Lincolnville Heritage Festival promotes cultural togetherness

By Emily Hoover |
Contributions by Rob Henrich and Brian Warner
Photos By Phillip C. Sunkel IV

As temperatures dropped on St. Francis field in downtown St. Augustine last weekend, visitors of the Lincolnville Heritage Festival warmed their shivering bodies with fresh hot chocolate, coffee, music and soul food.

What began as a Saturday block party on Washington Street in 1979 has transformed, 30 years later, into a city-wide festival for both tourists and locals. This year the festival featured acts like Percy Sledge, who wrote the hit song “When a Man Loves a Woman,” as well as funk legends Kool and the Gang and R&B trio Boys II Men. Comedian Michael Winslow, famous for his sound effects in films like “Police Academy,” served as emcee for the three day event.

Comedian Michael Winslow

“This year is a major step [for the festival],” Vice-Mayor Errol Jones said. “It wasn’t big enough where it was. To keep it going, we had to move it [to St. Francis Field].”

Jones said that the festival bounced back and forth between The Galimore Center on Riberia Street and Washington Street over the past three decades. The festival moved to outside Lincolnville because of heavy booking for popular acts, as well as artist accommodation and tour bus parking issues. But Jones said the move was not a bad thing.

“We don’t have the best of weather,” he said, “Floridians aren’t used to this weather. But, we’ve got the local community and we’ve drawn tourists as well. Boys II Men is the major act, so we’ve got people coming from Orlando, Daytona and Gainesville.”

Friday night’s festivities began at 5 p.m. with The Jazz Ambassadors of the US Army Field Band and the Florida Memorial Gospel Choir from Miami. Visitors huddled around vendor booths, sampling a variety of food—from soul food, to Chinese food, to avocado tacos and black bean soup. Adults enjoyed art exhibits and clothing vendors while children rode ponies and ate cotton candy.

Kool & The Gang

Kool and the Gang lit up the stage with memorable performances of “Cherish the Love,” “Ladies Night,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebration,” which caused the crowd to rise to their feet.

For Joy Dennis, a soul singer from Jacksonville who performed on Saturday afternoon, the festival centered on togetherness.

“This festival celebrates the heritage of St. Augustine as well as music,” she said. “It’s about coming together, which means a lot wherever you go.”

Dennis said she was invited to the festival after playing Funk Fest in Jacksonville last May. She said she opened for Babyface and Slick Rick the same weekend she released her album and said she has been “creating a buzz” since choosing to sing professionally in 2007.

Dennis, who cites Jill Scott, Joss Stone and Erykah Badu as primary musical influences, she said she admires any artist with a soul and passion for their craft.

“The crowd was beautiful,” she said. “The participation was wonderful. I love the energy of everyone coming together for music.”

She said she enjoys singing about life experiences, “the good, bad and ugly,” because it allows her to “help someone else through song.”

In addition to coming together for music, the Flagler Students in Free Enterprise club participated in the festival through an art exhibit created by local artists and St. Johns County elementary school students called “Let’s Can Hunger.” SIFE joined with Second Harvest North Florida, an organization that pledges to fight poverty through food and clothing donations to spread awareness about the hunger issue in St. Augustine.

“The Lincolnville Heritage Festival is purely about the African-American heritage,” Emily Marcellus, president of SIFE, said. “We have a rich African-American history [in St. Augustine] as well as a deep civil rights history.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Legend Percy Sledge

Events like this brings light to that.”

The exhibit, which was located near the festival gates, featured paintings depicting hunger from the perspective of the artists. The club provided interested people with literature about the project as well as Second Harvest.

“[The community sees] Lincolnville as the poor part,” SIFE member Spencer Carr said. “We did a feed day at St. Francis and made the people of Lincolnville dinner. We’re targeting them and we’re considering working with those in West Augustine as well.”

Although the Lincolnville Heritage Festival celebrated culture as well as heritage, Marcellus said that the festival allowed SIFE to highlight a cause that people don’t know about.

“There’s still economic segregation here,” she said. “This is the nation’s oldest city and we have the nation’s oldest problem.”

As Ocala based blues singer Willie Green played most of his Saturday afternoon set from the pit, amongst the audience,

Boyz II Men

he said that “the audience is what keeps musicians going.” Blues singer Guitar Shorty and Percy Sledge expressed similar sentiments, complimenting the audience on their sense of community.

The Boys II Men performance generated nostalgia for the audience as they sang lyrics from the hit songs “End of the Road” and “I’ll Make Love to You.”

Sunday’s events included a family worship center and eager performances from One Voice Gospel Choir, The Lee Boys and The Blind Boys of Alabama.

Even though proceeds from the festival benefits American Legion post 194 and gives support to literature and artifacts for Fort Mose—remnants of a Spanish wooden fort which housed freed African-American slaves—Jones said that the festival caters towards a younger audience.

“Artists like Kool and the Gang and The Mamas and The Papas spoke about peace and love,” Jones said. “They acknowledged the issues that face this country and they spoke not to just Black America, but to all of us. We want to bring a little bit of yesterday to the younger generation so they can spread the message and see those who came before them.”

Boyz II Men

According to Jones, future plans for Lincolnville Heritage Festival include booking more legendary artists-he mentioned trying to book Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder or Al Green—as well as a popular artist for the current generation. He said that he is working with the county to fund the restoration of the Galimore Center pool and plans to create new curbing, sidewalk and road re-paving projects for Lincolnville, specifically Riberia Street.

“There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of community life,” Jones said. “[In terms of Lincolnville Heritage Festival], we only see ourselves as going up.”

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