When Brian Knott and Kevin Elphick launched the first A3C Independent Hip-Hop Festival in the spring of 2005, the idea was simple: Gather as many of the musicians, promoters, and friends they'd met through their now defunct hip-hop label, ArcTheFinger (ATF), for a hometown concert. Knott and Elphick owed a lot of people shows in Atlanta in exchange for booking the pair's artists in other cities. Organizing a three-day music festival at the Loft in Midtown was their way of paying everyone back.
When A3C returns to fill up music venues in Old Fourth Ward, East Atlanta, and Midtown Oct. 8-12, Atlanta's homegrown annual hip-hop festival and conference will be celebrating a landmark: its 10th anniversary. More than 500 artists including Black Thought of the Roots, Kool Keith, 2 Chainz, 9th Wonder, Masta Ace, Rakim, DMX, and a pairing of Juvenile and Mystikal are lined up to perform as part of the five-day blow-out. The festivities include ablock party, film screenings, live art, and panel discussions with titles such as "Hip-Hop & Social Responsibility" and "Women in Hip-Hop." A3C General Manager Mike Walbert expects this year's attendance to nearly double last year's audience of 20,000-plus attendees who came from around the corner and around the world. All are drawn to A3C to take in the diverse array of hip-hop's musical and cultural inflections from the East Coast, West Coast, the Dirty South, and far beyond.
Over the last decade, A3C (All Three Coasts) has continued growing beyond its humble beginnings as a low-budget, regional showcase of independent musicians to one of hip-hop's most noteworthy gatherings. Even the Grammys gave A3C a nod as one of the 2014's "Top 15 must-see festivals." Such recognition is impressive in an era when massive musical gatherings such as TomorrowWorld, CounterPoint, and Bonnaroo dominate live music.
"We have been growing fast because people have a great time here, and they tell their friends," Walbert says.
Word of mouth is about as far as A3C's advertising efforts go, but its reach continues to grow. Refining the festival's footprint across the city each year has been a calculated move, according to Knott.
"During last year's festival I had a cup of coffee with a fan who had come to A3C from France," Knott says. "When he got off the airplane he was disappointed — he expected the airport to have a tribute to hip-hop, like a mural of OutKast on the sign coming up the escalator, or something. He was surprised that the city doesn't embrace hip-hop as one of our city's cultural treasures. It was an awesome conversation, and it changed my thoughts about why we need to be a citywide event. I hope that in a small way we're helping Atlanta embrace hip-hop from a broader perspective. It's such a part of our cultural identity to the rest of the world."