Indiana Black Expo free concert leaves downtown for 2021


Editor’s Note: IndyStar spoke with Indiana Black Expo Vice President of Community Initiatives and Marketing Bryan Kelley last week about the controversy surrounding the transfer of the 2021 free concert to the Lucas Oil Raceway and their plans for the future.

After this story aired online, Kelley reached out to IndyStar on Wednesday afternoon with the following statement, “Indiana Black Expo, Inc. has no plans to host our concert at Lucas Oil Raceway after 2021. We have the intends to return to downtown Indianapolis in 2022 and beyond. “

For the sake of transparency, IndyStar is keeping Kelley’s statements about the future of the free concert in the story below.

When the lineup for this year’s free Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration concert was announced, the annual show returned with familiar faces but a new venue.

Keith Sweat, Stephanie Mills, Johnny Gill and El Debarge are still on stage for the Expo’s 50th anniversary, as they planned before the pandemic brought it to an end.

But instead of perusing their hits at the American Legion Mall in downtown Indianapolis, the R&B legends will do so at the Lucas Oil Raceway, a venue just outside the Marion County line despite its mailing address. in Indianapolis.

Keith Sweat will be performing July 16 at Lucas Oil Raceway as part of the Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration.  The free concert held to mark the 50th anniversary of the BIE's summer celebration is moving from downtown to Hendricks County due to COVID, but will remain the venue for the event for the foreseeable future.

“The changes are tough for everyone until they get used to it, but we really think this new place and working with Lucas Oil Raceway is a better place for participants,” Bryan Kelley, vice president community initiatives and marketing for Indiana Black Expo, said IndyStar. “The parking is much better, we will have more space for our vendors. Overall the environment is more inclusive and we really think this will be a great place for a long time and for us to host the concert. “

Shortly after the announcement, Indianapolis producer, photographer and artistic director Keith “Wildstyle” Paschall shared the news. “IBE just moved the free Black Expo concert to Brownsburg,” its March 25 Facebook post said, followed by a series of hand-to-head, crying and laughing emojis.

What would you like to know: About Black Expo 2021

Soon the post received hundreds of comments and shares with many Facebook users expressing disappointment, confusion or anger at the decision.

“Trash. That’s why I haven’t been there since 2010,” one Facebook user replied.

“They’re literally trying to drive this thing into the ground at this point. I honestly believe it,” added another.

A new location could limit access

Some black residents say leaving the city center makes the concert they eagerly awaited an easy pass in 2021, and accuse the organization of making it harder for parts of the black community to be a part of the celebration of based.

Paschall told IndyStar he believes the move will limit the access of low-income blacks to the festival. “It’s just sad, man.”

The free Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration concert regularly drew thousands of attendees to downtown American Legion Mall.

Paschall said executives at Indiana Black Expo should be aware of the obstacles created by the move. They range from lack of transportation to lack of comfort in getting to a smaller, more rural, predominantly white community for an event that will last late into the night.

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“We realize there are transportation issues, so as time goes on we’ll be working on the strategy and plans on how to come and go,” Kelley said. “But we think this is the place for us to continue to have this free concert in the future.”

Extending the reach of Black Expo

Kelley said the move to Lucas Oil Raceway, about 11 miles west of the location of the previous concert at the American Legion Mall, was a necessity and with a view to expanding the scope of the event.

Many pandemic restrictions were still in place while planning for the event, which Kelley said limited their choice of venues.

Kelley said other locations, such as the Indiana State Fairgrounds, have been considered. It was ultimately determined that Lucas Oil Raceway would be best equipped to handle large crowds while still providing more structured seating.

He added that the raceway has been a voluntary partner of the BIE. In addition to being the home site, people will be able to listen to the concert on Lucas Oil 87.9 FM radio station from their cars.

Local promoter and entrepreneur Amp Harris said he has been bringing musical artists and celebrities to Indianapolis for the summer celebration for more than two decades through concerts, meetups and the celebrity basketball game that ‘he hosts alongside Reggie Wayne. He took care of the entertainment for this year’s Expo.

The artists return to the stage

Harris said planning for the 2021 free concert started late last year when it became clear the artists were going to start touring again.

“The very first thing he had to do was find a new place, which is why we are at this new place in the first place. We had certain restrictions to make sure people could adhere to all COVID protocols. “Harris told IndyStar.

The All White case hosted by DJ Kid Capri will remain downtown at the Pavilion at Pan Am. Harris said the paid event allowed them to adjust capacity in conjunction with COVID restrictions, rendering a distance from the center unnecessary. -city.

Kelley said the IBE leadership saw this as an opportunity to turn things around and engage with parts of the state that could be better served in the new location.

“It’s a great partnership to move outside of downtown Indianapolis for this free concert and share the engagement in other parts of Indiana with Summer Celebration,” Kelley said. “It’s going to reach a new audience. It’s going to be able to bring Avon and the Far Westside a little bit more into the mix, so we’re really excited about that.”

Keep the signature event

Harris said the alternative to moving to Lucas Oil Raceway in 2021 may have canceled the event. But Expo leaders wanted to keep the flagship event for its 50th anniversary.

“This is a decision that was made because of safety protocols, and if your biggest downside is that you have to drive 10 more minutes from where you were, then it might not be for you, given that it’s free, ”Harris said.

Paschall said that while BIE executives speak of the new venue as a more inclusive event, he is concerned it may close the door on neighborhoods in Indianapolis that have attended the free concert for generations.

“This other audience that they hope to attract should be non-blacks, because statistically blacks do not live in areas where it is going to be convenient and comfortable to travel,” he said.

Recent U.S. Census estimates place the black population in Brownsburg at 5.6% compared to 28.6% in Indianapolis.

Kelley urged residents to shake up the new venue before canceling it.

“They can be impressed. They can say, ‘you know what, I was wrong. It’s a great place to have the concert, “” he said. “It gives a much better feeling… you can enjoy the space, enjoy the place, have a better view of the artist and really participate in a more festive feeling instead of being four blocks downtown. of Indianapolis. ”

But Paschall said better communication on the future of the event and solid plans to address public transport and comfort gaps in the first year would have made a significant difference in how the news has been received.

“And as for shaking it up fairly, when you’re scared to go because of driving in black, or because you’ve just been hit hard enough by racism and the economic conditions you don’t even have. no access to a car… so we don’t all get the chance to get out in the first place, ”he said.

Founded in 1970, the Indiana Black Expo featured R&B artists Donny Hathaway and the Dells when Summer Celebration debuted at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in 1971.

This year’s event at Lucas Oil Raceway begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 16. The doors will open at 2 p.m. with the vendors.

Call IndyStar reporter Justin L. Mack at 317-444-6138. Follow him on Twitter: @justinlmack.

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