Henry Street Heritage Festival returns to Elmwood with a bang | Music
Roanoke’s own celebration of blackness is back on the block.
The 32nd Henry Street Heritage Festival will take place in Elmwood Park on Saturday. Dozens of volunteers organized his return after two years of COVID restrictions.
The festival is the primary fundraiser for the Harrison Museum of African American Culture. The museum, located at the Center in the Square, showcases local and regional African American history, as well as a national overview of black culture.
The Henry Street Festival began more than 30 years ago on the thoroughfare of the same name, which since 2004 has been part of a National Historic District. The road is deeply rooted in the African-American culture of southwestern Virginia.
“It was the central place you went to for all the essentials and all the fabulous things,” festival organizer Kianna Price said.
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According to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, “Henry Street, also known as First Street, served as the commercial and entertainment center of the African-American neighborhood of Gainsboro in northwest Roanoke during the first half of the 20th century. century.”
The festival drew over 5,000 people when it started in 1990. Great popularity eventually drew crowds too large for its original home, so organizers moved it to Elmwood Park.
The event has become one of the largest urban festivals in Southwest Virginia and the go-to place for R&B and jazz lovers. Many local and national artists have entertained festival-goers over the decades, and this year organizers went out of their way.
At 7 p.m., the Elmwood Park Amphitheater will host nationally touring artists — New York R&B trio SWV, aka Sisters with Voices, and two-time Soul Train Music Award winner Robin Thicke. Tickets are available online and at the door on Saturday.
The pandemic prevented crowds from staging a proper 30-year celebration in 2020. The following year, still hesitant organizers came up with a scaled-down version. They decided to go all out this year. Entry to the festival will initially be free until 5 p.m.
Free entertainment, beginning at 1 p.m., includes ToNY CaMM & The FUNK Allstars, Ascension Project, Roscoe McFadden & Friends and Macklyn Mosley.
Although COVID restrictions have been eased, organizers are encouraging people to follow health guidelines.
“It’s really like a family reunion, especially after the last two years we’ve had, people haven’t really gotten to see anyone,” Price said. “It’s great to be able to get together and see some familiar faces.”