By : Rory Lambert-Wright
5 min read
A refrain I often hear from my creative peers in Boston is that the city simply doesn’t support its art scene or the people who make it. I’ve always found that the city’s artists and organizers are eager to support each other. But when it comes to the infrastructure urban artists need to thrive, Boston can be lacking. A community of artists with staying power and a strong local identity can’t be cultivated without affordable shows, small and mid-size venues, plenty of studio space, and plenty of materials and resources for artists. These are present in the city — but nowhere near the scale that they should be for a place with such a rich musical history. Boston has several nationally-renowned artistic institutions, from Symphony Hall to the ICA to TD Garden, but what about a place for local performers who haven’t cultivated a national following? Or Bostonians who want establishments that platform artists from their own communities?
Thankfully, there are people who’ve been working on just that for years. Catherine Morris, the organizer of the Boston Art and Music Soul Festival (or BAMS fest) recognized that a rising cost of living, limited venue space, and a cold shoulder from local government had put Black artists looking to flourish in the city in an impossible position. “Boston had a set of racial and economic conditions that made this festival necessary. The question was, why should they stay in a city that doesn’t support them?”
A spoken word artist herself, Catherine had a great deal of experience with the ins and outs of festivals and large-scale events: getting sponsors, vendors, promotion and the like. So after years of planning, in 2018, she and her peers dedicated their skills to organizing the first BAMS fest. Given the barriers that deter many black and brown Bostonians from participating in other events, the results seemed almost too good to be true. Tickets were affordable, the headliners were local, as were most of the other performers and vendors and, based on surveys, festival attendees were roughly 60% black, 78% Boston-area residents, and 80% ages 19–38. This is in sharp contrast to Boston Calling, which trends more white and wealthy. Only in the past couple of years did Boston Calling begin featuring local talent like Cliff Notez and Oompa — who, by the way, were both performers at BAMS fest prior. This festival has clout, and it’s growing.
After a canceled festival in 2020 and a virtual performance series in 2021 due to Covid-19, consider the 2022 BAMS festival a homecoming party of sorts. Many Black institutions either have been floundering since taking an awful blow during the pandemic, or have shuttered completely. BAMS fest will not be one of these — but it’s important that artists and art lovers in the Boston area invest in this loud, proud, unapologetically Black endeavor to ensure its future success. I view attendance and support of this festival as a kind reinvestment in myself as a Black creative, and I hope that attendees this year have an experience with BAMS fest that leaves them feeling the same. The festival will take place at Franklin Park on June 11th, 2022. Expect a chock-full lineup of talented locals and exceptional artists; if you’re a regular reader of the Boston Compass or BCN blog, you’ll probably see some faces you recognize! I hope to see yours there, too. More information can be found at www.bamsfest.org, or @bamsfest on instagram.
— Rory Lambert-Wright
Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #146 May 2022
Check out all the art and columns of May's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass