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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Big: Culture & Arts Festival brings creatives across the state to Gainesville 

The art and culture collective will arrive downtown April 13 

A circus performer entertains attendees during the Big Sho at Celebration Catering Warehouse on Saturday, April 15, 2023.
A circus performer entertains attendees during the Big Sho at Celebration Catering Warehouse on Saturday, April 15, 2023.

Big: Culture & Arts Festival is set to take place in an empty lot between Porters Community and South Main Street, breathing life into the venue with Florida’s music, fashion, visual art and film scene. Musical artists based in Gainesville and cities across the state, including Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami, are set to appear in numbers April 13. 

In addition to live musical performances, local food vendors varying in cuisine have been invited. Some food trucks scheduled to be parked include M&D West African Cuisine, Kings BBQ and Catering and Germain’s Chicken Sandwiches.

Its predecessor, “The Big Sho,” took place last April at the Celebrations Warehouse and was considered a test run between Dion Dia and How Bazar: the organizers responsible for the festival and its constituents. There were about 600 people in attendance. 

Last year, the event hosted Zack Fox, an Atlanta-based rapper, actor and stand-up comedian. Fox’s performance marked his first in Gainesville, and organizers credited the comedian for the success of “The Big Sho.” Jahi Khalfani, Khary Khalfani and Laila Fakhoury saw no other option but to continue the festival into the next year — with a new name and concept. 

The Khalfani brothers and Fakhoury initially imagined Big as a departure from conventional music festivals, they said. They aimed to put a larger emphasis on the attendees, rather than operate with the profit-centric framework they said typically guides most festival organizers and their business decisions. This year, they expect a turnout of 3,000 guests.

“The goal for us is to build our own world,” Khalfani said. “You can be here and will 100% find something that you genuinely connect with and love.” 

Despite its success, 26-year-old Jahi Khalfani said “The Big Sho’” faced no shortage of difficulties, being the first large-scale event Khalfani and his colleagues planned. 

“There’s just a lot of moving pieces,” Khalfani said. “It took me months to find someone that would actually get behind us and insure that event and without it we wouldn’t be able to host the event.”

Khalfani said he was completely preoccupied with work at the festival; without the time to have captured a photo, he said his memories of the event may fade sooner than anticipated.

“I had a photo on my phone of us setting up the stage the day before, then there's nothing,” Khalfani said. “It was like I blacked out, like it never happened.”

However, with Big, Khalfani said it may be the redemption he’s yearning for. Unlike “The Big Sho,’” the organizers have scheduled national touring acts like Madison McFerrin, Nick Hakim and Wahid, as well as a slate of acts local to the Gainesville area.

For Casey Jones II, a 24-year-old Gainesville rapper, Big provides a significant opportunity for reaching an audience on a larger scale, he said.

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“I can’t be delusional about the [goals] I have for my career, and then not doing the things it takes to get to the next level,” Jones said. 

Jones said it took a multitude of factors to jumpstart his music career, including quitting a nine-to-five, moving to a larger city and compromising with personal reservations preventing him from pushing himself to his full potential.

Anticipating a show-stopping performance like none he has done yet, Jones said he expects an equally exhilarating event.

“One thing I respect about [the Khalfanis and Fakhoury] is they are not going to do anything halfway,” he said.

Fakhoury, a marketing director at Dion Dia, a Florida record label headquartered at Southwest Second Street’s How Bazar, said one of the greatest challenges of planning a large-scale music festival is the uncertainty of the response.

“What if [the attendees] don’t care?” Fakhoury said. “What if people don’t get it or don’t come?” 

With previous Dion Dia events ranging from $5 to $10 in years past, Fakhoury said admission to Big jumped to $50 to meet its large-scale needs: over 50 artists performing between three stages, food trucks and a variety of art installations set up in an area of over 100,000 square feet. 

“It was our first time asking the community to pay for one of our experiences,” Fakhoury said. “And it was because the money was going back into the artist and creating this festival.”

Tickets for Big are on sale now with general admissions prices starting at $50. 

Contact Benjamin Miller at bmiller@alligator.org. Follow him on X @men_mbiller.


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