with care, with responsibility and with including the artists, and the industry that are here.”

Hansen said that before the pandemic, musicians in the St. Louis region did not have enough support, a troubling sign in a community that has produced many great performers. He said regional leaders hope Music at the Intersection and future programs will improve the area’s musical fortunes.

The Intersection will be hosted in venues throughout Grand Center, the Big Top, the Sheldon Concert Hall, the Grandel Theatre, Jazz St. Louis, the Open Air tent and the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Fox officials said planning the festival has been a challenge due to changing health guidelines to prevent the coronavirus from spreading and with rebooking artists who are performing for other events.

“Anytime you're trying to put together something of this nature, there's a lot of moving pieces, obviously, with 60-plus artists and multiple venues, and then you throw into that everybody shut down for a while, and you don't really know if you're going to be able to do business or not,” said Jim Downey, executive director of MetroTix, “it becomes very much a moving target.”

Hansen said he wants to see St. Louis become a music-centric city again.

“We were definitely not producing the level of festivals, we were not supporting our music industry in the way that it deserved, and that's changing,” Hansen said. “We can start to attract industry here, we can make jobs, we could have famous artists that don't think they have to move to New York, and all these other places to make a living and build a career and be noticed. St. Louis has historically had that, we just haven't nurtured it the way we should, and I think we're ready to now.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.