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420ish Unity Festival | Portsmouth leaders OK hip-hop and reggae event

The City of Portsmouth officially approved the music festival, which organizers hope will help change the narrative of the city.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A large, hip-hop and reggae music festival received the "green light" from Portsmouth city leaders this week, event organizers said.

The 420ish Unity Festival is scheduled to take place behind the Portsmouth Sportsplex from April 23 to 24.

"The goal is to bring people to Portsmouth, not just the festival," said the festival's founder, Germain Green.

Green and co-organizer Lakeesha Atkinson said the venue can hold up to 30,000 people. They hope several thousand concert-goers will attend the two-day event while changing the narrative of the city. 

"[It's about] flipping mindsets of the people, because until this happens, Portsmouth will never think they deserve better," said Atkinson.

Musical performances feature popular hip-hop and reggae artists, including City Girls, Rick Ross, Shaggy and Gucci Mane.

Not all city leaders and residents are on board with the festival, but Portsmouth Vice Mayor De'Andre Barnes thinks people will come around after a successful event. 

“I think with anything new, there’s going to be naysayers and people who don’t understand certain things," said Barnes. "I think once everything comes and they see the impact that it is going to have on the community, especially the financial impact and the businesses that’s going to benefit from it, I think they are going to enjoy it for years to come." 

"I believe the 420ish Festival embraces the city's strong belief in inclusivity, cultural and social diversity," said Mayor Shannon Glover. "Regardless of the discourse about this festival, [it] is like any other event." 

Glover said City Manager Angel Jones has required conditions to ensure the event is safe. 

Jones said the festival "has a great potential to positively impact the quality of life." 

Atkinson said organizers plan to have very strict security measures in place, which was presented to the city. She said private security will partner with the Portsmouth Police Department and the Portsmouth Sheriff's Office. 

Portsmouth police told 13NewsNow officers will provide similar services to other concerts in the area, with a primary focus on traffic control.

As for marijuana, Atkinson said the event will abide by state laws. 

When the music stops, Green and Atkinson hope people say there’s more to Portsmouth than people may think. 

"I aim to change the stereotype," said Green. "There’s good people here." 

Green said he wants to change the narrative about Portsmouth and to introduce outsiders to the "99 percent" of the city, who he says are good, everyday citizens. However, Green said the one percent of the population gets the most notoriety.

The event has also gotten support from Senator Louise Lucas, who is an investor in the festival. 

"I think it'll bring excited across the region," Lucas tweeted. "Portsmouth doesn't usually get to host these events, so it'll be great for economic development for our city as well."  

Atkinson agrees and the says the momentum of the 420ish Unity Festival could launch more discussion about the direction of the city. 

“If Portsmouth is not known for anything else, why not be that ‘Green City'? said Atkinson. “It’s a part of economic development. If that is what will build our city to put resources in place, fix our roads, be able to hire additional police officers and fire firefighters, and invest in our schools, then we are for it.”

For more information about the event and to purchase tickets, click here.