My evening started with Sushi on U St. The perfect appetizer to the Can A Sista Rock A Mic (CASRAM) Music and Arts Festival that kicked off at Liv Nightclub. Initially, the space was pretty sparse, which for me was a bit of a surprise. The crowd milled about as the stage lay empty for quite some time. W. Ellington Felton aka WES Felton aka Dub Ell aka the evening’s host, spun a soul inspired opener with some tunes I would like a playlist for, as people slowly trickled in.
I settled in a corner to be the proverbial fly on the wall and anthropologist of the room navigating the personalities present to see the reincarnation of headliner, Madame Dionne Farris. A long await siren from a more melodic past. Opening for the lady of the evening was an energetic, natural, talent from the two one five, Leah Smith. The confident 21 year old with the sweet calm voice made her presence known by belting out her first song Dig. Leah and her neighbor/ background vocalist, Michael, gave the audience a half a dozen tracks from her first CD Beautifully and Wonderfully Made.
“This is Michael. He lives down the street from me.”
Her music is full of love; love of self, love of others, how love did her wrong and how God loves us all. Leah’s voice is pure and flutters between vocal ranges so effortlessly it is a joy to experience. Despite the noisy bar flies, Leah did her thing and gave us a taste of what she was all about. She brought the Lord to the “bar” and the devil was tryna stop her with technical difficulties and those damn bar patrons. No but seriously… Leah is another product of Philadelphia that is making her way in the industry.
After Leah’s performance came a false start. A whole cadre of young brother’s in black came to the side of the stage affectionately known as VIP and faked us out like they were about to play instruments. They soon dispersed again and we were left to stare at an empty stage with these dazzling blue and green lights.
DC’s own, Black Alley had the privilege of backing Madame Farris for the evening. But they are no slouches… they did have a hiccup but I will mention that later. Just before Black Alley actually got on the stage a herd of folks were escorted through the door. I was having a conversation with a nice woman next to me who mentioned “ I go every year but this time it was like ‘What? It’s tomorrow!!??’” she said of CASRAM. All of a sudden the bouncer had words for the band manager. Apparently, someone thought it was ok to disregard the folks at the door and go straight to VIP.
*sidebar*: Don’t piss off the bouncer at shows… they are pretty cool people once you get to know them. They are also the ones you want on your side when things go awry.
Now back to the story… the time was 10:31pm Eastern Standard time. I got to Liv around 8:30pm I thought that I would see two performances but I was mistaken, Black Alley strutted a bit and gave us two songs including Ghetto Acappella with Kasey on lead vocals. Then Madame Dionne Farris blessed the stage. She was rockin’ my kind of outfit; cute and snazzy on top, a lil sexy hip huggin jean action in the middle and what this Jersey girl knows as kicks on the bottom. I will rock sneakers at a formal event, so for me Dionne was a gal after my own heart! All of those people who looked at the ads and said “ Nah this couldn’t be the same Dionne Farris. She ain’t had a song for years.”, missed the return of the Mac-tress on stage tonight. The Jersey born, Atlanta raised, country, urban, rocker chick still got it. I Know reminded the people why they were there. The energy was same as the first time I heard it. So much so Kimani, one of the founders and promoters of CASRAM, noticed just how into the FIRST song I was. But cool prevailed and the proverbial fly on the wall recovered… and moved closer to the stage. Next was Passion another favorite. And pun intended the passion was there. Dionne not only looked good with her same flawless girlish looks from “Wild Seed Wild Flower” her voice was just as on point. After warming us up and exercising our head nodding abilities she tells us…
“Ya’ll gonna sing. But not this song cause ya’ll don’t know it yet.”, she laughed.
So remember that little hiccup I mentioned earlier, here it comes.
“This next song is called Open [off of upcoming release “On Top of the World].”
The drummer kicks off a cacophony of sound and the band is not on the same page. Dionne stops them. “Let’s do this right”, another clanging of instruments not on the same page. She stops them again. She begins to belt out Open, the band follows suite. She is cool about it and later tells them “Ya’ll work that out.”
So after that I got side tracked with the music and stop taking notes about the show and became a back up vocalist facing the stage. I can’t really help you if you missed this show. From the new music Dub Ell played to Leah to Kasey and Black Alley and to the Madame herself, Dionne Farris, the Can A Sista Rock A Mic Music and Arts Festival was worth the bar flies and VIP bum rushers. All of the performances were top notch.
Here is what you missed from Dionne…
Penny with a Hole in It
Not to mention new songs like Open and For U and a sprinkling of Diana, and a go-go’d out Anita…
You just missed out!
The CASRAM Music and Arts Festival happens yearly. This was just the beginning. There is an entire two weeks worth of women that know exactly what to do when the mic is in their possession. Check the schedule at www.canasistarockamic.com