Broccoli City Co-Founders on How the D.C.-Based Festival is Surviving the Pandemic and Making Social Change
The Broccoli City Festival was initially slated to take place this past weekend in Washington, D.C., featuring headlining acts like Lil Baby, Snoh Aalegra, Moneybagg Yo, and Lucky Daye. Tickets were almost sold out in September in anticipation of the annual event’s return following its cancellation in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, the ongoing pandemic prevailed once again, forcing organizers to cancel the festival for a second consecutive year just weeks in advance.
Organizers for Broccoli City, which describes itself as “the largest festival in the country for young people of color,” released a statement expressing concern about the spread of COVID-19 in the African American community. As a result, the event won’t take place until 2022.
“At the heart of Broccoli City is the belief that our people deserve the best of everything — including safe spaces to gather in celebration of our culture. In that spirit, we have decided to cancel the Broccoli City Festival 2021 this Oct. to reduce the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19 and do our part to slow the spread in the communities of color we serve,” read the statement tweeted on Sept. 14.
The festival founders say they wanted to prioritize the health and safety of the community they’ve been cultivating since 2010. Since then, the Broccoli City Festival (BC Fest) evolved into a huge annual attraction in D.C. that intersects Black music, culture, community service, and empowerment. Each year, it brings up to 35,000 people together and features performers like Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B, Lil Wayne, Erykah Badu, Nipsey Hussle, and Anderson Paak. In addition to live performances, organizers host BroccoliCon, a two-day seminar of informative panel discussions addressing issues affecting the culture.
Broccoli City was founded by Brandon McEachern, Marcus Allen, and Darryl Perkins. McEachern and Allen, two longtime friends, told BLACK ENTERPRISE that the name derived from their Broccoli City clothing line, which they launched as a nod to their hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. During an interview in late August, before the 2021 festival was canceled, McEachern explained that “broccoli” was a reference for the word “green” while “city” was used to refer to “boro.”
“We just started saying Broccoli City back in the day when we were young, and the name just kind of stuck. It ended up getting kind of its own personality,” he said.
McEachern says the event was created to serve a community of Black health and socially conscious young people who love hip-hop, R&B, trap, and soul music. Although it began as just a concert, it now includes conference speakers like Netflix Chief Marketing Officer Bozoma Saint John and rapper and health food entrepreneur Styles P.
“We wanted to have a space where we can all come together and network and learn from each other,” said McEachern. “I don’t know too many other festivals that have a conference before you turn up.”
Beyond The Music
Unlike other festivals, he says Broccoli City invests in the D.C. community by hiring local talent and facilitating social initiatives all year round that focus on healthy eating and cleaning up local rivers and waterways. In addition, Broccoli City has hosted 5K running events for charity, online panels about the COVID-19 vaccine, and community fundraisers. BC Fest also gives its audience the opportunity to earn a ticket through volunteer work.
“Over 5,000 people earned a ticket by doing a certain amount of volunteer hours,” says Allen, adding that the big picture is to be more like Global Citizen than a Coachella.
Allen points out that BC Fest is also uniquely postured for an unapologetically Black audience. “People know and recognize spaces that were curated by other Black people,” he said, pointing to the inclusion of cultural activities like double dutch.
Allen says another key to the brand’s success is his decades-long partnership, which has evolved into a brotherhood based on trust and faith in one another.
“We’ve been best friends since like first or second grade,” said Allen. “Our relationship is deeper than rap,” he continued. “They say friends can’t necessarily be business partners, but our relationship is so egoless.”
Pivoting in the Pandemic
Despite its success, the founders have faced a number of challenges along their journey, including the unprecedented pandemic that forced the live event brand to pivot into the virtual space.
“We had been working with a company for the past couple of years doing digital stuff, talking about digital production, [and] live streaming,” says Allen. However, they officially partnered with the company last year to create their own imprint label and produce their own virtual events. They also began producing virtual conferences and sessions for other organizations like the United Negro College Fund. “That began to be an excellent revenue stream for us over the pandemic.”
Allen adds that COVID also forced them to shift their energy toward solution-based events. In turn, they “converted the festival ground into a drive-in movie theater. We ended up selling 25,000 tickets from July to Jan. 1,” he said. Furthermore, “we ended up working with Color of Change leading into the  election and creating a drive-in movie series that toured about eight or nine cities this past year to help promote voter registration.”
The Next Chapter
Allen says the next chapter in their journey as entrepreneurs is building BC Fest into a legacy brand.
“We’re a great business, but at this point, the challenge for us and the greater opportunity is how do we create a company that’s here for generations [so] our legacy can live on?”
He added, “this live event space is one part of the whole thing. We’re really dedicated to trying to figure out how we can make our brand a lasting thing.”
Watch Brandon McEachern’s and Marcus Allen’s full interview on The New Norm With Selena Hill below.