Meet ONE Music Fest’s Founder J Carter!


ONE Music Fest has become the Southeast’s premier urban progressive music and arts festival. And in just a few weeks, they will be celebrating its 10 year anniversary at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. An unforgettable line-up is slated to perform – including Gucci Mane, Rae Sremmurd, Tory Lanez, Rick Ross, DMX, Wu-Tang Clan, Teyana Taylor, Uncle Luke, T-Pain, Trina, Pharrell Williams, Usher and more.

But none of this would have happened if it weren’t for the man behind the festival – J Carter.

As the festival nears, we got a chance to speak with J about the festival, the anniversary, and more.

HHS1987: We are now here at your 10 year anniversary, how did you get to this point? What is the blood, sweat and tears that made this moment? 

J Carter: I would say it really was a passion project – everything starts with an idea. So, we ventured out to do it and we had a team of folks who have ventured along the way to make things possible and have been through the trenches with me. We put this idea together about eleven years ago simply because we didn’t see festivals really programming music the way we listen to music. We didn’t see the representation. Not taking anything away from Essence. I think essence is great but you’d be really pressed to see Rick Ross on an Essence stage and turn around and see Uncle Luke, Snow Allegra, or Raphael Saadiq.

We searched hard, far and wide and just couldn’t find it. So I sad we were going to do it ourselves. It was one of those “I wonder if we could do this?” Moments. And you know, after you lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few years and think “maybe this is the reason nobody is doing this shit,” you’d stop but it was a learning process.

As far as Black folks going to a real kind of music festival, that was a learning curve and I think the first several years was really trying to educate the audience about festival life.

HHS1987: So, when we think of One Music Fest, I always start singing Maze Ft. Frankie Beverly “We are one” so, where did the name originate from?

J Carter: The tagline actually came first. I used to own a creative agency and my whole focus was always unity and connecting people. And kinda being a bridge. So the tagline was “unity through music.” So I need something that reflects and we kept bouncing ideas fo names around. And I just said “ONE,” and everybody moving as one. And it stuck.

HHS1987: In the past, you’ve had artists from Erykah Badu to George Clinton to Jill Scott, Kelis and Teedra Moses. Just so many different realms of music and its amazing to see that. Is there any artist that you haven’t booked that you would like to for future festivals?

J Carter: Selfishly I would always say, Sade. She’s my kryptonite. It’s so bad that my wife literally had a full size cut out made and said, “If there is going to be another woman, this is the only woman.” But beyond Sade, I would love to see on the stage — J. Cole, we’ve been talking for years. The Weekend – we had exchanged emails back in 2012. For the old heads, I would love to get someone like a Public Enemy on stage. Or Lenny Kravitz.

HHS1987: Can you give insight into some of the highs and lows of being a festival owner?

J Carter: I had some white guys tell me when I first started off that if I don’t have two million in the bank to lose, don’t do a festival. I was like, “Mothaf*cka, I don’t have two million in the bank and I don’t have it to lose.” So I would say, put together a solid team and really count your pennies, you know what I mean? Have a really strategic plan and know your budget and your numbers. Festivals are not like throwing a party or a concert – way more elements to it.

I looked for a role model that looked like me or a mentor and the problem was there wasn’t a lot of black folks in that space producing outdoor festivals. Uh, so the direction that I got came from people who don’t really look like me and they didn’t really fully open up the play book for me either. So, I had to piece things together…shit we lost money the first five years it wasn’t chump change. 

HHS1987: So, the first five years losing money and now 10 years in we up. So, what made you say “im going to keep going and stick this out”? 

J Carter: I have to go back to what I said earlier because it really truly is and was a passion project and then it became more of a community, a movement, a voice it became a battle cry not only for myself but for a lot of people and we found ourselves the ability to pivot with the brand and really be community activist.

Once people kinda realized that was our voice to they were like “oh it’s more than music”  it’s really a celebration of us and culture. Um, and once we kinda crossed that mark we knew it was bigger than throwing a festival. You see what we’re doing and the lives that we are changing – even for the artist you know I think it was one year we had Kendrick Lamar and Bilal was a fan of Kendrick and Kendrick was a fan of Bilal and they never really connected – they both were on the bill and I don’t know if we could take credit for this but after they left ONE music fest they went on to produce about five songs together 

HHS1987: Do you think you can give me your top three or top five ONE Music Fest moments over the span of ten years? 

J Carter: Aight, top three. So, in 2013 being that we are based inAtlanta we had the privilege to do a Goodie Mobb reunion…that’s the same year we had Snoop Dogg. Ahhhh, and they broke up and from the looks of didn’t really look like they were getting back together. Uh, so we bought them out to ONE Music Fest and the year following that we had Kendrick Lamar right when he was starting to peak peak uh and that’s when I saw his show and I was like “this motherfucker ain’t Hip-Hop he’s a rockstar, he’s got a full band and he was all over the place..his performance was just nuts” Uh, so that was a moment.

Definitely 2016 when we did a Dungeon Family reunion and that was the last time OUTKAST has performed on stage together and it’s been three years and they haven’t done anything since and the Dungeon Family hasn’t done anything collectively like that. That night it was grown men, no lie, out there crying…for Atlanta…even for music that was a real spiritual moment to have all those artists together on that stage to perform for 75 to 90 minutes so that definitely was a moment. Uh, idk last year was the first time we did two days. 

HHS1987: So, out of these ten years do you have any regrets? 

J Carter: That is a great question. Maybe I should have started it sooner, but everything happens on time cause I would say ten years ago with all of the urban festivals that exist now they didn’t exist then and we are definitely the pioneers. So, we started when we started and no, I don’t have any regrets. I think everything happened the way it should have.

HHS1987: Lastly – correct me if I’m wrong but you are a New York native? 

J Carter: I am, I am from Harlem. I moved here in high school. I’ve been here since I was 15 but uh Atlanta is one of those cities where its rough at first but once you get settled in it’s like i’m not leaving.