Five months after a series of bombings rocked Austin, an inclusive event has designs on mending some of the city's wounds. On August 25, the fifth annual fest RAS Day Festival takes over Kenny Dorham's Backyard for an all-day affair of music, art, culture, and community in honor of the terrorist's repeated attacks.
Beginning March 2 through March 20, Austin's communities of color were victimized by a series of seemingly random bombings that killed Anthony Stephan House, a 39-year-old father, and Draylen Mason, a 17-year-old musician planning to begin studies at the University of Texas' prestigious Butler School of Music later this month. (The blasts also injured four others: two women — including Mason's mother — and two men.)
"The Austin community at large was affected by the bombings, but Brown and Black residents were particularly shaken because the brunt of these attacks were happening on our doorsteps," says Riders Against the Storm's Chaka. "These scenarios trigger past traumas that many in our community walk with daily — a continuous feeling that we are under attack. There's this general feeling of, 'When will this madness end? Why can't I just breathe and be who I am?'"
RAS Day Festival is held every year in honor of Austin's official Riders Against the Storm Day, as first proclaimed by the mayor in 2013. In planning this year's festivities, organizers felt compelled to create an "ecosystem of respite" for fellow Austinites, a place where all residents can gather to connect and heal. In this spirit, Chaka and his wife/festival co-creator/bandmate, Qi Dada, focused on crafting "a diverse, fun-loving, joyful, and exuberant experience" for all.
Joining Riders Against the Storm as performers at the family-friendly event is Saul Williams (whom Chaka calls "one of the most powerful and eclectic artists of our generation"), Nitty Scott, Gato Preto, Trouble In The Streets, Mamis, Temple Underground, Olivia and Honeyson, DJ Chicken George, and DJ Mahealani.
In addition to music, other RAS Day highlights include free massages, a kid's village, live painting, yoga and movement workshops, and more. According to a release, more than 200 local creatives ranging from videographers to artisans are employed by the fest. "Every year, it's a culmination of so much goodness," says Chaka.
RAS Day is ultimately an extension of Chaka and Qi Dada's work within the Austin community. As Riders Against the Storm, the couple has hosted their monthly dance party turned hip-hop church, Body Rock ATX, for more than eight years. Before joining forces as Riders, both Chaka and Qi Dada worked as educators and community organizers.
Though the media has long ago drifted into a different news cycle, the Capital City is just beginning to sift through the wreckage left in the wake of the bombings, and organizers believe this day will be a healing part of that process.
"Austin can be a particularly difficult space to navigate because there is this 'liberal' veneer that covers historical, institutional, and social neglect of Black and Brown issues, voices, thoughts, creativity, etc.," explains Chaka. "As artists, we don't necessarily fight these realities directly, but we create our own, striving to connect people on a deeper level, where actual healing can occur."
Individual tickets for RAS Day Festival are on sale now for $20 and VIP badges for $70. A special $30 package grants ticket holders access to both RAS Day, and the previous evening's Body Rock ATX. Children under 12 get in free.