In the five years since JORTSFEST began their annual salute to summertime’s favorite cutoff denim attire, the festival has grown from a relatively small DIY event into something approaching an institution for the Atlanta music scene. One of the major factors for the festival’s dramatic rise has been its unyielding spirit of inclusivity, an ethos of collective collaboration and camaraderie best articulated by JORTSFEST’s oft-cited motto: “Always free, always all ages, always accessible.”
Another key component of the fest’s success has been the organizers steadfast insistence on bringing together a diverse range of artists from disparate ends of the cultural and musical spectrum. To this end, JORTSFEST co-founder Maria Sotnikova and her partner Carter Sutherland (Sea Ghost, Trashcan) have once again curated a wide-sweeping bill that speaks to a host of genres and seeks to unite various subsets of the local scene that too often are splintered and separated from one another.
Led by lo-fi indie folk rockers Nana Grizol, the eight artist lineup also includes Athens rapper Lingua Franca, party rock vets Baby Baby, cosmic explorers LONER, drag queen turned synthpop crooner TAYLOR ALXNDR, dream pop foursome Lunar Vacation, vintage songstress Chelsea Shag, and Latinx Expression rock trio Yukons. That’s a lot of different voices speaking to a wide variety of audiences, and the aim of JORTSFEST is to gather everyone under the same roof in the hopes of spurring critical conversations and communal pride that will lead to action.
To help nudge those conversations forward, this year Sotnikova and Sutherland sought out artists who have shown to take on outspoken, activist roles within their respective communities, and are attempting to combine them with organizations who are doing the same. “We targeted bands who have been speaking out and engaging with their communities about the issues that mattered to them,” Sotnikova explains. “Once confirmed, we asked all performers to designate an organization that is doing important work in the Atlanta/Athens area, nationally, or internationally. These organizations will be invited to table at the event and performers given time during their sets to let folks know how they can get involved… We’re trying to create a space where folks can become engaged in their communities.”
Such laudable and lofty goals are nothing new to JORTSFEST. Last year, the team took on the much neglected issue of venue accessibility by launching a successful Kickstarter campaign that not only covered production and performer costs for the festival, but most importantly, funded a portable ramp that continues to allow people with disabilities access to previously inaccessible performance spaces throughout Atlanta. Furthermore, the ramp remains available to any arts and music event free of charge via the JORTSFEST website.
And just last month, the festival launched another Kickstarter, this time with the goal of raising $3000 to both cover production costs, as well as allowing JORTSFEST to formally expand into a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. According to a press release, incorporating into a non-profit “will allow JORTSFEST to apply for grants, accept tax deductible donations, and generate more funds to do more things that build intentionally inclusive arts and music communities.” While internally that means more freedom and financing to pursue their goals, publicly it means the possibility of more JORTSFEST events such as last year’s “auditory tour of the city” produced in cooperation with ELEVATE and the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs.
For Sotnikova especially, a successful transition to a non-profit would signal the next step in what has become a perpetually ongoing labor of love. But although she recognizes there is considerable work ahead, her vision of a far more welcoming, inclusive, and accessible scene continue to drive her forward.
“Like our work last year with the City of Atlanta, we’d like to do more events throughout the year,” she says. “Much further down the line my personal pipe dream is to open a community space that adheres to the motto of the festival.”
As of this afternoon, the JORTSFEST Kickstarter campaign was almost fully funded with a variety of pledge prizes available, including pins, posters, custom portraits, a jorts-making party, and more. Fundraising ends July 23.
JORTSFEST 2017 takes place on Sat., August 26 at the Mammal Gallery. Doors open at 4 p.m. Admission is FREE. All ages.