Dallas' next music festival is just a bunch of old friends getting together in a backyard jam session.
"I've been wanting to do this for Dallas a long time," he says.
Williams is the musical director for Dallas band RC and the Gritz, also known as Erykah Badu's band. He says it's about time that his city had a music festival that showcases the depth and breadth of the city's talent. The event will feature a few of Williams' friends, who just happen to be some of Dallas' best musicians: R&B singer-producer Geno Young; rapper Bobby Sessions; soul band Kirk Thurmond and the Millennials; hip-hop group Cure For Paranoia; gospel group Myron Butler and Levi; and DJ Frances Jaye; among others.
"Dallas wasn't really known as far as one of the music cities like Philly, Atlanta and some of these other cities that are recognized that have breakout national artists. But Dallas does have that," says Williams, 40. "I say it all the time ... We're from Dallas, but check the résumés."
His résumé includes Grammy nominations, backing up Badu and touring with Snoop Dogg and Kirk Franklin, among others. His band will release its third album, Test of Time, this year. Williams is also the architect of the DFW Jam Session, an open-mic night Wednesdays at The Prophet Bar that's been going on for more than a decade. Two acts who came up through the event are Grammy-nominated soul singer Leon Bridges and Grammy-winning jazz-funk collective Snarky Puppy.
"The Wednesday night jam session has been my outlet to try to provide the city with national acts and showcase the talent that's here in the city," Williams says. "Doing it on this scale is what I've really wanted to do since the beginning."
He became even more motivated after performing a few times at the Roots Picnic in Philadelphia. That event was started in 2008 by the Roots, the hip-hop band now perhaps best known for its gig on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Performers at the Roots Picnic have ranged from songstress Jill Scott to comedian Dave Chappelle to rapper 2 Chainz.
"I got the name Gritznic and the idea, respectfully, from the Roots Picnic," Williams acknowledges. "I played their picnic with Erykah Badu. And I remember the early days of the picnic when they had it at a park. They had a park stage, local musicians. ... Now it's huge. They got one in Philly and they got one in New York now."
Willams has played the long game. More than a decade since he got his start, he feels now is the right time and place for the festival. His dream will be born by the Trinity River at the Longhorn Park, behind the historic Longhorn Ballroom in the neighborhood those new to the area like to call "the Cedars." Williams, like so many others, still calls it "South Dallas." That's intentional, too.
"The vision that I had, you know, this is perfect," he says of the festival's location on almost 2.5 acres near downtown Dallas. "It has a real backyard, picnic-style feel here and it's great for vendors, some food trucks to be a part of the festival."
Other big music festivals -- in Austin, Atlanta, Philadelphia, etc. -- "are in the heart of the city," Williams says. "So it was really important to me to keep that vision of that here in Dallas."
When it comes to the festival lineup, Williams knows what you're thinking -- the answer you've been scanning for. Will Erykah Badu be there?
"She'll be here. Of course, she's going to support us. We just wanted her to come, relax and enjoy this year. Bring the family and the kids and just relax this year," he says and laughs. But he's serious, too. The Gritznic is a family event, he emphasizes.
"The reason it's called a huge Backyard Jam is it's like a family fellowship of musicianship. Most of these artists I've been friends and colleagues with down through the years. ... So that's the intent of the Gritznic, just to show a real family-oriented musicianship from all the artists," he says. "Everybody will have their own set, but we're gonna be jamming out together. I haven't even told anybody this, but we're going to do a special Aretha Franklin tribute during the Gritznic."
It doesn't seem as if the festival can get any bigger than some of Dallas' finest musicians in a friendly jam session by the river honoring the Queen. But Williams is not finished; he's still in the midst of this vision of an annual event that puts Dallas on the music map.
"Every. Year," he says. "It's gonna get bigger and bigger. ... Rain, sleet or snow, we're going to have the Gritznic. It's going down."
The Gritznic will be at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15 at The Longhorn Park behind Longhorn Ballroom, 216 Corinth St., Dallas. General admission is $35; VIP tickets are $100. Children 9 and younger get in free. gritznic.net.
Local musicians are the order of the day for the Gritznic on Sept. 15. Here are the scheduled performers, including some we're especially excited to see perform live.
RC & the Gritz: The band defies genre, but is still strangely identifiable by its eclecticism. The members do their own thing to the tune of awards and working with some of music's biggest names. And now they have this festival as a calling card.
Big A$s Brass Band
Chantae Cann: The jazz singer's debut album in 2016 charted high on the charts. With her voice, she'll stay there.
Cure For Paranoia: The group took its name from one of its members, who found help with mental health issues through music. It's gaining a national profile thanks to its ability to deliver diverse music.
DJ Frances Jaye
Kirk Thurmond & the Millennials
DJ Luv Ssik
Medicine Man Revival
Myron Butler & Levi: What's a festival rooted in soul without a gospel component? Enter the singer-songwriter and his choir, a reimagining of successful group God's Property. They're a few albums into attaining what is sure to become legendary status.
Shaun Martin: He has a new album that will come out right after the festival. One of Williams' longtime friends, the force with award-winning groups God's Property and Snarky Puppy was the first person that got the call to join the lineup.
Bobby Sessions: Born in Pleasant Grove and reared in Rowlett, Sessions is a rapper with a cause. He spoke his mind right into a freshly signed deal with powerhouse rap label Def Jam.
Texas Gentlemen: Country. Funk. Sold.
Geno Young: The former musical director for singer Erykah Badu struck out on his own in 2004 with a sublime, soulful debut.