Johnston County

Mondo Roots festival in Clayton celebrates diversity

The first Mondo Roots festival was in downtown Clayton last year. This year’s event is set for June 3.
The first Mondo Roots festival was in downtown Clayton last year. This year’s event is set for June 3. File photo

Dave Brown has booked a lot of shows on a number of Clayton stages, but he said landing hip-hop group Nappy Roots for the second Mondo Roots festival is his biggest get ever.

“It’s the first time in the history of Johnston County that a widely known hip-hop group will be headlining the festival,” said Brown, whose promotion company Earthplow Productions helps host the event with Clayton Visual Arts.

Last year, Brown and Clayton Visual Arts gave a makeover to Clayton’s Millstock arts festival, rebranding the 15-year event as a multicultural arts festival with ambitions of a regional draw.

Visual artists are accepted to the festival through a juried process handled by Clayton Visual Arts, and Brown books the bands. Like last year, Mondo Roots will take place on the first Saturday in June. But with its maiden voyage now behind it, Brown said the festival is starting to find its legs.

“This won’t be as big of an event as last year, but it will have a little more flair,” Brown said. “Nappy Roots, that’s a pretty big artist. They’re probably the most well-known act I’ve booked for a festival.”

Brown also organizes the fall bluegrass and Americana-centric Shindig in Clayton, which has featured acts like the Steeldrivers in the year the group won a Grammy Award. Last year saw American Aquarium as the headliner.

But the Shindig fits the country traditions of Clayton and Johnston County, Brown said, while Mondo Roots has the potential to bring other voices to the forefront, specifically putting African-American acts on a downtown Clayton stage.

“We’re celebrating diversity,” Brown said. “The goal has and always will be to book bands that shift that paradigm from what’s been here before. Nappy Roots wanted to be a part of that and we’re super excited to have them take part in the big shift that’s happening.”

Other groups playing Mondo Roots include reggae band Roots of a Rebellion, New Orleans funk group Cha Wa, the Ragbirds, the Echelon Youth Brass Jazz Ensemble and an interlude between acts provided by DJ Jedi.

Last year’s Mondo Roots had more bands, but with lower profiles. Brown said this year’s lineup is more focused.

“It’s been a cool maturation, a definite step forward from where we were last year,” he said.

For more than a decade, Clayton has cultivated an arts-town persona, featuring a public sculpture series and regularly bringing in nationally known and diverse acts to its Clayton Center auditorium. Brown said Mondo Roots might not exist without that foundation already created by the town, and he wants to build on that identity and expand it.

“It doubles down on that identity,” Brown said. “Clayton is rooted in the arts and it really helps with the vitality of the town. That’s one of the reasons we want to do this here. We see this as a southeastern regional festival with reach beyond Clayton, interaction beyond Clayton. That fact that it’s here is beautiful. The town offers a wonderful backdrop, with historic buildings and a grassy square. I think it’s perfect.”

Mondo Roots will be Saturday, June 3, in downtown Clayton. The festival is free to attend, but Brown said $20 VIP tickets are for sale. For more information, visit www.mondoroots.com.

Drew Jackson: 919-829-4577; @jdrewjackson

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