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Meet Jewel Kaio-Johnson of IndieFest in Metro Atlanta Area

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jewel Kaio-Johnson.

Jewel, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
After graduating from Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Performing Arts in Jonesboro, Georgia, I wanted to start doing spoken word poetry. With this being said, I looked for open mic events in the Atlanta area where I could share my craft with others. It was that same summer of 2018 where I looked around and thought, “Why isn’t there anything like this where I am?” In Riverdale, Georgia and its surrounding cities–Fayetteville, Morrow, Lovejoy, College Park, and so on, there just weren’t any open mic events. With only two weeks to plan as the summer was coming to a close, I contacted a friend from high school who worked at Boba Theory in Morrow, Georgia. With their boss approving the idea, I immediately got to work and formed an open mic event titled. “Self-Expression Open Mic,” which was entirely put together and hosted by me.

The turnout of the event was such a success, that it soon became an annual thing. With more preparation, I established a wonderful team in the summer of 2019. Seeing how much of the community that it brought together, we adopted the name “IndieFest,” meaning “To celebrate and express individuality.” Not only was Boba Theory packed inside and out, but it ran much smoother, having a co-host and someone for tech to navigate throughout the show.

I would have never imagined IndieFest to be my heartbeat. I am a student at Columbus State University, and I love it with all of my heart. I wanted to see if I could bring this platform to Columbus, Georgia as an event that many students and other Columbus residents could enjoy. From here, I figured out that the target audiences are high school and college students since I considered the age groups of the performers that were at the shows, and because it made the message of our events have even more of an impact. However, I definitely did not think that having it in Columbus would at all be possible. My mentor showed me a whole new point of view of what IndieFest truly was and what it can definitely be when cards are played correctly. From here, I gathered my team together and we reached out to the owner of Second Story, a college ministry in Downtown Columbus, Georgia. Thankfully, he agreed to let my team and I host IndieFest. and the turnout was absolutely phenomenal.

IndieFest is only going to continue to grow bigger and better each year. By giving a platform to people to showcase their talents in local communities. they are essentially being given the opportunity that is hard to come by in bigger cities like Atlanta.

Has it been a smooth road?
One of the biggest challenges has definitely been funding these events. While we do them entirely free to the public, it becomes frustrating when personal funds start coming out of our pockets, as this was a learning experience, IndieFest is entirely funded by donations and sponsors today.

A personal struggle that I have gone through is battling drug addiction. In the middle of my Fall Semester of 2019, I was suspended from CSU, and the way that I coped was through drug use. I saw it as a way to not only escape how I feel but what I was going through. Every day, I became more and more depressed with my situation. I absolutely hated that this was happening to me, and I wanted it to stop. All of my friends thought that I either stayed in my dorm all of the time or that I took a break from school and went back home when in reality, the truth kept eating me alive day by day.

My mentor, DeMarcus Smith, is one of the most inspiring role models that I look up to. While I was at one of his speaker events, we talked for hours over how big that my little idea truly was. I had no idea that it was my happy place and that knowing how people loved me putting together the event brought a ray of light which peaked through the dark clouds that were over me for months. That same morning, the owner of Second Story called me and confirmed a date for the event. IndieFest came to Columbus, Georgia on November 11th of 2019.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with IndieFest – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
IndieFest is a talent showcasing event that serves as a platform for young artists in local communities. We offer a safe-space for unlimited creativity through artistry and culture of self-expression.

I am most proud of what IndieFest has become, and what it continues to grow into. Aside from the business, I am 110% proud of every person who performs at the event. It takes courage to stand up in front of an audience and completely be yourself. Knowing that IndieFest can be that safe space for others who had never had the chance to step out of their circle makes me feel accomplished. One cool thing about IndieFest is the potential to be scouted by directors, producers, record labels, you name it! To see someone who performed at IndieFest one day be on television or even going platinum? It’s absolutely crazy to think about it. 

We’re only gonna keep sprouting, baby!

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
One thing that I love about the Metro Atlanta area is that there is so much undiscovered talent. You can walk past maybe 15 people going to the Marta Station or even 20 people walking around Target in the Fayette Pavillion, and you would never know just what artistic abilities that they may have.

The least thing that I like about Metro Atlanta and even Atlanta would definitely have to be traffic! There’s no way that there are so many lanes on the highway and they’re ALL backed up.

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