Words by Sojourner Turner
Hot temperatures did not deter thousands of hip-hop, go-go and r&b fans gathered at Merriweather Post Pavilion for the annual Summer Spirit Festival, DC, Maryland, and Virginia’s premier urban outdoor music festival. As always, this year’s festival lineup reflected the wide-ranging variations of black musical representation on one stage. From the classic hip-hop of Redman and Method Man to the genre-bending pop/alt hip-hop/dance music of Lizzo to the percussion-driven sounds of DC’s indigenous music, go-go, from Backyard Band, the Summer Spirit Festival had something for everyone. Over the two-day festival, Saturday’s co-headliners were neo-soul standard bearer, Erykah Badu, and hit-making master lyricist, Nas, while Sunday’s headliner was the Legendary Roots Crew.
Saturday’s lineup began with newcomers Bryan J, Phony PPL and Lion Babe, followed by a set by Philadelphia’s own Bilal. Bilal, known for his on-stage theatrics, delivered an Avant Garde soul/jazz style performance revisiting some of his hits “Soul Sista,” “For You,” “Sometimes,” “Back to Love,” “Butterfly” among others. Next up was Grammy-nominated North Carolina femcee, Rapsody, accompanied by the Stormtroopers, a full band including hip hop cultural luminary, 9th Wonder. Rapsody commanded the stage with confidence.
Following Rapsody were fan favorites, Redman and Method Man, decisively representing 90’s era hip hop with the Def Squad and the Wu-Tang Clan. A standing audience rapped along with Red and Meth as they performed songs from their solo and collaborative repertoire of hits, including: “I’ll Be Dat,” “I’ll Be There/You’re All I Need to Get By,” “C.R.E.A.M,” “How High,” and “Ice Cream”. In a light moment, Redman reminded the crowd of his unforgettable appearance on MTV Cribs when introducing his cousin who made a special appearance on the mic. Finishing their set, Method Man and Redman made the audience nostalgic when paying tribute to fallen Wu-Tang Clan brother the Ol Dirty Bastard. Part hip hop show, part comedy show, Redman and Method Man showed festival goers what we miss about 90’s era hip hop.
After a short break, Nas took the stage accompanied by a dj and drummer/singer/hype-man. When an emcee of Nasir Jones’ caliber touches the microphone, audiences take notice. Performing from his healthy catalogue of hits, Nas gave the crowd their favorites: “One Mic,” “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” “Escobar 97,” “If I Ruled the World,” “Oochie Wally Wally,” “Made You Look,” “You Owe Me,” “The World is Yours,” “I Can,” “Cops Shot the Kid” and the list goes on.
Finally, one of the vanguards of neo-soul, Erykah Badu hit the stage. Longtime Badu fans along with newbies were delighted with her calling “Tyrone,” “Out My Mind, Just In Time,” into her first single, “On and On…” The multi-talent made beats on her beat machine and led the band into her hit with Common “Love of My Life” and into another high energy jam, “Danger.” Next Erykah sang remixed versions of “Bag Lady” and “Didn’t Cha Know,” after professing her love for the new generation of misunderstood hip hop artists who she called the “Youngs and Lil’s.” Time was short so Badu closed the show Saturday with “Honey” her love letter to hip hop.
Sunday’s Festival started with local openers DJ Quicksilva and Ms. Kim & Scooby. Next Masego, saxophonist/vocalist, delivered a performance that introduced his original TrapHouseJazz music style. The young artist was gave a unique performance and even created an original song on stage.
Next up was DMV soul crooner Raheem Devaughn, the self-described Love King of R&B. Raheem delivered an electrifying performance that reflected his soul, r&b, hip hop and go-go musical influences. Devaughn opened with “I Don’t Care” then incorporated some political messages in his woke set, performing “Bulletproof” and “America, America” with Cross Rhodes partner Wes Felton, followed by a protesting police brutality Colin Kapernick style by kneeling. Devaughn showed that he studied some of soul music’s greats when he tossed red roses to the ladies in the audience to the tune of “Customer” and sang his way through the pavilion audience singing to the festival goers on the lawn. He ended his set with a go-go flavored remix of “Guess Who Loves You More,” and “Woman” inviting guests artists on stage including up and coming singer Keyaunna Mace aka KeyMace who rode the beat with a cover of Anita Baker’s “Angel.”
Flanked by her two high-energy, leotard clad, big-girl twerk team, Lizzo, pop/alt hip hop/dance goddess, repeatedly expressed her appreciation for the chance to perform for her people. Detroit native, Lizzo flung her tresses while espousing her message of body-positivity and self-love as she sang, rapped and danced to her “Worship Me.” She candidly revealed the results of her DNA test, which discovered that she’s “100% That Bitch.” Next she performed her collaboration with the Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia, “Karaoke!” Finally, Lizzo closed her set with her popular hit “Feeling Good As Hell.”
Following Lizzo was the DC’s own Backyard Band, who debuted on the Summer Spirit Festival stage this year. Backyard Band, led by Big G of HBO’s “The Wire,” brought the go-go flare on Sunday. With covers of the Isley Brothers’ version of “Summer Breeze” and Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” the crank session began and did not stop for the entire set. With the audience of their feet, Backyard performed fan favorites, “Welcome to DC” and Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me.” Backyard closed with their most well-known song, a cover of Adele’s “Hello” that went viral in 2016, that some in DC argue is better than the original.
Philadelphia soul group, Kindred the Family Soul, a late addition to the festival line-up, brought their brand of soulful R&B to the Merriweather Post Pavilion stage. Married for nearly 20 years and parents of six children, Aja and Fatin Danzler treated their fans with some of their earliest songs like “Rhythm of Life” and “Alright” from the Black Lily era. They sang some of their recent radio hits: “Where Would I Be Without You,” “Stars,” and “All My People.” Fatin took the lead with a cover of the Commodores’ “Zoom” then together closing with “Sticking with You” and “Far Away.”
Daniel Ceasar brought the Summer Spirit Festival audience to their feet with his opening song “If You Love Me.” The seemingly shy Ceasar’s locs peaked out beneath a red baseball cap as he transitioned into “Take Me Away” while he plucked his white guitar. The ladies swooned and swayed when Daniel sang radio hit “Best Part,” his duet with H.E.R. Ceasar followed up with “We Found Love” and “Blessed.” Closing, Daniel Ceasar led the audience sing-a-long to his mid-tempo banger with Kali Uchis, “Get You.”
Headlining on Sunday night were The Roots, proud sons of Philadelphia who have made their way to America’s living rooms as the house band on the Jimmy Fallon show. No stranger to the Summer Spirit Festival stage, Black Thought jumped right in with a masterful freestyle leading into “Break You Off” with guitarist Kirk on the soulful hook. The Roots gave an energetic performance complete with choreography and Tuba Gooding Jr.’s one man marching band. Questlove led off with some of the bands early hits “Proceed,” “Act Too (Love of My Life),” and “Next Movement.” As usual both Stro Elliot and Jeremy Ellis’ solos were definitely a highlight of the show. Having The Roots close out the festival was a great way to end this year’s Summer Spirit Festival. If you missed all the fun this year, don’t worry the festival will return Summer of 2019.