A Coleman Affair

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Have you ever met someone you knew would become an important person later in life? Meet Coleman Ott. This ambitious sophomore has accomplished more in his short two years at the College than most have in four. Ott interns at the Jazz Artists of Charleston, a local nonprofit that organizes jazz events downtown to recognize and celebrate the city’s rich jazz history. They have a program called “Jazz in the Joint,” in which they hold jazz concerts in a local prison.  Ott also does video work for the Charleston City Market and assists with CisternYard Video, where he started the Charlestown Sounds interview series. This series was a turning point for Ott in his artistic path.

Coleman Ott. (Photo by Jaquan Leonard)

This quirky optimist has made it a point to be as welcoming and inclusive as one person can possibly be during his time at the College. No matter what he has planned, whether that be meeting with 1770 Records, playing the ukulele, or even a festival, he stops to talk to everyone. As one of the most recognizable faces on campus, when Ott had the idea to create a music festival, he already had many connections to help him get started.

Celebrating the power of local music to bring people together. That was the inspiration behind Ott’s most daring project to date: a music festival in the middle of the peninsula featuring musicians from all around Charleston.

The festival originated from Coleman’s Charlestown Sounds Interview Series, which he started filming with the help of CisternYard Video a year ago. Each interview with a local musician starts with a discussion between the musician and Ott and ends with a live performance. It is a great way for him to meet and form relationships with “beautiful and creative people” throughout the Charleston area. Ott felt out the local music scene and decided to start the festival to further his collaboration with the local artists. It was the logical next step for him. “I always want to be developing my craft and growing. I never want to become stagnant,” Ott said.

Bursting with excitement, Ott was more than willing to share his vision with CisternYard News. “Communicating my vision to others and them hopping on board with it and getting excited has been the fuel to my passion and my drive to this whole process,” Ott said. He started the festival because he wanted to be more involved in the local music scene, but was not producing his own music. To him the answer was simple, “I had to do something with the musicians and for the musicians.” Thus Charlestown Sounds Music Festival was born.

Starting the process may seem daunting to some, but not to Ott. He came up with the idea while traveling back from Thanksgiving break last semester and was able to secure a venue, The Music Farm, by December. Over the next three months, he worked hard to accomplish his vision. It didn’t feel like work to him because this is what he wanted to do. “One of my life purposes is to bring people together through music. This [the festival] is an example of that. It’s kind of a trial run,” he said. Ott spent the next three months in and out of interviews, meetings, and classrooms, trying to find the balance between his work for the festival and his schoolwork. Through the whole ordeal, he kept his carefree attitude and personable quality.

The musicians, ranging from Contour to The Night Caps, were all eager to get on board — they understood Ott’s vision and wanted to be a part of it. To add to the chemistry, all the musicians knew each other beforehand. Ott loves all music, but he has a sweet spot for gospel and sings in the College’s Gospel Choir, who opened the festival. Yet another testament to Ott’s ability to build relationships is his pairing of Man-Child with Abstract and Speakerbox for the hip-hop hour to close out the event.

Ott’s creative aura shone when it came to creating designs. With the help of his volunteer team, Ott constructed posters, stickers and shirts. “All the designs embody the feel of the festival. There’s a unity and flow between the designs,” Ott proudly stated.

On top of all the work Ott put into Charlestown Sounds, he found time to organize a parade leading up to the festival. He recruited an African Drum Group and took to the streets. “That’s really important to me, that we can do that in this city. We are privileged in that we can dance in the streets. And we have the freedom to do that publicly,” Ott said.

He faced some bumps, but nothing halted his roll. He confronted and overcame strict record labels, timing issues and monetary roadblocks. This festival was only possible through the support Coleman garnered. People wanted to step up and help him create this festival, undoubtedly due to his adventurous and generous spirit. The magnetism of his personality combined with his passion to spread positivity throughout the local music scene drew numerous people to his side in this massive undertaking. Whether it was his family, friends, or coworkers, Ott found plenty supporters and volunteers to back him up on his mission.

The event was a learning process for Ott. A key part of the success of the event was the support received from his friends and people around him. His advice to others who are interested in starting something big but do not know where to begin is to “be willing to listen, especially from the beginning. You don’t [know] what the heck you’re doing, don’t be afraid to reach out to these people, like advisors, figures in local businesses. If you have a vision you have to be able to communicate that vision to others. Also, sometimes you have to say no to people’s suggestions because it’s not in line with your vision. Stay true to your vision and work hard. Don’t be afraid to take the first step. Keep a positive mindset and walk in love.”

A portion of the Charlestown Sounds proceeds benefitted the Ebony City Soccer Club, a local nonprofit soccer organization for inner city youth in Charleston.

*This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of The Yard. 

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