Soul Sessions Podcast: Brad "Kamikaze" Franklin
Today, we're talking to Brad Kamikaze Franklin, the founder of Jackson Indie Music Week, a seven-day music festival that celebrates independent music in Jackson, Mississippi.
The conversation covers the origins of the event, its growth and impact, and the recognition of Visit Jackson's contributions to the independent music scene.
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Music and film fans, today's show is just for you. It's about an event 10 years running that celebrates the culture of the birthplace of America's music right here in the city with soul. Hey, it's Paul Wolf for the front row seat to conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. We call our podcast Soul Sessions. It's the people places and events that make the City With Soul shine.
Today, I'm talking with Brad “Kamikaze” Franklin, the founder of Jackson Indie Music Week, January 7 through 14 all across the city. He's an entertainer, entrepreneur, podcast host, radio host, marriage counselor, promoter, consultant, producer. Kaz, what don't you do?
I don't know. That’s a really good question. I kind of dabble, as they say, in several things, man. So my passions extend across several different disciplines. That's the Mississippian in me. I think, you know, we are probably some of the most resourceful people on the planet. You go anywhere in this nation. And if you find somebody from Mississippi that's there, particularly Jackson, and I can guarantee you they're probably running something or they're throwing something, or they're the president of something or they're doing something in their community because that's just how we were built. I couldn't imagine, a life of not doing anything. Whatever idea comes to my mind, I pursue it and I do it.
I'm so glad you're here today primarily to talk about being a founder. And that is of Jackson Indie Music Week. Now, for the folks that have been under a rock for the past decade or so, you meet somebody in an elevator and you’ve got a couple of seconds to tell them what Indie Music Week is all about. What do you say?
Jackson Indie Music Week is a seven-day music festival. It is concerts, showcases, panels. it encompasses music and movies and culture. It is Jackson, Mississippi's version of South By Southwest. And it is an homage to independent music in this place that is the birthplace of America's music. So where else would you have a festival that highlights independent music, other than the birthplace of America's music?
Kaz, take me back a decade or so. What was it like starting this event back in the day? And what was the reception like? And then bring it forward and what do people think about it in 2023, 24?
I think, it's about 2014. I got a group of folks together in Offbeat, myself, Garrad Lee, Donyale, a couple of other folks, DJ Venom. We got together at Offbeat and I had this idea, this crazy idea. I've been a performing artist and a touring artist for a while and I had done South By Southwest a couple of times.
I saw what they were doing and I read up on it and researched and I saw what South By Southwest had done for the economy of Austin, Texas, what it did for the city, what it brought to the city and the revenue that is brought into the city over the years. And I said to myself, you know, those guys that created South By Southwest, they're not any smarter than I am. They don't have any more access to talent than I do. Why is it that Mississippi - being the Birthplace of America's Music - why do we not have our own festival? People should be coming here to show their wares and to show their talent. And I got these folks in a room and I said, this is what I want to do. And it was a wild, ambitious idea. And we got together in late October of that year. And we actually put the first Jackson Indian Music Week together in two months.
And, you know, they say that, you know, God takes care of children and fools. And I believe that he took care of us because we were definitely fools for thinking that we could put something together so ambitious in two months. But we did. It actually went off. And the first thing that we learned is that we can't put a festival together in two months. That's the first thing that we learned. I think because it happened like it did, I think it was just meant to be. So from there, we just started planning each year to put this together, more people came on board. I think in Jackson, one of the things about our city is, is people like to see if you're going to stick around for a while before they join it. They like to see, you know, how it was going to be run. They like to see if it's not something that's a flash in the pan. So people started coming on board and we built a fantastic team.
Over the years, myself and Donyale Walls, who was our festival director, Caroline Cole, who, you know, was our event coordinator, Rachel James, who is our media director… we've got a fantastic team that we've assembled of about nine or 10 people that I would put up against anybody. I put our team up against the South By Southwest team. These are all Mississippi folk, people that are here, people that are dedicated to the scene.
It has grown each year. We started out getting 20 or 30 submissions and that has grown to like 200, 300 submissions every year. You know, 15, 20 acts. This year we'll have 50 acts and that number is going to grow. This year we have the largest number of out of state artists that have been chosen for the festival, so we've got nine from as far as California. Paul, I'll be honest with you: we started out with a ten-year plan. That's how I start things. We're about to go into year ten. We're about where we thought that we would be.
And then we're gonna kick it into high gear and go into another level, because there are some things that we want to be able to do to continue to help the city of Jackson. I think we have shown that creativity and the creative community can be an economic driver for the city of Jackson. I think that's how we were able to get, you know, Visit Jackson on board and Visit Mississippi and the City of Jackson. You guys have seen that the creative community can drive revenue. We have people that come to town every year for these concerts and they stay in hotels, they spend money in restaurants. They buy food, they go to retail outlets and they buy outfits to go to these shows and you're spending money and music is a big part of that. And I think I have been on the crusade to show businessmen and women that you don't need to freeze out the creative community. You need to be trying to find a way to embrace it because we're bringing some money in here. Mississippi brings in money period.
Kaz, Jackson Indie Music Week is recognizing Visit Jackson this year as one of your. ICONS. What an honor! How did that come about?
The ICON Awards is designed to honor the artists, the venues, the promoters and the organizations that have been instrumental in helping independent music. And over the years, I have seen the contributions that Visit Jackson has made to independent music, the festivals that Visit Jackson has thrown their contributions to concerts, their contributions to festivals that have happened here, their contributions to the scene. You guys have been instrumental in helping myself as an artist and now as Executive Director of Jackson Indie Music Week and several hundreds of artists here that have been doing things in the city of Jackson. You guys are always on point with that and we would not be here if not for those contributions and then not for the help and the energy of Visit Jackson. So our independent scene wouldn't be where it is without Visit Jackson; that someone kind of recognize you guys as much as y'all give to us. It’s time for someone to honor you guys and to recognize you for all the work that you do and all of the other ICON Award winners. We are very intentional about the people that we give this ICON Award to. The committee is very intent on making sure that when these awards are given, the people that get them deserve it. We want people who have actually the accolades and the track record to be able to say that they have been in the trenches and they have been helping independent artists in the creative community in Jackson. And you guys have definitely done that. And you deserve these flowers that we're giving to you on January the 11 at Duling Hall. It's the Icon Awards and we're looking forward to seeing you, Paul, and all of the staff there at Visit Jackson there for you guys to get your flowers because you need to know how much we appreciate what you guys do.
Definitely an honor. Can't wait until January 11 at Duling Hall. Now we might literally spend the rest of the day trying to detail the schedule for Jackson Indie Music Week, January 7 through 14, but you could go to jxnindiemusic.com or the show notes for this episode. We'll have it all lined out there. And Kaz, I just got to say from the entire Jackson community, especially the creative community here who thrives on a daily basis in the City With Soul, a big thanks is in order.
Hey man, we appreciate everyone that's been supporting us and continue to support us. We appreciate you guys come out, start January the 7. We've got all kinds of events come out to the panels, come out to the film showcase that we're having at the Capri, shouts out to David and his whole crew over there, man, at the Capri, shouts out to all of the venues, all of these people, who are helping to make this possible. We appreciate you guys for being a part of this music ecosystem that we have created.
My thanks to Brad Kamikaze Franklin and the whole Jackson Indie Music Week crew. Again, you can find event details in our show notes.
Soul Sessions is produced by Visit Jackson, the Destination Organization for Mississippi's capital city. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Dr. Ricky Thigpen, and I'm our Managing Editor. You want to know more about what we do as a team at Visit Jackson? You can log on and find it at visitjackson.com.
I'm Paul Wolf and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.