An Interview with Executive Director Mike Walbert
September 30, 2016
In years past, The A3C Festival and Conference was billed as “hip-hop’s annual pilgrimage” and “hip-hop’s family reunion.” Both were fitting. It’s the largest annual convergence of everyone in hip-hop. From fan to mogul, amateur to legend, East Coast to West Coast, if hip-hop touches your life or career, you probably anticipate the trek to Atlanta for A3C all year long. It’s the ultimate long weekend of shows, panels, networking and parties.
This year, A3C takes place October 5-9. It’s the festival’s 12th anniversary, and it’s also the 20th anniversary of Outkast’s classic album, ATLiens. A3C will celebrate this milestone by gathering artists like Nappy Roots and J-Live to perform the entire album, backed by Mr. DJ (DJ/producer for Outkast) and a live band. I asked A3C co-founder and executive director, Mike Walbert, what he thought the odds were Big Boi and Andre themselves might show up to watch: “There’s a chance Big Boi would. I do have his number in my phone. I don’t know about Andre, though. I’ve never seen him in the wild. He’s elusive, like a double rainbow.”
Walbert says that ATLiens was definitely his favorite album of 1996, but many other classics dropped that year. A3C will pay tribute to them Saturday at the main stage with a lineup including Too $hort, Redman, Eric Sermon, Keith Murray, Bone Thugs N’ Harmony, Bun B and more. There will also be conversations with some of the most influential producers of that year, including Organized Noize and The Hitmen.
As always, there will be a plethora of new artists to discover. “Every year, when XXL does the Freshmen Class, there’s a few that performed at the previous A3C,” said Walbert.
A3C will continue its tradition of forward-thinking innovation and empowering entrepreneurial talent with a Hackathon and the A3C Action competition, which funds ideas that use hip-hop culture as a vehicle to advance social justice and civic engagement. The Hackathon will be focused on music-related projects. “Everybody’s doing a hackathon lately,” said Walbert, “but you go to them and sometimes you have nothing in common with the people you’re working with. Here, everyone has the common thread of hip-hop culture.” Submissions to A3C Action, which is only in its second year, have doubled since last year. “We tried to narrow it down to five finalists, but we couldn’t, so we have seven,” he said. The winner will receive $10,000 dollars for their nonprofit.
Other artists scheduled to perform this year include Rick Ross, Cam’ron, Royce da 5’9, Mystikal, Rapper Big Pooh, the World Famous Beat Junkies, Ras Kass, Planet Asia and tons of others. Additionally, there are art shows, panels on everything from production to photography to female leadership, a book signing by Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and a 24-hour cypher for a Guinness World Record.
With so much packed into five days, it’s hard to not to miss something you want to experience. There will inevitably be overlap. I asked Walbert if A3C staff ever tried to strategically schedule events. He said they put a lot of thought into the schedule and recommended attending the conference portion during the day, followed by the main festival stage in the evening, then club shows at night. “A complaint I hear so often is ‘I couldn’t see my favorite group because I was seeing my other favorite group,’” he said. “That’s something I can live with. If someone was like ‘There wasn’t anything dope to do on Friday night,’ that would be a problem I couldn’t live with.”
The only problem I’ve ever had at A3C is figuring out where to put all the CDs artists hand out. Walbert said he’s stopped taking them when they’re offered. “Now I offer them advice instead: don’t hand people CDs in 2016. My car doesn’t have a CD player and neither does my computer. You’re wasting your money. Reallocate those funds.”
Walbert said that’s a perfect example of why A3C isn’t just a music festival: “We’re bringing together the creative community for education and empowerment, in addition to entertainment. That way they learn not to buy 500 CDs to pass out and smarter ways to invest in their careers.”
Watch our 2014 A3C recap video:
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