Wake Up Your Ears With Feel-Good Sounds at OZY Fest
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
You go to a festival to feel good. These musicians may make you feel more than good.
By Carly Stern and Barbara Fletcher
See John Legend and Miguel at OZY Fest in Central Park on Sunday, July 21 — alongside fellow musical artists like Tove Lo, comedians like Trevor Noah, cultural forces like Spike Lee and politicians like Beto O’Rourke. Get your tickets here.
OZY Fest has always been about music. After all, it’s the groove and the soulful voices that make you feel good, especially as you’re dancing and swaying in a crowd of 40,000 people in Central Park (as festivalgoers will be this weekend). Past OZY Fest attendees have been treated to the sounds of Common, Jason Derulo, Will.i.am and Zara Larsson, to name just a few.
This year the music lineup is still about making you feel good — sometimes with a little romance thrown in, sometimes with an extra layer of sweet soul and sometimes with a little edge.
That description certainly fits Saturday’s headliner, singer-songwriter John Legend. He’s a legend indeed, and not only because he is one of only 15 people to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony (known as an EGOT) — his music connects with listeners across genres. Legend “fits in with artists like Nat King Cole, Cyrus Chestnut and jazz/R&B cats who can both swing and jam,” says Eugene Robinson, OZY’s editor-at-large. Those smooth, catchy grooves simmer in his hits like “All of Me” and “Used to Love U.” The Springfield, Ohio, native is “a driven, protean artist with a knack for connecting with the past, whether musical forebears or historical figures or social movements,” Molly Lambert wrote in Smithsonian magazine.
The New Jersey-based band Arizona also relies on history, in the form of old synths, to infuse their electro-pop sound. And if the band’s new single “Nostalgic,” with its ’80s-tinged beats, doesn’t wash over you like a sea of sweet wistfulness, well, you might be made of stone. The trio released its debut studio album, Gallery, in 2017. Arizona has made the rounds on the festival circuit, performing at South by Southwest, Governors Ball, Firefly and Lollapalooza.
Artist Jazzy Amra — a protégée of Wyclef Jean — creates feel-good riffs of a different vibe with her self-described sound of hip-hop and R&B meets soul. The Bronx-born singer was inspired by the music her mother listened to: Aaliyah, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton and Usher. She chose the stage name Amra because it means “princess” in Arabic (it’s also the title of her first solo album), a nod to the conviction that she can always feel comfortable in her own skin. Have a listen to the confident and supersmooth track “Single Single” and you’ll agree.
Artist Tove Lo also has an independent vibe — a swaggering sound that compels you to sing along. The Swedish singer-songwriter, who has been compared to Kesha, Lorde and Katy Perry, is known for her grungy, raw approach to pop. And her call-it-like-she-sees-it autobiographical lyrics have struck a chord on both sides of the Atlantic. In Out magazine, writer Alex Panisch described her as “the world’s most brutally honest pop star.” Lo would likely agree. In an interview with Fader magazine, she said, “All of the songs are me and my words. I’m creating something because it means something to me and is special to me.”
In a similar vein, singer-songwriter Kat Cunning (Katrina Cunningham) creates sultry songs around issues that are close to her heart — like body positivity, queer representation and sex positivity. “I believe in the personal as political,” Cunning told Wonderland magazine. “I tell stories from my heart, the very raw, true details of what I experience.” This rawness, which swells into feel-good anthemic tunes, is evident in her hits “King of Shadow” and “Birds” — both songs are on the soundtrack to Trinkets, a Netflix series featuring Cunning. The NYC-based queer actress and choreographer has also performed on Broadway — she knows how to connect with a crowd.
And speaking of connecting with a crowd, Sunday’s headliner Miguel is guaranteed to get those endorphins pumping with his eclectic and energizing sound — a blend of funk, hip-hop, rock and electronic. The 33-year-old Californian began pursuing a music career when he was 13 years old, and he released his debut studio album in 2010. Born to a Mexican-American father and an African-American mother, Miguel produces music embedded with his ethos. “My intention is to transcend the expectations of ethnic people or what they are allowed to do,” he told Time magazine. Have a listen to “Remind Me to Forget” and try to forget it.
That goes for the rest of the artists on stage at Central Park this weekend. With performances that are certain to be memorable and to have you dancing and singing along, and maybe even leave you feeling more than a little romantic, the OZY Fest stage is about connecting you with summer-loving vibes.