PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Thursday afternoon, the sights Nataki Hill was seeing along Portsmouth Boulevard were so foreign, she had to document what she was seeing.
Big trucks, forklifts and a several dozen workers were scurrying about. By the time late afternoon shadows began to appear, so did a more than 40×40 foot stage, towering above the Portsmouth Sportsplex.
“I actually took pictures and sent them to people saying ‘It’s really happening. It’s really happening,’” Hill said.
The stage, a litany of tents, portable toilets and one mobile cell phone tower have all been brought to the property in preparation for the 420ish Unity Festival, set to make its debut this weekend.
The festival has been in the works since last year, and has a goal of “bringing people of all ages and ethnicities together.” The festival’s website states that 30,000 tickets will be available for the 18 and up event that will feature live music from more than 20 artists, including headliners like City Girls, Rick Ross, and Shaggy. The entertainment is scheduled to start around noon with the last act going on at 10 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
Hill is excited and looking for her turn to cash in. By happenstance, Hill just acquired a property across from the Sportsplex to expand her Serenity’s Oasis jewelry brand. This weekend, she has partnered with 4 Sisters and an Oven to serve food to concert goers.
“They’re going to have fish, chicken, hot dogs,” Hill said.
Down the street, an old auto repair garage has a spray painted sign that advertises “VIP Parking.”
Germain Green with Backyard Entertainment LLC, the umbrella company behind the event, said the community involvement is what he wants to see.
“It should be an opportunity for everyone to get involved,” Green said. “I want this to elevate the entire city.”
However the optimism is also being met with a fair share of skepticism.
Organizers, which also include Portsmouth School Board member Lakeesha Atkinson, have never produced a festival of the magnitude being advertised.
Tickets went on sale in January, before necessary permits from the City of Portsmouth were approved and even though the festival is billed as a “music, food and canna festival” the city has made clear marijuana — often termed 420 in slang — is not to be smoked on the festival grounds. There also won’t be alcohol.
On social media, many have complained about the prices of the tickets. A two-day non-refundable general admission pass is priced at more than $300 with fees.
In addition, the location of the Sportsplex, is far from areas associated with entertainment and tourism. A production manager with the Chesapeake based Elite AV Elements production company told 10 On Your Side Thursday that soft ground made setting up the 80,000 pound stage difficult.
Green wouldn’t release how many tickets have been sold so far but said he is hopeful to see “many day-of.”
“The festival for me, as far as success, is people coming from other cities and seeing what the city of Portsmouth has to offer and people getting home safely,” Green said.
State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), who championed the legislation that made recreational marijuana legal in the state and now owns her own cannabis shop, reassured this week the festival is set up for success.
She said when it comes to security, 54 Portsmouth police officers and sheriff’s deputies have been hired to help with security.
“It’s going to be an economic boost for the city … it’s going to bring people together,” Lucas said. “I’m hoping that it will be peaceful, if we pull that all off I think we are on our way to having a festival for Portsmouth that people can appreciate.”
Portsmouth is often in the news in a positive light. The city’s battle with crime mixed with a long history of messy politics has made it a frequent punch line for the region.
However, Hill is hopeful this could be a turning point.
“I’m so excited. I’m so excited,” Hill said. “I think it’s good for the city of Portsmouth we need something like this.”