Last fall, ever-busy Milwaukee musicians Jay Anderson and Chauntee Ross launched the inaugural Strange Fruit Music Festival. Inspired by the then-recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the three-day, three-venue, talent-loaded fest set out to explore “the thoughts and emotions of local musicians, regarding the current climate of racial relations both in Milwaukee and the country as a whole.” The fact that Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood exploded the Saturday night of Strange Fruit only highlighted the importance of the festival and its message.
Fast-forward a little more than a year later, and racial relations at home and across the country are even more precarious. Enter the return of Strange Fruit: Once again organized by Anderson and friends, the fest will feature a host of Milwaukee artists spread out over three days (August 30 – September 1) and three venues (Washington Park Bandshell, Gibraltar MKE, Company Brewing). Anderson intends to make the festival an annual event.
“We have Nazi riots in the middle of the country, we still have people of color being gunned down or subjected to the new Jim Crow laws, and not to mention we have a president in office who openly supports and defends these things,” says Anderson in a press release. “In this type of environment the Strange Fruit festival will exist as an annual event highlighting the conversation, the emotions, and the progression forward, through music, art, poetry, and conversation.”
The full lineup and press release are below:
Wednesday, August 30
The Diaspora Orchestra @ Washington Park Bandshell
Thursday, August 31 @ Gibraltar MKE
Mikey Cody Apollo
Bo & Airo
No Seat Belts
Friday, September 1 @ Company Brewing
Dasha Kelly Hamilton + Still Waters Collective
Kevin Hayden Band
David Wake Quintet
Black And Mad
Official Strange Fruit Music Festival vendors
Lilo Allen with Papyrus & Charms
Mikey Cody Apollo with House Of Renji
MILWAUKEE, WI – Now in its second year, The Strange Fruit Music Festival returns to explore the thoughts and emotions of local musicians regarding the current climate of racial relations in Milwaukee and the country as a whole. The Strange Fruit Project is a collaboration of musicians and other artists as they create live performance art to inspire change regarding race relations in Milwaukee and across the United States.
The Strange Fruit Music Festival echoes the sentiments of Leonard Bernstein in response to the murder of John F. Kennedy: “We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime. But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
Last year’s Strange Fruit Music Festival was created in response to the back-to-back murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Chauntee Ross, of the duo SistaStrings, invited friends to her house to discuss what they, as artists, could do to counter the rising violence against young Black men. It became an impromptu cooking and clearing experience, a communal meal where the group not only broke bread as a family unit but also joined creative forces. As musician Jay Anderson helped Chauntee’s sister and musical partner Monique Ross cook the greens, fry the chicken and bake the cornbread, they discussed the importance and responsibility of educating their own community but also neighboring communities who have limited understanding of and connection to multiple positive and creative representations of people of color.
Last Years Festival was an amazing insight into how many people in milwaukee and the rest of the musical community wanted to trust each other, learn together, and grow together. The festival creators felt it necessary to follow up the first year’s Strange Fruit simply because progress regarding the racial climate in the Nation generally and Milwaukee specifically is progressing at a glacial speed, and could be argued is actually regressing.
“We have Nazi riots in the middle of the country, we still have people of color being gunned down or subjected to the new Jim Crow laws, and not to mention we have a president in office who openly supports and defends these things. In this type of environment the strange fruit festival will exist as an annual event highlighting the conversation, the emotions, and the progression forward, through music, art, poetry, and conversation,” said Anderson, Founder of VoodooHoney Records. Working with an almost completely new roster of musicians this year We look forward to having other join us in this effort to promote the world our music deserves to live in.