Photos: Broady Brown/Nocturnal Charm
So, I truly dig on outdoor music festivals and jumped at the chance to catch the 2012 Summer Spirit Music festival at the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia Maryland.
They should have called it the Summer Sweat festival. Don’t get me wrong. There was enough spirit to go around, but the summer heat was unavoidable. Show programs became tent revival church fans. People came prepared though. I saw folks with portable lawn chairs and bags of carefully packaged food and mad bottles of water.
Once in my dead of center seats, not too far or too close to the stage, I took in what was probably the best outdoor show of the summer.
A dapper Eric Roberson opened the show with his equally dapper band. He ran through a nice medley of songs from his steadily growing discography. “Y’all better take a good look at this royal blue jacket before it comes off!” he joked. But it soon came off as the heat got the best of him. Still he was the best warm up act. He gets a lot of love from the DMV, he went to Howard, and his fan base of ladies dug into songs like, Mr. Nice Guy, Picture Perfect and he gave the audience a nice smooth segue to the next act. Estelle.
Estelle’s set started with a little delay , but in the end she and the crowd were on the same page. “Whoo, its so hot out here!” she cried as she patted her hair. Her band was small in comparison to the other acts– two back up singers, a Dj and a brother on keys. She seemed lost at first, the sound was off, but she had done her homework. The crowd came alive when she remixed “More Than Friends” into a sweet Go-Go version and then remixed “Freak” into a Baltimore House anthem, that got the crowd onto their feet . She closed her set with “Don’t Break My Heart” and the rousing Girl- I -been-there anthem ,“ I Thank You” and then sprinted back stage for an air conditioned room.
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings should have received a gold medal for their performance. If folks didn’t know who they were before their set, they surely did afterwards. “Girl, the Dap-Kings were Amy Winehouse’s band”, a woman explained to her friend behind me. How wrong she was. Sharon Jones owned that band masterfully, and the way she shimmied and danced around that stage, you’d forget that she was 56. They did an extra funky cover of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately” that I’m would have made James Brown look down from his cloud in heaven a do a double take, as Sharon Jones, in a canary yellow party dress complete with tassels, and sequins kicked off her shoes, earrings and African danced all over the stage, whipping the crowd into a frenzied standing ovation.
Considering that Chuck Brown was to perform at the Summer Spirit festival before he passed away in May, his band made sure it was as if he never left. In tribute, they set up an empty microphone stand center stage and proceeded to run the through all of his classic hits. Once the “Wind Me Up, Chuck” chant started, the audience stood up and stayed up as James Funk, Sugar Bear, “Big “ Tony of Trouble Funk, Andre “White Boy” Johnson and a special appearance by Chuck’s daughter Chereita “Cookie” Whiting ran through all the hits. What a sight it was to see all the band members clad in white and watch the audience wipe away a mixture of tears and sweat from their faces. The best part of the show was, with some multimedia magic, when Chuck Brown suddenly appeared on the elevated movie screens and seemed to be performing right along with the band on stage. The Merriweather nearly lifted off of its foundations from the applause.
Due to some technical difficulties, Common’s set was delayed but he wasted no time once he got on stage. He opened with “Get Em’ High” and ran back and forth around the stage from his DJ, to his drummer, and bass guitarist, while standing on the edge of the stage in true MC mode engaging in some ol’ school call and response. He rhymed a few bars from “I Used To Love H.E.R. “, eventually slowing down to get his Al B. Sure!/ Bobby Brown/ Jodeci on, as he brought a young slim chocolate tenderoni on stage to hug and kiss on a little bit as the majority female crowd hooted, hollered and ate it up. Common shouted out the DMV throughout the set, freestyled a bit and then closed out with “The Corner”.
Sadly, Badu’s set was disappointing, not that her she was disappointing, but the fact that the delays drastically shortened her set to a slim twenty minutes. She was to start at 9:45 but didn’t get on until 10:20, and the show ended at 11:00. Still, clad in a grayish t-shirt, some high yellow pants, white pumps and a royal blue bowler hat, Ms. Badu worked her set with major efficiency. She didn’t talk much, just hammered out beats on her drum machine and ran through “20 ft Tall” , “Hip Hop”, “Me” “My People”, “On and On”, “Apple Tree” ,“Gone Baby Gone”, “I Want You” and closed with “Love Of My Life”, complete with a little “Daylight” musical interlude by the group Ramp. She closed her set by saying “Thank you, that’s my time”, and then she was gone, which brought a disappointed groan from the audience
All in all. A great show. And any show that ends with people wanting more and reluctant to head home in spite of the heat, is a winner in my book. Until 2013 Summer Spirit festival, Peace!