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Juneteenth features up and coming talent
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The members of X-Factor are 3/4ths of A Moment's Notice, another band that will be performing at Juneteenth. However, X-Factor may change their name before the show. (Brandt Williams)
Planners of this year's Juneteenth celebration in Minneapolis say they are putting more emphasis on artistic expression as a means to commemorate the emancipation of African captives in America. At the main festival, which takes place Saturday at Wirth Park, artists will be everywhere: local actors will spread out among the crowds performing short, spontaneous theatre; artisans demonstrating their crafts; poets and rappers walking the grounds telling the story of African American bondage and freedom through rhyme and meter. But the major entertainment attraction is on the main stage where local music groups get their chance to play for as many as 50,000 people. The audition process to find those acts started several weeks ago.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Inside the darkened Capri Theater in north Minneapolis, the only evidence of the brilliant sun outside comes when musicians open the side door to carry in instruments and amplifiers. Members of a four piece band are on stage stretching their musical muscles.

We're looking for acts that are up and coming...We want to be able to clap our hands whether we are a 60 year old clapping our hands or whether we are 10. We want to enjoy ourselves.
- Rowena Hicks

It's a small theater, about the size of a middle school auditorium. Yetthis has apparently not diminished theater managers' self-esteem. Emblazoned on the back wall, in letters large enough for performers on stage to see, is the motto, "Home of future stars."

Three judges from the Juneteenth committee sit in the first three rows of seats. Rowena Hicks is the chair of the Juneteenth committee and a judge.

"We're looking for acts that are up and coming and things that make us feel good," Hiscks says. "We want to be able to clap our hands whether we are a 60 year old clapping our hands or whether we are 10. We want to enjoy ourselves."

The band 'A Moment's Notice' is one of about 25 acts vying for a chance to play on the main stage. They play the Beatles song "Something." About half of those acts are here to audition in person and the other half have sent CDs. Each act gets five minutes to perform for the judges.

Following their audition, the lead vocalist sets down his bass guitar and leaves the stage. The keyboardist picks up the instrument and the trio becomes the second band to audition. The saxophone player introduces the band as 'X-Factor'.

The group plays for about twice as long as the allotted time. The judges don't seem to mind they nod their heads and tap their feet to the beat. The judges say the acts who perform on the main stage should embody the theme of this year's Juneteenth celebration, "Embracing God, Celebrating Community and Honoring Family."

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Image Metamorphosis

Blair Lee plays a keyboard and sings gospel songs. He auditions with a song he wrote called "I've Decided." In the song, Lee affirms his faith in Jesus and warns listeners that the end times, prophesized in the Book of Revelation, are near. Unfortunately, for Blair on this day, the end times for his keyboard stand are also near. It buckles and collapses.

Lee's keyboard hits the stage hard. But Lee is a seasoned player and apparently not shaken by the mishap. After a few minutes he picks up where he left off. When he's done, Blair hauls his equipment out of the theater. He pauses to catch his breath and reflect on his performance.

"Juneteenth means a lot to me because of what it represents in the struggle," says Lee. "And me living in the community and being a songwriter, musician and producer, I thought it was best for me to give back what I have learned over the years, from other musicians and other people."

Lee has lived in North Minneapolis since 1968 and plays in several musical groups. He says he also tries to help younger artists by producing their CDs and helping them write songs and lyrics. Lee says he's been referred to as the 'Gospel Prince.'

When asked about his keyboard, he says it's alright.

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Image Gospel hip hop artist Xross

"The stand gave out for some reason and it seems like whenever it comes to me putting my hands on any instrument held up by a stand, it gives out," says Lee smiling.

Not everyone vying for the main stage is a musician. A comedian who calls himself 'Major, the lieutenant of comedy' drew some laughs with impersonations as Edith Bunker and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

"But Archie, the reverend Jesse Jackson is coming to dinner, too," says the comedian before switching characters. "Ah, Rev. Jesse Jackson I'd like to say, Archie, your wife is very ugly."

"There are a lot of people here that we're going to try and use in one way or another," says Juneteenth organizer Roderic Southall. He says most of the auditioning acts will not make the main stage - however he says that doesn't mean they will not get a chance to perform.

"We might ask the young brother who was singing or some other singer to do the Black National Anthem, so there's lots of ways to use people," says Southall. "It may not be what they want but it's an entree to the stage in front of people."

The judges selected five acts to perform on the main stage including, A Moment's Notice, X-Factor (who may change their name before they perform), and gospel hip hop artist Xross.

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