Bull city prepares for Phoenix Fest 2018

Festivial Founders Denise and Larry Hester pose for a picture in 2009 during the Phoeniex Fest.


The fall season may be in full swing as Durham prepares for its 17th annual Phoenix Fest.

Held at 908 Fayetteville Street, the free public festival will be on  Saturday, Oct. 6 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This year’s theme “Come Early, Stay Late”  encourages visitors to participate in numerous activities and enjoy local live entertainment. The festival has become an ingrained celebratory affair honoring the rich history and traditions of Durham’s Hayti Community.

“There is a need for free entertainment in our community. It’s  a severe need for entertainment that’s family-friendly, based in our community, for our community, and by our community, ” said Phoenix Fest founder Denise Hester.

The festivity will collaborate with Durham’s Hayti Heritage Center. The center preserves Durham’s iconic Hayti community, a nationally-acclaimed African-American neighborhood filled with economic boom through entrepreneurship. Aside from economic contributions,  Hayti has established cultural relevance among the arts.

Not only will the festival honor the Hayti legacy, but the heritage center will host its annual two-night Blues & Roots Celebration. Beginning with a juke joint themed benefit reception Friday, Oct. 5th,  and a blues and jazz concert on Saturday, Oct. 6.

“We’ve been representing this area of Durham for a number of years, and it made more sense to draw more exposure with the collaboration,” said Hayti Heritage Center executive director Angela Lee.

Located on Fayetteville Street, Phoenix Fest will be held on the Phoenix Shopping Center grounds. Opened by couple Denise and Larry Hester in 2000, the shopping center holds local businesses such as Nzinga’s Breakfast Cafe and Leone International Foods market.

Married 18 years, the Durham natives were the masterminds behind the neighboring Phoenix Square Shopping Center. Their goal was to slowly restore the area’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“In terms of trying to rebuild the area, it was important to have as many people as you can to have a place (shopping center) to operate,”  said Mrs. Hester.

Most older Durham locals  witnessed the upheaval of the Hayti community between the late 1960s and early 1970s.  However, the community’s passion remained as the couple found unique ways to ignite it’s fire.  In Spring 2001, the couple commemorated the shopping center’s opening by hosting the first Phoenix Fest.

“We had worked so hard in developing the center and getting it ready, that I said ‘I want a parade in honor,’” said Mrs. Hester. High demand resulted in the one-time celebration turning into an annual community reunion.

“There is a need for people to always be connected with their community, and two events that are positive in their community does that,” said Phoenix Fest co-founder  Larry Hester.

The festival fun will kick off with a parade at 9 a.m. on Fayetteville Street starting at Elmira Avenue and ending at Piedmont Avenue. The handicapped-accessible site will have parking  behind the shopping center. All local participants  are welcomed to enter the parade, as ample seating and games for children will be available.

Community engagement has been priority, but youth participation has become a focal point. The lack of government funds towards musical education inspired a youth sponsorship.  A $250 sponsorship allows full transportation coverage for youth to perform at the festival.

An Africana Market will setup with local and out-of-state vendors between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. South Carolina-based brand Sunu Culture will sell body oils, jewelry and accessories.  Phoenix Fest veteran Oni’s Reading Rainbow, a Fayetteville-based children’s book company, will be present.

Besides music, a Food Truck Rodeo with delicious eats to cure your appetite will be in place. This year  includes 13-year-old run organic tea vendor Addy’s Famous Organic Iced Tea , Big C’s Waffles, and Coconut Curry Cuisine.

Lastly, spectators will enjoy live musical entertainment on the  Center Stage. Some of the twelve acts include the North Carolina Jazz Ensemble, Raleigh R&B artist Mr. Chenier, young hip-hop artist Cali, and  local hip-hop favorite Sista 1.

For information on the upcoming Phoenix Fest  visit: http://www.phoenixfestdurham.com/home.

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