Goombay!, a late-summer festival staple for 24 years, has seen its fair share of changes. In fact (unlike corn-dog and rock-band-happy Bele Chere), the smaller, community-centered Goombay! has spent two-and-a-half decades not only working to unite cultures and races, but seeking its own identity as an event.
According to former YMI Cultural Center Executive Director Rita Martin, the first Goombay! in Asheville was “only about 10 vendors, and it happened right outside the YMI Center.” The Goombay Journal reported that there was “music from a Jam Box, dancing in the street, and food donated by community groups and cooked by Mrs. Louise McMorris and others.”
The street party was the brainchild of Friends of the YMI, whose members were inspired by a Goombay! night in Florida. (The history of Goombay dates back to the Caribbean islands during the 16th century, when slaves were allowed a yearly holiday.)
In Asheville, the tradition came into being in 1982. During the 1990s, practically any mention of Goombay! in the local papers was accompanied by a photo of African drummer Darrell Rose — but even as festival organizers sought out drum-and-dance groups and African stilt walkers to perform, the musical headliners tended toward R&B acts with a definite ’80s flavor.
This year, headliner Midnight Star takes the stage. The band released six albums during their early-’80s prime (who doesn’t remember “Freak-A-Zoid”?), and, according to their Web site, “after a lengthy sabbatical … has emerged once again … with those patented … grooves & melodies that rock the house.” In fact, it’s possible that the boom box at the first Goombay! blasted Midnight Star hits “Hot Spot” and “I’ve Been Watching You.” Sometimes, happily, history has a way of repeating itself.
1982: The first Goombay! is held on “The Block,” the African-American business section located on Eagle and Market Streets.
1987: By the festival’s sixth year it hit its stride, promoting racial unity along with African and Caribbean culture. The Charlotte Steel Drum Symphonette performed, along with dancers and drummers from Bermuda. The Chuck Davis African Ensemble from Durham, N.C., made a showing, too — one they would repeat for several years.
1988: Goombay! reached out to a broader audience in 1988, expanding the African drum-and-dance repertoire to include jazz from the likes of Eve Cornelious and Chip Crawford and late, local gospel singer Willie Mae Harrison.
1992: Festival planners began crafting the event around a theme, and in ’92 it was “Dance with the Soul Keepers of the Beat.” Chuck Davis and Company provided the dancing, blues musician Johnny Moon brought the soul and The Funky Wordsmith from Chicago kept the beat with slam poetry.
1995: Jazz saxophonist Stanley Baird headlined Goombay! in 1995. Here, the artist poses (circa 1976) with his band NCCU, a group of musicians who attended North Carolina Central University. Due, in part, to its namesake band, the college developed a reputation for music, and by 1977 offered a four-year jazz program.
1996: Drummer Darrell Rose was practically a poster child for Asheville’s Goombay! by this time. But ’96 was also a year for local acts, such as rappers Da Smokey Mountains, funk group Information Network and drum-and-dance performers Terrific Looking Energy.
1997: Themed “A New Beginning,” the 1997 Goombay! brought an unusual mix of performers. Jazz-and-blues artist Kim Waters headlined, along with Grove Park Inn lounge (and decidedly unAfrican) band Maddy and Masterpiece and local street musician Bobby Sax.
1999: Mardi Gras infiltrated Goombay! via New Orleans’ Wild Magnolias, a famous “Mardi Gras Indian” tribe known for blending R&B with African rhythms — all while wearing lavish, feather-laden costumes.
2000: Up until the millennium, Goombay! brought R&B, Motown, jazz and blues and plenty of hip-shaking drumming. But in 2000, the Original P brought the funk. The four founding members of Parliament (excluding George Clinton) played a free — and packed — show on Market Street.
2004: On the heels of a three-year precedent of retro-’80s bands, The Barkays (seen here in their hot pants and Afro-sporting heyday) headlined. Goombay! 2002 featured the S.O.S Band, known for their 1980 hit “Take Your Time (Do It Right),” and 2003 headliner Lakeside hits the charts with R&B tunes “Fantastic Voyage,” “Raid” and “Outrageous.”
2006: Following last year’s performance by white African-fusion group Toubab Krewe, Goombay! returns to R&B (hey, after test-driving bands like Partners, Sweet Dreams, Information Network and the Barkays over the years, festival planners have found their groove) with headliners Midnight Star.
Goombay! facts and acts
The 24th Annual Goombay! runs Friday, Aug. 25 through Sunday, Aug. 27 on The Block, between Eagle and Market Streets, with vendors, cultural displays, food, and free live music. See ymicc.org for more information.
12 Noon: Rockell Whiteside (Main Stage)
2:30 p.m.: Chuck Beattie & Blues By Design (Main Stage)
5 p.m.: Welcome/Drum Circle (Main Stage)
5:30 p.m.: Mickey Mills & Steel
7 p.m.: Westsound (Community Stage)
8 p.m.: Dub Axxess (Main Stage)
12 Noon: Parade
1 p.m.: Community Showcase: Goombay! Drummers, Free Spirit Drummers & Dancers
2 p.m.: Osa-Meji Dance Troupe (Main Stage)
3 p.m.: Goombay! Youth Showcase (Ray Auditorium)
4 p.m.: Dub Axxess (Main Stage)
5 p.m.: Free Spirit Drummers & Dancers (Eagle/Market intersection)
5:30 p.m.: Dirty Soul (Main Stage)
7 p.m.: Madison Horns (Community Stage)
8 p.m.: Midnight Star (Main Stage)
11 a.m.: Worship Service — St. James A.M.E. Church & Mass Choir
1 p.m.: Camp Meeting (Main Stage)
3 p.m.: YMI Community Jazz Band (Community Stage)
4 p.m.: Sandy “B” and the All Stars
5:30 p.m.: Drummers & Dancers Grand Finale (Eagle/Market intersection)