Singer Zandrina Dunning said she is excited to keep the trend of distanced festivals during the pandemic going | Photo by Ruta Smith

Sounding Pure

If anyone can make a social-distanced music festival work, it’s Zandrina Dunning. In addition to her thriving career as a versatile singer on the Charleston music scene, she’s also been doing more and more work behind the scenes, organizing and booking the PURE concerts at Forte Jazz Lounge, among other events.

If not for that series, Dunning’s new PURE Concert Festival wouldn’t exist at all.

“It’s an outgrowth of the series I’ve been doing at Forte,” Dunning said. “We’ve had a new artist every month, including Manny Houston, Heather Rice, StaLaV and myself in February. The ‘PURE’ stands for ‘Peace, Unity and Revival through Entertainment,’ and this will kind of serve as a finale to all those shows.”

Dunning collaborated closely with the Cane Bay Family YMCA in Summerville to create the 13-act outdoor festival, which will include performances from Hunter Park, Jordan Igoe, Blacknoyze, Gino Castillo & The Cuban Cowboys, Kanika Moore, the Motown Throwdown and more. 

“I partnered up with the YMCA of Cane Bay because they have about 60-something acres of land out there,” Dunning said. “So we’re going to be using their backyard, essentially. It’s perfect for social distancing.”

The festival hopes to offer something for everyone with performers like Gino Castillo + the Cuban Cowboys | Photo by Lyric Photography

The PURE Concert Festival is also making music for a good cause, benefitting the Charleston Walk for Autism. 

Dunning typically handles smaller-scale events, working solo with help from friends in the music community. PURE is a much bigger undertaking, and she said that scale took some getting used to.

“I’m used to doing things by myself,” she said. “Partnering up with the YMCA has definitely been a new beast. But, it’s really exciting because they’ve done some outdoor stuff there; we’re coming together and using our resources. I actually wanted to do something last year, but we know that 2020 was a wash. But, I’m really grateful that I gave up last year to cultivate the ideas that we had for this year. It’s definitely been a long and tedious process, but it’s been worth every moment.”

Dunning was inspired to create the festival last year when Ranky Tanky’s Charlton Singleton put on a two-night event at the Cane Bay Y. Singleton performed with the Charleston Horns the first night, Castillo performed with his group the next —  Dunning was impressed with the social-distancing measures the YMCA had in place.

“They had the squares painted on the grass,” Dunning said, “chairs out for their VIPs, and people could bring their own chairs. It was really spaced out and really nice. I’m glad to be able to continue that.”

Dunning says she specifically curated the festival lineup to be as expansive as possible. 

“I wanted something for as many demographics in that one day as we can fit in,” she said. “It was really great to bring the country in amongst the jazz and funk and R&B, and then to mix that with Gino and the salsa music. I’m hoping there’s at least one performer for everybody to say, ‘Oooh, I’m coming out to see that.’ I just want as many people as possible to come out and have a good time.”

Castillo, the bandleader for the salsa-jazz Cuban Cowboys, says the festival couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I’ve done maybe six shows, to be generous, in the last year,” he said. “I am the most excited man in the world to be able to play. I’m a full-time musician. Being a musician is not a job for me; it’s a lifestyle. So performing is very, very important.”