A newbie's guide to FunkJazz Kafé 

Insider tips on enjoying the festival's 20th anniversary

HORN OF PLENTY: Eric Fontaine of the Wolf Pack performing at FunkJazz Kafé in 2013.

Troy Strong

HORN OF PLENTY: Eric Fontaine of the Wolf Pack performing at FunkJazz Kafé in 2013.

The FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival may have started as a relatively small gathering of like-minded Atlantans at the Royal Peacock back in 1994, but over the last two decades, the live music-driven, multimedia event, which takes place at the Tabernacle these days, has grown into a one-of-a-kind, internationally recognized happening that's attended by thousands. FunkJazz Kafé founder Jason Orr attributes the growth and longevity of the festival, which showcases some of the best and brightest names in soul, R&B, and hip-hop, to the fact that it continues to fill a void. "Since 1994, we have focused on groups of music enthusiasts that are seldom represented or spoken to, and this audience has responded positively to our efforts to provide a unique brand of entertainment," Orr says while gearing up to mount FJK's three-day 20th-anniversary celebration, which culminates in an evening of performances July 26. "This has allowed us to preserve, sustain, and innovate on our rich cultural arts and musical heritage from around the world and especially from Atlanta."

That said, despite FJK's size, life span, and cultural impact, there are still multitudes who — for a variety of reasons — have never made it out to the festival. Anyone who has been to a FunkJazz Kafé can tell you it's not your typical music festival. So, to bring any and all interested newbies up to speed before they check out the event's upcoming edition, we've compiled a list of insider tips designed to help folks navigate their way through the impending shindig.

Explore

Here's something that new attendees should definitely absorb about FunkJazz Kafé: It's not just a concert. Yes, at one point during the evening, a gaggle of artists will take the stage and belt out songs both new and old, but those performances are designed to serve as the festival's climax. Before that big moment takes place, however, don't sit on your ass or hold up the wall. Dispersed throughout the venue are various specialty rooms: a healing suite, a poetry room, a house party room, and so on. Plus, food and merchandise vendors are on site, and roving performers and DJs are scattered throughout the space as well. Make it your business to explore the totality of FunkJazz Kafé's activities before wrapping things up with a major dose of live music.

Who's performing? Don't ask

Speaking of live music, one of FunkJazz Kafé's most unique factors — which helps set the event apart from almost every other festival in town — is that the identities of its headlining performers are kept a secret until showtime. So, when you buy a ticket to the festival, you are, at least in part, buying blindly. And, no, there won't be any hints or clues leaked to the general public ahead of the show. Of course, past performers who graced FJK's stages have included heavy-hitters such as Janelle Monae, Jill Scott, Bilal, Public Enemy, Talib Kweli, and Eric Roberson, among many others, which means you can rest easy with the knowledge that whoever plays that night will undoubtedly be worth the price of admission.

Don't sleep on the sidemen

While the main stage vocalists are sure to be big talents, the band backing them up is usually made up of musicians who are just as well known and talented. Previous members of the house band include acclaimed Atlanta-based cats such as drummer Lil' John Roberts and DJ Kemit, as well as notable expatriate's such as straight-up global soul legend Carl McIntosh of the group Loose Ends and many others.

This is not the time to be fashionably late

FunkJazz Kafé has historically been a well-attended event, and it's been known to sell out in the past. Consequently, parking can be a real bitch. Spend too much time at home getting cute, and you're setting yourself up for a never-ending search to find a parking space and/or a long, slow march inside. Just come early, and avoid the headaches. Still, if you do find yourself waiting in line, keep in mind that there's a party — complete with costumed stilt walkers, folks waving giant flags, and more— going on in the street before you even set foot in the joint.

Wear comfortable shoes

If you want to get the full FunkJazz Kafé experience, you're gonna be in for a long night ... a long night of, hopefully, shaking your ass. And, honestly, there ain't too many places to sit in the Tabernacle. Those six-inch red bottoms ... or even those pointy toed wing tips? You might want to leave them in the closet, and slip on some Chuck Taylors instead.

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