The city celebrates its diversity and entertainment roots June 1-3, while showing off its many natural resources. Interview with Mike Tyson.
Over the past year, Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford got to thinking. He wanted to celebrate his city’s culture and heritage and offer a new attraction in the resort. He’s not sure how it happened, but soon the first Atlantic City Multi-Cultural Heritage Festival was being planned.
“It’s something I conceived,” says Langford. “There is so much that we have in Atlantic City in the way of resources, natural resources like the beach and parks, and the rich heritage of music, from the 500 Club to the African-American [clubs] at KY & the Curb. And at the same time boxing [has always played a big role in the city]. There must have been 30-40 venues around the city that have hosted boxing events from the 1930s on up.
“Being a boxing fan, I appreciate the legacy and history of boxing in Atlantic City. Of course, during the casino era, in the 1980s, when Don King was promoting the Mike Tyson fights, this is where the action was. And the town came alive with every major fight. It was good for the economy. Everybody did well.”
“Last time I was in Atlantic City I was informed about [the festival] and I was asked if I would be a participant in it and I said that I would be glad to; it would be a pleasure to promote anything having to do with Atlantic City,” says Mike Tyson, who will be at the festival all weekend.
“I’m a great fan of Atlantic City. I started my career in Atlantic City and I’m always enthused to help out anybody in that area. Anything positive. Atlantic City got a bad rap over the years, but it’s really a beautiful place.”
During his first year as a pro fighter, in 1985, Tyson fought six times in Atlantic City.
“I just wanted to be like the old fighters [who fought several times during one year],” says Tyson on a phone call from Las Vegas this past Tuesday. “I wanted to be a swashbuckling champion. We live in such a controlled environment now as far as America is concerned, and we get in trouble for being such swashbucklers. We get restricted here almost. In this day and age, we go by the books.”
Tyson agrees that A.C. has an extraordinary boxing legacy.
“Without being egotistical, for a moment in time, when [I] had those big fights with Michael Spinks, for one moment the eyes of the world were on Atlantic City. And no one can ever take that away from Atlantic City.”
Tyson, who is also performing in a one-man show he co-wrote with his wife, Undisputed Truth, says he is looking forward to being back in A.C. He was at Caesars in February to see a Tony Bennett show and party at Dusk.
“I always have an awesome time in Atlantic City,” says Tyson. “I’m looking forward to seeing the mayor and the people in town — these are my old friends, man.”
Tyson will be part of the Tom Joyner Morning Show Listening Party festival kick-off event.
“Tom Joyner is an avid boxing fan and he’s in pretty damned good boxing shape,” says Tyson. “We’ve talked about doing an exhibition [fight], maybe [to benefit] black colleges. Imagine if we did that in Atlantic City one day? That would be awesome.”
There will be a “Swab of Cheek” event going on at Surf Stadium during the 6-11am Tom Joyner Morning Show listening party [and at most events during the weekend] for the national organization Save a Life [a bone marrow foundation]. The Joyner show will be broadcast live from Bayport One in West Atlantic City inside The Touch WTTH (96.1 FM) studio.
Following the show, which ends at 10am, Joyner and his show team will head to Surf Stadium, where the mayor will give Joyner a proclamation and key to the city and then the Morning Show team will be signing autographs, posing for photographs and hanging out with fans.
“I’m saying, bring your own champagne for your mimosa,” says Langford. “We’ll have the orange juice covered — and there will be food vendors there. ... It’s BYOC.”
The 6pm Heritage Parade will start between Revel and Showboat and go down the Boardwalk to Albany Avenue. There will be dozens of floats, cars, rolling chairs, regional bands, local businesses and groups. Along with dignitaries, stars and others, representatives from the following nations will be participating: Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Philippines, Korea, Greece, Africa, India, Pakistan, Ireland, China and the Caribbean.
“People can expect a good time,” says Langford. “I think the festival basically offers something for everybody. Most of the events are free and we are just looking to celebrate the diversity that is Atlantic City and send a message out that there are fun things to do in Atlantic City. We want to be considered as a place for festivals and stuff like that and we hope that it will grow to national prominence. Already it’s on the tri-state [radar]. As each component of the festival continues to grow, what a wonderful weekend trip or week to take a vacation: You can see a parade that’s going to have national celebrities riding down the Boardwalk, a free open-air concert, free beach bash, any of the free concerts. As each grows, it strengthens the festival. I think, ultimately, it’s going to become a national event.”
Ashanti will be performing Whitney Houston songs at the R&B Music Tribute Friday night at One Atlantic. Also slated to perform are Regina Belle, Gerald Alston (of the Manhattans), and more surprise performers.
Including Langford, who has sang in two groups professionally, and once appeared at the former Club Harlem in Atlantic City.
“Yep, I’m singing,” says Langford, who won’t disclose the song he will be performing. “That’s a surprise,” he adds with a smile.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, of Philadelphia International Records, will be there to receive the Spirit of Dick Clark Award. Vaughn Harper, a DJ on New York’s WBLS, credited with starting the “Quiet Storm” R&B concept, will also be there to receive the Spirit of Don Cornelius Award.
The free Beach Bash on Saturday is for “the younger crowd,” says Langford. There will be DJs and live performances on platforms on the beach from noon-6pm.
At the same time, the Old-School Summer Concert, featuring Evelyn “Champagne” King, Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, and Third World, will take place at Gardner’s Basin.
Although there has been a great deal of support from local sponsors and volunteers with regard to the entire festival, the All-Star Boxing Legends Gala is Langford’s baby.
“Mike Tyson will be there, Don King, Michael Spinks, Emmanuel Stewart, Thomas Hearns — and a lot of the judges and promoters and commissioners,” he says. “It’s not just fighters. It’s trainers, ring announcers, it’s everybody.
“This is to celebrate the legacy of boxing in Atlantic City. It’s our way of saying thank you to the folk who have been involved in the sport of boxing and who have helped make Atlantic City the boxing mecca that it is.”
Along with stars at the gala, which is being held at Resorts, there will be tributes to people such as Arturo Gatti and Joe Frazier. The event will start with a cocktail reception and then dinner followed by the awards presentation.
The following morning’s Gospel Fest will be held from 6-10am at Surf Stadium and comprised of local choirs and praise dancers.
“There’s not going to be a whole lot of preaching,” says Langford. “But singing and dancing, yes.”
The noon-8pm Jazz in the Garden (at Kennedy Plaza, originally slated to be at Garden Pier, hence the name) will feature headliners Roy Ayers Ubiquity and Pieces of a Dream, along with regional acts opening the show. Henrietta Shelton, founder of the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation, is chair of the Jazz in the Garden committee.
From noon till 8pm, the Boardwalk Bazaar will feature dozens of vendors who specialize in ethnic clothes and merchandise stationed in clusters along the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Volunteers have played a huge role in making this inaugural three-day event get off the ground, says Langford, who adds that he has put a lot of work into this festival, sitting on all nine of the festival committees and even reaching out to artists and boxers himself.
“I’m tired,” he says. “But I need to give a lot of credit to the volunteers, some of whom have been meeting twice a month for the last five months. A lot of people dedicated a lot of time, energy and effort.”
Langford says thanks to volunteers, a plethora of sponsors, and in-kind financial assistance, along with using city-owned venues such as Surf Stadium, that city money is not being used for the most part to cover any of the festival costs.
Cooper Levenson is presenting the R&B Music Tribute “with a big assist from Caesars and Don Marrandino,” Langford offers as one example. Resorts is the sponsor of the Boxing Gala.
Tickets sales will also help defray some of the costs, adds Langford. Additionally, each event in the festival has its own sponsors.
“I am so grateful to the sponsors, both financial as well as in-kind,” adds Langford. “People have just stepped up. You can imagine that this is a costly undertaking, but people have stepped up. This never would have happened if people didn’t come together like they have.”
A good start to what is expected to be a great summer in Atlantic City.
Atlantic City Multi-Cultural Heritage Festival
June 1-3, 2012
Friday, June 1
Tom Joyner Show Listeners Party (Free)
Heritage Parade (Free)
Atlantic City Boardwalk
Summer Super Brawl ‘Live Boxing’ (ticketed event)
Gold & Platinum R&B Music Tribute (ticketed event)
One Atlantic – The Pier Shops at Caesars
Saturday, June 2
Beach Bash (free)
Missouri Avenue Beach
Old-School Summer Concert (free)
All-Star Boxing Legends Gala (ticketed event)
Resorts, Superstar Theater
Sunday, June 3
Gospel Fest (free)
Boardwalk Bazaar (free)
Atlantic City Boardwalk
Jazz in the Garden (free)
For ticketed events, tickets can be purchased at Sonny’s Barber Shop on Kentucky Avenue and Images of Art on Pennsylvania Avenue in Atlantic City; and in Northfield at High-Siddity. Tickets are $60 for the R&B Music Tribute; $100 for the Boxing Gala.
Tickets for some events can also be purchased via the related casino box office or through Ticketmaster. Tickets can also be purchased at the door of each ticketed event.
Mike Tyson will be in town all weekend for the inaugural festival in Atlantic City.
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