Ozy Fest Founder Talks Getting Attendees 'Out of Their Bubble' and Hosting With Alex Rodriguez

Brinson+Banks
Carlos Watson

Ozy Fest is “for people who think the world is bold and vibrant and interesting and they’d love to sample it.”

The 2019 Ozy Fest is scheduled for July 20-21 in New York’s Central Park and festival founder Carlos Watson is first to admit that the event featuring music, comedy, politics, food and business isn’t for everyone.

Ozy Fest “isn’t for people who have to have things perfectly regimented. It is for people who want some of it planned, but are also willing to let some of it be a surprise and delight,” Watson tells Billboard ahead of the festival's fourth edition hits its new location at Central Park’s Great Lawn.

“I think Ozy is built for people who want to get out of their bubble,” Watson continues, adding that the digital magazine, Ozy, that inspired the festival is “the anti-bubble platform for people who think the world is bold and vibrant and interesting and they’d love to sample it.”

The festival’s 2019 edition has relocated from New York’s Summerstage to the Great Lawn and will feature appearances from John Legend, Miguel and A R I Z O N A, as well as comedians Trevor Noah, Dulcé Sloan, Ronny Chieng and more. 

Political leaders including Stacey Abrams, Ohio governor John Kasich and Beto O’Rourke will fill the ‘ideas’ stage alongside business professionals such as Mark Cuban and Cindy Eckert.

“Media is not only about entertaining. It is also about informing and maybe inspiring,” says Watson. “Ozy will challenge you. Ozy will sometimes make you mad, but that’s good. [Ozy] is not going to get it right every time but it is going to be a hell of an adventure.”

The two-day event will include three stages -- music/comedy, ideas and film/cooking -- throughout the Great Lawn. Fans can mix and match their schedules with speakers including journalist Malcolm Gladwell, author Deepak Chopra, filmmaker Spike Lee and television host Dr. Oz. Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi will host a cooking demonstration alongside conversations and appearances from Rachael Ray and chef Marcus Samuelsson.

“I’ve never bought into the idea that people only like music or are only interested in politics,” says Watson. “I like sports and I don’t mind watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Who can tell me I can’t do that?”

Hosting this year’s event alongside Watson is former New York Yankees all star Alex Rodriguez.

“He was actually a guest last year and a reluctant guest,” Watson tells Billboard, adding that Rodriguez originally tried to pull out of the speaking engagement because he had experienced too many hot and unorganized events in July in Central Park.

“He called me up right after Ozy Fest last year and said, ‘I want to get involved,’” says Watson. “He has helped us vet guests and think about the venue and the food and setup media partners and work with us on bringing in sponsors. He’s definitely been a roll-up-your-sleeves, in-it-to-win-it partner. It’s been really good.”

Between Rodriguez, who grew up in the Boys & Girls Club of America, and Watson, who is the son and grandson of educators, the Ozy Fest team has made it their mission to make the event accessible for students, educators, veterans, social workers and caregivers. For this year’s festival, they reached out to more than 100 schools and non-profits to provide complimentary tickets to those who want to learn and meet other people with varying ideas.

“I always wanted to believe that Ozy Fest would not just bring people to new ideas, but to new people and people would meet,” says Watson. “I hope that, more than anything, will be our legacy. We put on a great program, but in my mind it is done to facilitate people meeting new people.”

Check out Ozy Fest’s full 2019 lineup, July 20-21 at the Great Lawn in Central Park, here.