The Soul Of Summer
By Kimberly A. Hines
The Summer Spirit Festival has quickly become one of the must-attend music festivals in the Washington, D.C., area for lovers of soul, R&B, hip-hop, and the homegrown phenomenon go-go. Returning to the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., on Aug. 4, the festival had a little something for everyone with a lineup that included Eric Roberson, Estelle, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and a tribute to the late Chuck Brown featuring his band, plus special guests Common and Erykah Badu.
First to perform was GRAMMY nominee Roberson, who was dressed in a suit that fit nicely with his clean-cut image as Mister Nice Guy, the title of his 2011 album, whose title track opened his set. As the audience was getting into the song's mid-tempo beat, he segued smoothly into "Picture Perfect," followed by the grooving fan-favorite "Borrow You" and "Dealing," which was originally recorded as a duet with Lalah Hathaway. Roberson ended with a freestyle rhyme featuring words offered up from the crowd.
GRAMMY winner Estelle jumped right into her set with songs from her latest album, All Of Me, and 2008's Shine. The London native barely seemed to break a sweat in her colorful floral minidress and short layered hairstyle as she got the crowd members up on their feet with performances of "Do My Thing" (which she recorded with Janelle Monáe), the reggae-tinged "No Substitute Love" and "Come Over." Anyone still sitting was out of their seats when Estelle launched into the dance/electronica-laced track "Freak." She continued with "Back To Love," the anthemic "Thank You" and the hip-hop/soul jam "Break My Heart." As her set neared the end, she launched into "American Boy," a song for which she won a GRAMMY with Kanye West in 2008. She wrapped with her current single "Wonderful Life."
The Dap-Kings began their set with a funky instrumental jam that brought Sharon Jones to the stage in a sunshine-yellow cocktail dress with sparkly sequins and fringe that shook whenever she shimmied. The spitfire Jones began with "He Said I Can" from 2011's Soul Time! and continued into "Without A Heart" from 2010's I Learned The Hard Way. The performance showcased Jones' soulful vocal delivery and the Dap-Kings' superb musicality, but it was Jones' funky version of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done For Me Lately" that energized the crowd and had them dancing in the aisles. Jones and company slowed the tempo down a bit with a cover of Gladys Knight & The Pip's "Giving Up" and then eased into "She Ain't A Child No More" before they really got the party started. Jones kicked off her shoes while the Dap-Kings played a rousing instrumental to back her incredible dance moves. Jones and the Dap-Kings ended with "100 Days, 100 Nights."
While Columbia, Md., may be geographically closer to Baltimore, the Washington, D.C.-born genre go-go is popular throughout the region and this year's go-go segment was especially important as it featured a tribute to the GRAMMY-nominated Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown. Paying tribute was the Chuck Brown Band, who performed with special guests Experience Unlimited, Rare Essence and Trouble Funk. Brown songs and go-go classics abounded with the call-and-response of "Wind Me Up Chuck" kicking off the tribute. Brown's daughter, Cookie, took the stage to rap to "Chuck Baby." Trouble Funk performed "Let's Get Small" and Brown's "Do You Know What Time It Is" before Experience Unlimited frontman Sugar Bear joined to perform "Da Butt." Andre "Whiteboy" Johnson of Rare Essence continued the party with the group's "Lock It." All of the tribute performers then took the stage to perform a medley of Brown's "We Need Some Money," "Run Joe" and "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."
GRAMMY winner Common kept the party going with a high-energy set that included "Get Em High," a Kanye West song on which he guest starred, "The People" and the title track from Be. He continued with "I Used to Love H.E.R.," "Testify" and "Come Close," the latter of which opened the door for him to flirt with a few young ladies in the audience, one of whom he brought onstage to serenade. Transitioning between new material from 2011's The Dreamer, The Believer and tracks from his back catalog, Common freestyled over West and Jay-Z's "Otis" beat and capped his set with "The Corner," "The Light" and "Universal Mind Control."
Badu ended the evening by sauntering onstage dressed in a royal blue hat, long khaki sweater, gray T-shirt, and yellow skinny jeans. She took the audience back through her catalog of hits and selected album cuts as she stood in front of a computer and beat machine. She started with "20 Feet Tall" from 2009's New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh before turning her attention to New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War and performing three songs from that set — "The Healer," "Me" and "My People." Badu followed with the GRAMMY-winning "On & On" and "Appletree." She bounced back to her most recent album with "Umm Hmm" then treated fans to a snippet of "I Want You" from Worldwide Underground. The unexpected highlight of Badu's performance came next with a live cover of Yarbrough And Peoples' "Don't Stop The Music," which turned into a funky sing-along. The musical high continued with another of Badu's GRAMMY-winning songs, "Love Of My Life (Ode To Hip-Hop)" before the show came to an end with a spin and a curtsy from Badu.
(Kimberly A. Hines is the owner and editor-in-chief of SoulBounce.com, an award-winning online destination for progressive soul music.)