For its inaugural year in 2018, about 200 musicians and bands applied to perform at the Boston Art and Music Soul Festival, better known as BAMS Festival. The dearth of applicants prompted BAMS Fest founder Catherine Morris to extend the application deadline, in hopes of a bigger pool of artists.
Fast forward to its second year and BAMS Festival, which takes place at Franklin Park on June 22, has received more than 2,500 applications from artists vying for a spot on the community-driven festival's coveted lineup.
"That lets me know that everything that I believe, what I'm fighting for, the world is paying attention. There are people and artists who believe in our mission or vision that want to perform on our stage," Morris said.
Morris created BAMS Fest to elevate often overlooked artists. Rather than simply book musicians, BAMS Festival organizers work with artists to improve their festival applications and promote their work to other local venues and stages. In this way, BAMS Festival — a mission-based and grassroots, free event — stands as an anomaly in the heavily commercialized music festival landscape.
This year, festival organizers narrowed down applicants to 19 performers on two stages. Last year, the festival featured 20 performers, many of which were local acts. This year, 10 of the artists are from Massachusetts. Other artists hail from New Jersey, California, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Alabama.
This year's headliner, Eric Roberson, dubbed the "King of Independent Soul/R&B" has been nominated for two Grammy awards. His career began in Rahway, New Jersey and blossomed over the years to sold-out tours. Another notable performer is the band The Tee-Tones whose sound is infused Doowop, R&B, Motown and Classic Soul.
“Our goal is to amplify and celebrate independent artists, as many as we can,” Morris said. “Our goal at least in the first three years is to get a good pool of different artists and then slowly start to invite back what we call alumni artists.”
Just this week, Berklee College of Music announced a new collaboration with BAMS Fest in lieu of the school's Beantown Festival. The new partnership includes line-up co-curation from Jazz star Terri Lyne Carrington.
Over the course of the next 10 years, Morris plans to build BAMS Fest until there are upwards of eight stages and more than 20,000 people in attendance. Last year 2,000 attended BAMS Festival. Morris wants to expand the festival for a decade and then hopes to pass the reigns to someone else who can keep it relevant and fresh.
"There's going to be a new leader that emerges, that can take BAMS festival to another level by (the) year 2029, and by that time the city would have already changed," she said.
Here's the 2019 BAMS Festival lineup: