Each year, the African American Heritage Festival includes a diverse offering of musical acts, alternative entertainment, food and retail vendors, educational presentations and informative resources.
The 19th annual festival - which begins at noon Saturday on the Penn State Altoona campus - will be no exception.
"This is what we are known for," said Harriett Gaston, president of the African American Heritage Project, which puts on the festival.
The 19th annual African American Heritage Festival — which begins at noon Saturday on the Penn State Altoona campus — will offer a wide variety of vendors and entertainment.
The lineup of jazz-based artists set to play this year's festival will play from a musical catalogue rarely heard on the radio in the local area, Gaston said. One in particular is Westchester County, N.Y., musician Bob Baldwin, who will perform for the first time in Altoona at 5 p.m.
"For those who are into smooth urban jazz, Bob has become very well known," Gaston said. "He's been saying he's wanted to come. This year, we were finally able to work something out."
Baldwin said he's excited to play the festival, and is a proponent for promoting jazz music in small towns and schools across the country.
If you go
What: 19th annual African American Heritage Festival
When: Noon to 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Penn State Altoona
Details: Admission is free. Parking is $1.
"It just gives kids another option with what they want to do with their lives. ... Music is definitely a nice career," he said. "It's definitely nice to see a new generation of kids coming up who are excited to be playing real music."
And for the diverse, all-ages crowd that's sure to be at this year's festival, Baldwin is eager to share his talents and his passion.
"That's what's cool, I think, about music festivals. You get like-minded people coming to a venue and enjoying music," he said. "It'll be a great day of music and community."
Both a complement and a contrast to Baldwin's smooth jazz, Calvin Stemley, saxophonist and band leader for the House of Soul band, said the R&B-flavored jazz they will provide during their 6 p.m. set will get people on their feet.
"We forewarn you, we're a dance band," Stemley said. "So if you're dancing around and jumping out of your seat, we're not responsible. That's our disclaimer."
House of Soul has been around for 20 years, and is a current staple of the Pittsburgh jazz scene. The band was started on the principle of playing '70s retro music with a live horn section, even as the scene was transitioning to the techno of the '80s. Now, the band still plays '70s favorites along with contemporary covers of Beyonce and Mary J Blidge.
"What we found is that a lot of the times, people can really relate to music that they know," Stemley said. "You name the artist, we've covered it."
Because they have more than 200 songs in their repertoire, Stemley said House of Soul can cater their set to the audience at hand. He added that he would encourage any type of audience to attend the festival and watch their set - whether they remember the music from their childhood or are being exposed to it for the first time.
"We're an endangered species," Stemley said. "You don't find many bands today with a live horn section. ... Our goal is that when we leave there, everybody in attendance had a wonderful time."
Music won't be the only entertainment at this year's festival. Vendors will sell food ranging from traditional festival fare to those of more ethnic orientation, Gaston said. Other activities include arts and crafts and educational programs for children.
A new addition to this year's festival will be presentations on different aspects of African American history in Blair County, given by past and present Penn State Altoona students. They will take place from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Smith Building, Gaston said.
Lauren Hatch, a May 2011 Penn State Altoona graduate with a degree in letters, arts and sciences, will present her research of the race relations between whites and blacks in the mid-19th century in Blair County. She will talk about how blacks and the subject of slavery were presented in the local media in that time period.
"It was really, really interesting. I had never done research on that level," said Hatch, 22, of Altoona, about her efforts, which she did as start of an independent study and Capstone project. "It was interesting reading actual newspaper articles from the area. No one has really done a study quite like this, on this small of a scale."
Hatch said she's glad the festival gives locals the opportunity to understand and experience African American history and heritage.
"It's such an interesting history," she said. "It's tragic, but you can also focus on their resilience and strength."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.