Nothing spells summer in the DMV like the Summer Spirit Fest, and on the afternoon of Saturday, August 4th, CD Enterprises kicked off its’ first day of the 2018 iteration.
For the past 13 years, fans from near and far make the trek to Merriweather Post Pavilion for this event, which is a cornucopia of soul music and Soulquarian acts. Since the move of allowing the festival to take place over the course of two days, there is ample amounts of wiggle room to give you a sensory overload with some of the artists that you love. From a brief overlook at the weekend schedule, it appeared that the curators of the fest wanted to based the daily lineup off of the #mood of the weekend, whereas on Saturday you have your more party and “turnt” atmosphere with an abundance of hip-hop acts filling the bill, while Sunday was definitely a more chill vibe as smooth sounds of R&B lead the way.
Gates to the venue grounds opened up at 1 PM with folks lined up and ready to make a mad dash to grab the closest spot on the lawn. The ladies were out in full force with their squads looking ever so lovely, while the brothers pulled up with their fellas to check the scene…melanin was definitely popping and helped to increase the heat, which was already sitting at a warm 90 degrees. Before the shows started, everyone had an opportunity to flow through the BZB Spirit Festival Marketplace, which showcased some of the best independent vendors (Black owned I might add) that the DMV has to offer. It was a one stop shop for all of your needs, whether you were looking for a unique fashion item, some amazing hand drawn black art, homemade beauty products or any other miscellaneous items, you were sure to find it for sale.
At 2:10 PM, the first act of the day took to the pavilion stage and got the show rolling. The SSF fam was introduced to Bryan J, who is an R&B singer hailing out of Hogansville, GA. It’s sometimes hard being the opening act of a music festival since you can never gauge how the audience will receive you, but Bryan came out on stage and gave the crowd a bit of what he has to offer. With a light and airy voice that helped match the feel of the breeze, folks were treated to offerings from his EP “Proof“, and a few of his previous works that were produced by Tricky Stewart.
Brooklyn based group Phony Ppl is a collective group of artists that represents a mix of people, time, and sound that’s been nurtured over generations. A quintet of live music blending acoustic instrumentation with electronic inputs and different vocal styles, their outlook on life and music refuses to be boxed in, and that couldn’t have fit in any better than with the Spirit Fest crowd, which was affluent with many a free spirited folks. With an extremely unique and eclectic sound, they played a few new tracks from their upcoming album, as well as signature song “Why iii Love the Moon“.
Keeping the show moving right along, the duo known as Lion Babe, comprised of singer Jillian Hervey and record producer Lucas Goodman, was tasked with taking SSF away from its’ norm for just a bit, and boy, is that ever what they did. Babe is an anomaly in music, fusing electronica sounds, and sometimes disco vibes, with a vocal pattern that screams neo-soul…often times being compared to Erykah Badu. This fusion delivered an instant jolt to anyone paying attention and made them wake up due to their high energy performance. Dressed in an orange body suit and knee length moon boots, the beautiful lead singer danced non-stop while delivering crystal clear vocals.
On one particular song entitled “Don’t You Worry“, you were able to hear her strong delivery, while also reminding you of ODB’s “Baby, I Got Your Money” track. They also performed new music in the form of current single “The Wave“.
Here it is at 4:30 PM and one of the most cool, calm and relaxed artists mad his way out…ladies and gentlemen, Bilal was now gracing us with his presence. Looking Spirit Fest ready (like your fly uncle who made an appearance at the family gathering) in a tan shirt and linen pants, he brought all of that early 2000’s Philadelphia style neo-soul with him to the DMV. Backed by a 3 piece band, his rich voice set a tone of extreme calmness over the crowd when he performed such songs as “Winning Hand“, “Think It Over” and “West Side Girl“. There was even inclusion of music from the iconic Stevie Wonder, when he touched upon “Don’t Stop The Music“. There’s certain music by certain legends that some people shouldn’t even attempt to cover, but Bilal has never been one to steer clear of that challenge, but for good cause because he nailed it. Of course the biggest fan reaction came when he performed the smooth track “Soul Sista“. Although released in 2001, by the way it had ALL of the women in the pavilion jump out of their seats, the impact still hits home after 17 years.
Up until this point of the show, the entertainment presented was more on the mellowed out tip, but that was soon to change, as a young lady by the name of Rapsody was scheduled next. I’ve been hearing a lot about this femcee who seems to be a phenomenon in the making. The buzz around her is that she’s going to be one of the saving graces to bring the art of lyricism back into the game, and from what I saw in her performance, all of the hype is true. From my first look at her, she clearly deviated from what female rap has become today. There was no overly sexualization of the female form, that’s because she came out like your regular homegirl around the way in some black sweat pants, a graphic tee, a yellow raincoat, and her hair pulled back in a bun. Being keen on taking hip hop back to the art form it was meant to be, her lyrics were clear, witty and fresh, giving you a punchline that made you sit and think.
What gave her an edge in my book was the use of a live band instead of a track, and not just a simple structured band, but one that uses complex musical elements such as horns. The Storm Troopers, as she calls them, effectively brought the music to life, and sometimes hip hop music is one of those genres that sonically may not sound too great with live instrumentation, but her backing musicians were on point! She wasn’t scared to share her set either, as midway through her show, she brought out a vocalist by the name of Heather Victoria to sing the hook of one of her songs. Later on, she was looking for a real man, and in search of a bit of “love” from someone in the audience, so she invited Manny from Maryland some slow grind action as she performed “Roller Coaster Love”.
With all of the talent stacked on the bill, there was one particular act I was most excited to see, mainly because I had never seen them live before, and that would be the “knucklehead duo” of Redman & Method Man. If you know ANYTHING about these two dudes, everything they are involved in contains extreme amounts of personality and A.LOT.OF.ENERGY! As soon as their intro music came on, they immediately hopped off stage and onto the speakers at the front of house to give the crowd a real up close and personal feel. This was the same time that we noticed any remaining empty seats or spots on the lawn area being filled…seems like we weren’t the only ones there to check out Red & Meth. For almost an hour straight, we were transported back to a time when hip hop was running the music industry. 1990’s hip hop will always be a staple to those who know good music and for good reason. It was the lyrics, the beat, the swag, the over all vibe of how it made you feel, and for the time that this duo was on stage, that’s what I got.
What John Blaze and Funk Doc delivered on stage was exactly what a hip hop show during the mid 90’s were. If you sat in the first few rows within the lower floor section, you got a free “drink” on behalf of Method Man, as he wasted no time slinging open bottles of water on everyone. Some younger folks may only know the two for their work as a duo, but their hits go WAY beyond that. Meth performed the hood love anthem that almost anyone can identify with, 1994’s hit “All I Need“, “Bring The Pain“, and a few of Wu-Tang’s hits, while Red burst out into “Da Goodness” and “I’ll Bee Dat“. Towards the end of their set it was all about the love to the heartbeat of a hip hop show, the ever important DJ, as both of their mix masters ripped the wheels and schooled all of these young kats on how it’s properly done. Even through all of this writing, I can’t fully put into words what it was like to witness a part of my childhood. It was one of those “you had to have been there” moments. Please take a chance to check these two out if they are anywhere remotely close to you, because you will not be disappointed.
Can all the Bravehearts please stand up?! Maybe this is a question that I shouldn’t have to ask, as they were all up and at attention eagerly waiting for the stillmatic Nas. Yep, one of the most prolific rappers of our time was in the DMV to shut it down. As much of a concert aficionado that I consider myself to be, this was certainly the event of “firsts” for me, as Nasir Jones was another act that I’d never had the chance to see live. To be honest, going into his performance, I really didn’t have an opinion on what to expect. Not to say that I didn’t care about him, but I wanted to keep a blank slate to form an unbiased opinion. Sure I was familiar with his music, but there is a clear differentiation in one’s recorded music and one’s live act.
My observation…he came, he saw, he conquered! Taking us on a trip down memory lane that started 25 years ago with the release of his debut album “illmatic“. Nas has been praised for his ability to create a “devastating match between lyrics and production”, which is exactly what he focused on by keeping the levels of production value to a sheer minimum. It was just him, his DJ, and a drummer that also doubled as a background vocalist. All of the hits were present, running through his back catalog to include fan favorites “Got Ur Self a Gun“, “If I Ruled The World“, “Hate Me Now“, “Made You Look“, “One Mic” and many more.
By the time he was finished, if you weren’t a hot and sweaty mess, then you must not have been doing something right. Kudos to the promoters for having hip hop royalty as one of the main courses on an already stacked plate.
The last and final act of the Saturday concert series really doesn’t need an introduction, and well by now, we should start referring to her as the reigning QUEEN of the Summer Spirit Fest, partly due to the fact that she’s probably headlined this event more than anyone else. You know queens have the tendency to do things in their own fashion right? Well Ms. Erykah Badu had her loyal subjects waiting in anticipation for what was about to happen…in the amount of an hour wait, which wouldn’t have been so bad if there was a house DJ mixing in between sets to take your mind off the dead air. The time ticked to 10:08 PM and screams filled the amphitheater as she began to make her descent. The unfortunate thing about this is that Merriweather has a strict noise ordinance and will shut down a show if it’s not completed by a certain time, so her actual time performing did get impacted by this, but Nonetheless, you still got the E.Badu experience.
All of those classic songs that you’ve been meditating to since 1997 (Badu reminded us that she was celebrating the 21st anniversary of “Baduism” with us) were there, but with a slight twist. For instance, during my favorite song “Danger“, she incorporated a DC Go-Go beat and infused it with church style vocals, but not everyone got what they wanted though. One fan in particular was a little pissed and felt “cheated” that she didn’t perform “Tyrone“, which was her favorite song.
Speaking of favor, Serra Bellum called on favor from Mother Earth to hold off rain, and give us the best weather that we’ve had over the past month. We sincerely thank her for that as the sun rolled over into Sunday, and with that being said, check out our day 2 coverage of #SSF2018.