Fans roll up for new music festival/carnival at Three County Fairgrounds

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NORTHAMPTON — When Iris Cruz was growing up in the Holyoke and Springfield area, she wished that big-time music acts would visit the region.

“Growing up listening to this music but not being able to attend bummed me out,” Cruz said.

But that all changed Friday as Cruz and her wife, Justine, prepared for three days of music at the Three County Fairgrounds, where some of the biggest names in hip hop and electronic music were soon to arrive at the brand-new music festival The Roll Up, presented by Carniroll. Those musical acts include Wiz Khalifa, Method Man, Redman, Waka Flocka Flame and GRiZ. Cruz had been up since 6 a.m. getting ready for the event, where doors didn’t even open until 11 a.m.

“Now it’s in our backyard,” Cruz said. “It’s beautiful.”

Friday marked the first day of the inaugural Carniroll event, which was billed by organizers 4Life Entertainment and Cruz Control Entertainment as a kind of carnival meets music festival. The festival was the brainchild of Springfield’s Spencer Lavoie, the founder of 4Life Entertainment, and featured four musical stages, an exotic car show, 12 food trucks, carnival games and rides, and countless vendors selling art, clothing and everything in between.

Efforts to reach Lavoie on Friday, amid the busy hours of setup for the event, were unsuccessful.

The headlining artists drew the most attention, but much of the lineup consisted of local musicians. Hartford-based rap duo AQMNI, for example, kicked off the festivities on Friday morning as concertgoers began to file into the fairgrounds.

“We have a lot of raw, local talent expressing themselves on a platform they don’t usually get,” said George Adler, the production manager for the event. He said that although this is the festival’s first year, the organizers hope to make it “a staple event in the community” moving forward.

One of those local groups was The Alchemystics, offering a fusion of hip-hop, reggae and soul music with positive, uplifting messages. Any casual political observers in the city would immediately recognize the band’s MC and longest-serving member: Ward 4 City Councilor Garrick Perry.

In an interview immediately after his energetic set, Perry said Lavoie — whom he’s known for years — and the other organizers really went out of their way to offer a entertainment and activities ranging from carnival rides, to Blitzkrieg Pro Wrestling to vendors and fireworks, with the music at the heart of the event. He highlighted the fact that the festival was free for Northampton and Amherst residents on Sunday, and commended the Three County Fairgrounds for taking a chance on an event that isn’t typical for the space.

“During these times when we don’t have a lot of venues to play in Northampton … we’re really lacking in big stages,” Perry said. “This for me is excellent and I hope if all goes well we can do this again and really tie the city into what’s happening.”

Another of the local acts preparing for a set Friday was the beatboxer and multi-instrumentalist Gable Johnson III, who performs as Honeycomb. Originally from Windsor Locks, Connecticut, Johnson has performed across the region.

“We’re excited to throw down with the crew,” Johnson said, noting that he’d be joined in a full band by local artists Jules Jenssen, 3LC, Intellekt, Sobe, Kyle Goldstein, Tonio Sagan and Jackson Whalan.

Johnson said he has known Lavoie for a decade, first performing in a show he organized in Springfield.

“I’m grateful to be a part of this,” he said, a warm smile on his face. “I’m excited to see how it’s going to turn out.”

Festival organizers said that they gave away about 500 free tickets to first responders, nurses and veterans, and intended to donate a dollar from every ticket sale to charity.

For many, the opportunity to have the festival in Northampton was the biggest draw.

“There’s something provincial about western Mass, and so you always have to go elsewhere to find these shows,” said Sean Ryan, 24, of Chesterfield. “There’s something about it that’s a homecoming.”

For attendee Michael Foley, it was the atmosphere that he was excited about. He said he just quit his job the previous week and was ready for a good time.

“I’m just here to party my ass off,” he said with a laugh. “Dance from noon to midnight.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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