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Indiana Black Expo kicks it old school


Biz Markie performs Sunday night at Conseco.
  • Biz Markie performs Sunday night at Conseco.

When it comes to booking music for Indiana Black Expo's Summer Celebration, Amp Harris tries to cover all the bases, bringing in contemporary artists for his celebrity basketball game aimed towards youth, as well as more seasoned acts for the Expo's big-top shows at American Legion Mall and Conseco Fieldhouse.

But in the end, according to Harris, the go-to concert promoter for Indiana Black Expo, the entertainment is necessarily aimed towards an older crowd.

"The Expo itself is a fundraiser, so even though we concentrate on youth from an education standpoint, when it comes to entertainment, the adults are really going to spearhead the finances of the event," he told NUVO on Tuesday morning, shortly before heading to a press conference regarding safety at this year's Expo. "We try to keep it clean and fun, so most of the artists we bring in are user-friendly artists."

User-friendly artists like those headlining Sunday night's Legends of Hip-Hop and R&B concert, including New Edition offshoot Bel Biv Devoe, R&B vocal group Force MDS, party rapper Biz Markie and groundbreaking female emcee MC Lyte. Or those playing Friday night's outdoor Music Heritage Concert: Atlanta disco outfit SOS Band, soul vocalist Stephanie Mills (whom Harris is "really excited to see") and another New Edition offshoot, the vocal trio Heads of State, comprised of three former vocalists from the group — Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant.

Even the contemporary artists Harris is bringing in to perform at his celebrity basketball game are accessible to all comers, including local emcee Dro Man, Houston rapper Kirko Bangz and Inglewood rap duo Cali Swag District, best known for their single "Teach Me How To Dougie."

Ah, but wait, is Heads of State such an uncontroversial choice, given that Bobby Brown had a rough couple decades after establishing himself as one of the leading figures in New Jack Swing? Did Harris and Indiana Black Expo have any concerns when booking the group?

"None whatever," Harris answered. "Trust when I tell you, we did our research, we've gone through every possible link, connection. In fact, as crazy as this may sound, for me, they have been the easiest to work with at the level that they are at."

The Expo's entertainment is user-friendly in another way: it's quite reasonably priced, with tickets ranging from free (Friday's outdoor show) to $25 for a ground-floor seat (Sunday's Conseco show). That's not by accident, according to Harris.

"What we do is so much community-oriented. We build our budget, not to go into it as if a promoter was doing the concert because we are a not-for-profit organization. We build our financial line based on capacity of room. When we build it out, it's designed to make money, but it's not designed to break the community to get a good-quality event."

This is the fourteenth year Harris has hosted a celebrity basketball game during Indiana Black Expo, which he now co-hosts with Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne. He brought the idea back from Los Angeles.

"I started the game after going on a visit, hanging out with Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube in L. A. years ago," Harris explains. "They had a big celebrity game in L.A. This is when they were having really big issues with gang violence."

After talking over the idea with another celebrity friend, then-Pacers player Pooh Richardson, Harris asked local faith and community groups to get involved, and then drew on his friends as talent.

"The whole idea is to get kids in Indianapolis to look up to celebrities," Harris explains. "The basketball game is considered the magnet for me, so that they can give their stories and testimonies, to tell the kids, 'You too can do what you want to,' and a lot of them came from the same backgrounds as some of the celebrities that they look up to."

Not that it's all about positive messages and youth. Harris also points to a couple parties this weekend that are core Indiana Black Expo events: a celebrity-filled mixer at Sensu Friday and Saturday's All White Affair, which will feature a performance by Dave Hollister of the R&B ensemble Blackstreet.


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