“The diversity of the music and the diversity of the people," Empress said. "I feel that it’s an important history that a lot of people around the world, not even just in North Carolina, but a lot of people need to understand."
African Americans in Durham founded the Hayti community after the Civil War. According to Phoenix Festival's website, the city was held as a place of opportunity for all.
Hayti became known as a hub for African American business, music and the arts. During the time of Jim Crow segregation, African Americans worked together supporting each others' businesses to construct an economic district of their own.
The booming businesses within the Hayti community provided funds to form African American financial institutions and neighborhoods through southeast Durham. In addition to businesses, there was a thriving music scene.
“While Durham was booming, let's say back in the '80s and the '90s, the mainstream community was really growing," Hester said. "The Black community seemed to be falling farther and farther behind and of course the reason for that is that it was decimated by the Highway 147 construction and urban renewal that totally destroyed the Hayti community to put in a highway. Which happens all across the country."
The Hayti community is one of North Carolina’s oldest African American communities.
“(The Hayti community) has been the epicenter of Black entrepreneurship and culture in our part of the state for now even longer than 150 years," Hester said.
Phoenix Fest gets its name from the mythical firebird. The firebird reemerges from its own ashes every 500 years. Similar to the mythical creature, Phoenix Fest celebrates the enduring legacy and renewal of Durham’s Hayti community.
“Elements that were present back then, strong entrepreneurial spirits, the collective sense of purpose, people working together, those things are still there," Hester said. "They are just expressed differently in a more modern time."
The Rev. William Ormond is the current lead singer of The New Twilights, an uptempo gospel group, that has performed at the festival in the past and will be returning this year. Ormond said that Phoenix Fest is important to the community in Durham.
“People forget, and it’s a reminder," Ormond said. "(It’s) to try and help to remind people of what Durham was yesterday.”