Thursday, December 31, 2015

Michfest 40: My Voice and Has Anybody Here Seen the Sunshine? (Part 4)

Friday August 7, 2015
I knew this would be a hectic day. I had sound check for Toshi’s set in the morning (why because I was “crashing” her set too), then I was reminded by Nívea that I was scheduled to be part of the artist panel on the WOC tent, so I did that at 11am, only to have to be at the WOC lodge at 12pm to talk to the women with Yaniyah about what they might experience in the lodge, etc. I usually sweat in that lodge, but after the previous day I realized I was good on the sweats for the week. Earlier in the day Holly Near confirmed that I could sing with her on her set (yes “crashing” this set as well), but there was a rehearsal that I needed to try to make later in the day. I thought I could do it all. It seemed possible, well nothing says time like land time. Yes you can make plans, but don’t cling to them. So what had happened was...

Toshi sound check

Yaniyah and I gave our talk and we got everyone set and ready to go into the lodge. There were enough fire keepers and some extra folks to help so I thought we were all good to go. When everyone was in, I stepped out of the area to get to the rest of the things on my list. I was trying to catch Holly’s rehearsal, but things took a little longer than I expected so I missed it. Luckily I ran into her in the Belly Bowl and she was able to give me the talk through. She also told me that Marcelle and Rhiannon were going to be doing a vox/tambourine number during her set! What??!!! I wanted to be down with that so bad, but not even Holly was involved so I surely wasn’t getting in. After our short talk I figured I would catch Mazz’s set on Day Stage before heading back to the lodge. I’m glad I did because it was killing! I was sad to miss Aima the Dreamer and Reina Williams (two of my faves), but I heard both sets from a distance.


After Mazz’s set was over I headed back to the WOC lodge just in time for the third door to be open and some folks were out. As is the way of the lodge on the land, you can come out when the door opens if you need to and go back in if you like. It seemed that the third door was long, intense and hot because Shirley asked the fire keepers to open the West Gate to let the air flow through. I checked on a few women to see if they were going to go back in. Some were staying out and others started to make their way back to the lodge.

Without getting into all the details, when all the women who were going back in the lodge were in, something happened outside of the lodge and I had to then work with one of the women who stayed out to make sure she was OK. Again, without getting into all of it I will say that the entire incident just reinforced for me the kind of feelings that were whirling around on the land that week. The exchange with this woman, while I believe was very healing for her, was so intense that I think the incident contributed to me losing my voice. Yes, on Friday night after I finished with Toshi’s set, which I will tell you about, I lost my voice. I think I lost it because I didn’t speak up about what I felt happened that day at the lodge. I know for some of you reading this you might think that sounds crazy or a least really strange, but let me tell you about energy and the use of your voice vs. stuffing things down. I don’t care what the incident is, if things are going on in your face and you choose not to use your voice, you just may lose it; and if not your voice it will be something. The thing is that on the land everything is amplified, but so much is given to the ground, which helps. My mistake was that I didn’t give anything to the ground or the sky or the water I just kept it and it killed my voice at least for a little while. I know there were also other factors that could have contributed to me losing my voice. The dust out there, the weather that day, all the singing I was doing on other people’s sets that I wasn’t totally prepared for. All of these things could have been a factor, but I tell you I felt my voice leaving me as I walked away from the lodge that day.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not walking away from the lodge ceremony all together. What I mean is that there will still be a lodge in Brooklyn and I will always take the opportunity to be in that ceremony whenever I can. I know how much power is in that circle. I didn’t panic. Well I did panic at first because the last time I lost my voice on the land I didn’t sing for a year and ended up having surgery. So honestly I did panic for a moment, but then my witches showed up and healing began.

On this day I had my final rehearsal with Hanifah and while we were in the rehearsal tent it started to rain like it was nobody’s business. It was at that moment that I started to think about the shows that were going to happen on Acoustic Stage because there is no tent covering there. Cris Williamson and Dance Brigade were scheduled that day and at that time, due to the amount of rain coming down, I figured that they would just cancel the shows on that stage for the day, which would be a bummer, but honestly the rain felt epic.

There are certain places that the Acoustic Stage sound travels, but toward the rehearsal tent is not one of them. So I wouldn’t know until much later that Cris’s show did go on, with workers from the stage standing over the musicians with umbrellas!

Yes hunny! These women held up umbrellas through the whole set. Instruments were covered with clear tarps and the show went on! I heard it was incredible and I’m sad I missed it, but I was glad that those who were willing to brave the rain got a show. Now as for Dance Brigade, they were not able to perform, but as luck would have it they were able to move their show to Saturday in the slot that Ferron was supposed to be in, and she was moved to Saturday night in place of Melissa Ferrick who couldn’t make it due to an injury. Wow! I felt bad for Melissa, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out, but I was glad that Dance Brigade got to do their thing and that Ferron would be headlining Night Stage one last time.

As time went on I could feel my voice slipping away, but I kept it moving. Elvira’s set was great and like Cris, she did it in the rain. The elements were supposed to let up by 8pm, but no dice. It just kept on coming. Sometimes it would slow down, but it surely wasn’t stopping. The duo of Elvira and Pam Parham her sign interpreter is one that I’m going to miss terribly. I hope there is a way for Elvira to take Pam with her wherever she goes. They are artistically made for each other.

Next up was Holly Near my secret girlfriend. No we are not nor have we ever dated, but she’s still my secret girlfriend. LOL. I love this woman so much! When I got on the land this year she was one of the first people I ran into. We talked for a while and that’s when she gave me an 80% invitation to sing on her set. I was praying for the other 20% and I got it. Holly asked me and a few others to sing on a medley of some of her most popular songs, which was wonderful! I wasn’t even mad about not being a part of the tambourine/vox hit because Rhiannon and Marcelle rocked that joint to the hilt! Daaayyyuummm! It rained pretty much through the whole set and people stayed. It was wonderful!

{Video: Marcelle & Rhiannon Tambouine/Vox Duo}

Then I stepped off and got ready for Toshi’s set. I asked Toshi before we got to the land if I could sing with her on her set. Why? A couple of weeks before Fest I went to see Big Lovely at Lincoln Center Out of Doors and then maybe a couple of weeks before that I sang with her and an amazing group of singers at Joe’s Pub for the Pete Seeger Sing-a-long. All I knew after both of those events was that I needed to sing with Toshi at Fest this year. So I called ahead and made a reservation so to speak and I’m glad I did because her set was off the chain! I sang with the band on the Pete Seeger song, “Which Side Are You On” and then I sang with them on “Sunshine,” which is one of my favorite Big Lovely songs! I was so amped! I was having a blast and that set went on! As I said, nothing was ending on time and nobody cared. It was pouring and Toshi sang, “Has anybody here seen the sunshine? Keeps shining in the pouring rain!” Perfect! Before the set closed we all left the stage except Toshi who broke out into her song “There and Back Again.” Yes indeed. We were going through.

Toshi in the rain!

Trust me when I tell you that more crying happened! Water on top of water.  I was all up in my feelings for sure after that set. Another day was done. We were that much closer to the end. I really couldn’t believe it. My voice was going and we would soon be leaving too. It was all too much.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Michfest 40: Sweat Lodge, WOC Tent and a Melting Me (Part 3)

Sunday, September 6, 2015
I am on my parents back porch in MA and I can hear the water fountain bubbling, which is attached to the Koi pond that my mother dug herself. I call her the black Martha Stewart. There is a grasshopper trying to write with me or at least he seemed chill enough until he launched headlong my way. Really son? My grandfather is inside asleep. My parents are also inside watching golf. Yes, these are my people. It’s peaceful out here in the yard. I can hear the sounds of nature. I haven’t been here in a while, but my mom asks me if I want to take home some kale so I know the crop from her square garden was good this year. Clearly she managed to keep the deer and other hungry wildlife neighbors out. I am home and thinking about home. Home, the place that will crack you open and you won’t even know what hit you. Home. The place where everyone knows your name, and can lift you up or tear you down with just one look. Home.

Thursday, August 6, 2015
This was supposed to be my chill day. No rehearsals, no set, which meant time to do whatever I wanted to do. I signed up to keep fire at the sweat lodge that morning for the moon lodge with Fyre. I actually wanted to sit the lodge, but I knew we needed morning help. Just to be clear, morning help means that you have to be at the fire and starting to get it going by 5am. So there was no hanging for me on Wednesday night. I had to go right to bed after Night Stage.

Thursday morning I woke up early and got myself down to the lodge. That day I was keeping fire with Sharon and sadly I can’t remember who else, but it could have been Lola or Laura. Anyway, Sharon told me she wanted to go in the lodge that day. I told her that I wanted to as well, but knowing that we needed fire keepers I just opted to sit out. Well we talked about it and decided that she would do two doors and I would do two doors. But somehow it worked out that Sharon was able to sit all four doors and I sat two. Well, let me tell you, those had to be two of the most powerful doors I have sat in a while because afterward I was just a ball of tears. OMG!

When I came out of the lodge, Shirley was coming up from the Womyn of Color (WOC) tent dedication. I heard the African drums coming over the hill and I felt an urge like no other to be near them. So I just rolled down there fresh out of the lodge and ran into my friend Jaz and her wife Shawnta and proceeded to cry like a baby. I came in right at the moment Yaniyah was giving this powerful speech about Lisa who is there in the damn tent! I was done. I mean it was amazing and powerful and necessary and on point and I was a puddle through it all.

When that portion ended, the women who were instrumental in starting the WOC tent were brought up. I know Amoja and I believe Lola (not the one named above) were part of that and sadly I can't remember who else (if you know please let me know and I'll add them), but let me say I could be off about all the names because I was a hot mess at this point so I slipped out the side. I just couldn’t take anymore as the women started drumming again. I dragged myself back up to the lodge, rinsed off, got dressed and headed back out into the world. Not the real world, but to Festiland.

That day on Day Stage was Round Robin with Nedra Johnson, Gretchen Phillips, Holly Near, Marcelle Davies-Lashley and Cris Williamson and then Cocomama. Needless to say I missed both sets because after the lodge I was scheduled for a massage, but not just any old massage, a hot stone massage! Yes hunny, there were hot stones in the woods! So after the massage, even though I was melting, melting, melting, open to the point that someone could probably put a hand through me, I thought it was still a good idea to go see Gina Breedlove at Acoustic Stage. What was I thinking?! Really, what the hell was I thinking???! That woman proceeded to sing the house down and then start speaking in tongues to boot! Now just stop it. Folks didn’t know what hit them that afternoon. Sheeettt! I don’t know what hit me, but what I do know is that after Gina’s set I was damn near inconsolable. Anybody that came near me I could feel all their stuff. I was feeling everybody’s sadness, joy, anger, devastation and even numbness. I was a mess! LOL! I can laugh now, but that day, not so much. I know people that encountered me were probably like, “Whoa!” I was gone baby gone...

Medusa & Gina Breedlove


I wanted to stay for Marga Gomez, but I knew I needed to eat to find my way back to the ground. Also at some point during the day Elizabeth Ziff asked me if I would sing on the BETTY set. Great! But I’m a mess! She had no idea or maybe she did, but either way I had to pull it together.

Night Stage that evening was BETTY, Jill Sobule and Medusa. I really love them all and all my people were playing that night as well. Well, that’s crazy to say cuz all my people were playing every night on every stage, but that night I knew I would be up watching everyone.


I pulled myself together enough to find something to put on for the BETTY set. It was just one song, but that now made two sets I had “crashed.” It was lots of fun to sing with Alyson, Amy, Elizabeth and everyone else who was asked to chime in the “E-I-E-I-O Yo!” chorus. Hey why not? I won’t get this opportunity again, like this, here.

The Mama's Hustle Band

After the BETTY set, I quickly changed back into my “street clothes” to enjoy the rest of the night. Jill and Medusa were amazing as always. I first met Medusa in 1998 while working at VIBE magazine. I was invited to speak on a panel at a hip-hop conference at Oberlin and she was there as one of the musical guests. I had never heard of her before and for that event she came as Medusa and Feline Science. Her DJ then was Dres who has now gone on to take the yoga world by storm. Anyway, ever since that first meeting I have been in love with her style and that final Thursday night on the land she brought it along with Julie Wolf, Vicki Randle, LaFrae Sci, Kofy Brown, Shelley Doty, Judith Casselberry and Tammy Brooks. That set was nothing short of the super power that is the Gangster Pussy she sings about! And with that, another day is done.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Michfest 40: Off Land, Opening Day & a Little Herstory (Part 2)

Tuesday August 4, 2015
In all the years I had been to Fest (this year being my 9th) I had never left the land during the festival at all. It’s not rare for women to go for beer and wine runs, snack runs, or even thrifting for a cool outfit for some special occasion or another on the land. At Fest, you never know when you might be called on and need to look your outdoor fly best. This year I hatched a plan to leave and go hang with the boys for a while. It just so happened that Living Colour was playing with Aerosmith in Grand Rapids and I just knew I had to go. Of course I’ve seen Living Colour many times, but I had never seen Aerosmith! I didn’t know how I was going to get to the show. I didn’t have a car on the land so when I first hatched the plan I didn’t know how it would work, but I needed it to work.

Just a little background in case you are not clear why I could and wanted to make this happen. It’s because Vernon Reid of Living Colour produced my forthcoming record. So this is how I came into tickets with such ease.

One day before Fest, while on the phone with Shirley, she says, “Why don’t you ask Sharon if you can borrow her car?” Now see, this is the thing about Fest and the people there that I need you to understand. In the real world that would have been a crazy idea. Someone driving your car, and you’re out of state, and the venue is at least four hours total there and back and you are not on their insurance? Oh Hell Nah! But in Michigan, Oh Hell Yeah! When I asked Sharon she just said yes. No questions, just yes! I asked her if she wanted to be my plus 1 for the show, but she didn’t want to leave the land at all that week, which I get. So I asked LaFrae and got one more ticket so my friend Allison (my former college roommate who lives in Grand Rapids) could come too! Everything was a go; well kind of. We had to get LaFrae out of one Chix rehearsal, which proved to be much easier than I thought it would be and then we were headed into Area 51. Me in my pink Stetson once again and LaFrae in her 10 gallon hat. Rock n’ Roll Baby!

That night turned out to be pretty amazing! Besides seeing Living Colour and Aeorsmith who were both off the chain, we also got to meet Bret Michaels of Poison! Now that was a surprise! Although Vernon knew we were coming, Will, Doug and Corey (the rest of the band) did not so we surprised them, which was fun! We took some pics in the green room and then headed out to see the Aerosmith show, but not before getting a staggering wave from Joe Perry. Now that was a rock ‘n roll moment! Ha! Crazy.

The Area 51 Crew!
Me & Vernon!

Sadly we didn’t get to meet any of the members of Aeorsmith because the LC crew had to leave early because they had to catch a crazy early flight in the morning, but we still had the best time ever and one of the best seats in the house. But as much fun as I had, I was so happy to be heading back to the land. Everyone seemed real strange out on the world on that day. Area 51 is real. That night energetically felt like the Wild West.

Side Note: On the last night of the tour in Canton, OH, Vernon delivered my girl Kelly Horrigan’s package of a feather and leather armband to Steven Tyler. I may not have gotten a chance to meet him, but that was a big score!

Steven Tyler with his custom Kelly Horrigan Handmade!

Wednesday August 5, 2015: Opening Day
Sounds like baseball in a way. Opening Day. It’s like the Goddess screamed “Play Ball!” and we lined up the batters. But like in all sports there is the pre-season and that time for us is sound check. But not just any sound check, a sound check that takes so song that it damn near ends right before we are called for the show to begin! That’s just how it is and it’s OK. It’s just what it is. It is OK right? LOL. I had missed rehearsal for one of the songs in the Opening due to my LC/Aerosmith jaunt, but I knew I would be able to catch up.

Reina, Teresa, Gina, Nedra, Vicki! Sound check! 
Judith reached out a couple of weeks before about singing “Kind and Generous” by Natalie Merchant along with Gina Breedlove, Teresa Trull and Reina Williams.  Since I didn’t make rehearsal, sound check was my rehearsal. As much as I talk about how long this sound check process is, I’m so glad it happened so I could be ready for it all. For what you ask? Well, when we got to the chorus of the song women started running, walking and rolling out from behind stage with signs saying things like, “Thank You Workers,” “Thank You Nutloaf,” “Thank You Carps,” “Thank You Sweat Lodge,” and the list went on as women danced down the aisles and down the catwalk. What??? Too Much! We go through the song and somehow I don’t break down, but then here comes Staceyann with her damn poem! Damn you Staceyann! {Read "Rebirth for Michfest" by Staceyann Chin} I was doing so good and then the water works. We are all on the side of the stage listening to her, hanging on to every word, and we…were…a…mess! A straight up mess! Ha! I was so glad I heard that piece right then and not only at the opening. Really I would have fell out. When sound check for opening ended I was totally clear on what this week was going to be. Before arriving at Fest I was calling it CryFest 2015 or ManicFest 2015 (because I knew the emotions were going to way up and way down). It lived up to all of those things and maybe more.

Thank You! 

Staceyann Chin!

Read "Rebirth for Michfest" by Staceyann Chin

Yaniyah & Aleah: Love

Opening dress and shoe game! 

The Opening was an OPENING. There was joy and tears and laughter and sobbing and smiles and hiding the face and dancing and broken hearts and new love it was all there. All wrapped into a moment that we knew was the beginning of the end. I heard that Elvira broke down on the Acoustic stage the day before as she realized that it would be her last time hosting there. She called it “Battlestar Acoustica” and we gladly rode the ship. The water works were on, but so was the stuffing down of feelings. The declarations of, “I’m not processing this with anyone this week so don’t even start!” and “I just want to be present and enjoy this,” were abound. I can totally dig that. I didn’t want to spend my whole week breaking things down. I would rather just sit in my denial and be “happy.”

The Opening had its usual flair, but this time it was laced with a huge weight of sadness wrapped in gratitude. At some point I was hugging Hanifah and wiping tears from both our eyes. I wouldn’t be there without her. We came in, while simultaneously on our way out, in a blaze of glory. Elvira said it best when she said, “Thank You Blaze of Glory” and “Fuck you, Blaze of Glory!” That about sums it up. Gratitude.

After the Opening Ceremony, Teresa Trull and Barbara Higbie took to the stage. I think this particular set was the beginning of me really thinking about the legacy of this festival. Teresa played at the first festival (along with Linda Tillery [who also produced her album], Holly Near and Meg Christian) and although she hadn’t attended all 40 years it has been part of her life that long. It started to really come into perspective for me what this particular festival has really done for female artists and how it really helped to galvanize an audience for women artists who were outside of the mainstream. Women who were lesbians/queer/feminist, the “Sister Outsider,” who chose to sing or speak the struggles of women, the love of women and the evils of the world. This festival gave them a space. I learned that there were a few other women’s festivals happening around the time that Michfest started. Some were one-offs like Boston and San Diego, but then there were others like Campfest, East Coast Lesbians’ Festival, New England Women’s Music Retreat (NEWMR), Sisterfire, the West Coast Women’s Music and Comedy Festival, Northampton Lesbian Festival, Gulf Coast Women’s Festival, Women’s Jazz Festival, all happening in the 70s and 80s, and of course National Women’s Music Festival (National) that still goes on today. But I’m just gonna go ahead and say that Michigan was different. A little bias? Sure, but it’s my blog so…   Lisa Vogel and her sister Kristie kicked off this crazy venture as teens and it is one that Lisa admittedly said she never thought she would do again after the first year.

Teresa Trull. The beginning and the end.

Teresa and Barbara have been playing together for a long time and their friend Vicki Randle also jumped on the set on bass for a song or two. According to Teresa she has played with Vicki off and on for over 40 years! Now that is a long and enduring friendship. Suddenly it dawned on me. As I was boo-hooing about my own festival loss, I hadn’t really thought about those who grew up there. Teresa, Barbara, Vicki, Toshi, Linda, Connie, Ferron, Judith, Shirley, Amoja (may she rest in power), and the list goes on and on. I hadn’t even reached my 10th year, but what about those who were their 30+, damn even 20+, that is a lifetime of once a year meetings and greetings, love, friendship and intimate relationships that saved lives. Well at least I know it saved mine year after year. Refuge.

Back to the stage, Teresa and Barbara concluded a sweet set with a mix of both of their tunes. I was supposed to be done for the night so I changed out of the dress I wore for Opening and back into my “street clothes.” As I said, I thought I was done till Skip the Needle came on.

For those of you who don’t know this band I urge you to get up on it. The crew is Vicki Randle, Kofy Brown, Shelley Doty and Katie Colpitts. Vicki says it’s her fantasy high school band and I totally understand what she means. Some of you might remember the R&B band Switch, well they were named that because of the fact that they could switch instruments during the show, well this band could probably do that on the instrument front (cuz they all play another instrument besides the one in the band), but instead they are switching up the lead vox from song to song and every single one of them is killin’! Then Kofy had the nerve to come from behind the drum kit and rhyme her ass off! Say what?! As Hanifah would say, 
“Say word!”

Skip the Needle
The Skip show began my run of crashing sets on the Night Stage. I didn’t think it was going to quite go down like that on this set, but Julie Wolf (who was sitting in with Skip) brought me on stage with her and I can’t say no to Julie! I honestly was just going to dance on the side next to her on the keys, but Vicki wasn’t having it. So next thing I know I’m out front with Katie, Vicki and Shelley singing their song “Stand Up.” Of course it wasn’t long before Marcelle was on stage with us and it was a party!

Seeing as how it was Opening Night and the last Fest, all of the sets on Night Stage ran extra long. Really Elvira did her best to drag out the Opening so everything else was behind. But the end of the Skip set was epic with Katie just leaning back into the crowd with her guitar still on and attached to the amp, but seamlessly she took it off and handed it to Shelley just in time to be lifted away by the crowd. Rock AND Roll yo! It was a great official start to the week, but now the real countdown was on. Breathe

The Womyn

Rebirth for Michfest by Staceyann Chin

by Staceyann Chin
[Reprint with permission from artist]
© 2015

When the first Michigan Women’s Music festival
happened/in August/in 1976
the local paper called it
an international gathering of weirdos
imagine that first flood of women
pouring into the deep dark Michigan woods
imagine them finding the courage
to stay on the land despite the angry men
circling the perimeter/the only plan
honk your horn/if there is trouble
call your sister/and she will come
that sisterhood has since grown
into a global jungle/from which we all come
sprouting eagle from Kingston and California
slithering snake-like from Scotland and South Africa
howling wolves from Brooklyn and Bangladesh
no matter where we spring from
we have never had any doubt/this place would be here
next August/to recharge us/for the year ahead
in our heart we could not conceive
of the final closing of these gates
and now/as we attempt to say farewell
the center of me is sobbing oceans
my heart broken open/my chest/cracking raw
my ribcage/collapsing
because I will never be here again/like this
on this holy ground
these eyes of mine will never see my daughter
in this place at thirteen/or thirty-three/like me
she will never see it/as I have seen it
open/sky/naked spirits/Amazon women
dancing/round red fires of sticks/and stones
taking back the imprisoned bones of ourselves
and finding new freedoms here
in communion/we mourn this bitter end
each of us/trying to remember/that life is a series of cycles
as old as the moon/as expected as the first coming of blood
we who believe in rebirth/see this period of rest
as only a practice test designed
to help us r/evolve in these complicated times
I ask you to remember that we are trained
in the tradition of doing things/they say cannot be done
I beg you to look again
to the determination of the generation
who built this pussy-centered city
with no fucking internet
no kick-starter campaign/no social media
no legal recognition of the right
to love whomever we fucking choose
those Amazons from that era gave birth to abortion rights
and the equal rights amendment
and rape-crisis centers
and women's shelters
that movement laid the groundwork
for decriminalizing the entire LGBTQIA-BCDEFG identity
forty years after that first gathering of weirdos/we are still here
because Michfest has always been about more than just music
it has remained a light/at the end of a yearlong tunnel
it has been a promise that has kept so many of us going
in return/so many of us/have tried so hard to keep it going
over the years/we have persisted in coming
insisted on defying the odds
year after economically challenged year
every August/for one week/we orchestrate
this neurotic amalgamation of tarp
and bug spray
and tofu
and Tupperware
this single-minded, slick-wet celebration of flashlights
and foam
these flooded sleeping quarters
these fucking RVs and second-hand Subarus
these butch parades and sweat lodges
is about knowing/with everything in us
that being called a girl/is not a fucking insult
under these Sapphic stars
it’s the highest form of compliment
this place has been a celebration of our girlhood
a recognition of the magic of surviving womanhood
it has always been an open invitation to those of us
existing outside the confines of gender-binary limitations
this place is an homage
to the bra-burning/radical feminists of the nineteen-seventies
they believed they could/not only pick a fight against
racists/sexist/homophobic motherfuckers
but/they believed they could also fucking win
we are still fighting those same battles today
which is why we still need to stand together
against the patriarchy
to stand/to gather
this miraculous gathering of women
is only going down
for an expected cycle of much-needed rest
after all/it has only been four fucking decades
since the young Blood Moon
only 19 years old/with ovaries the size of fucking Saturn
started this shit—radical/feminist/midwife that she has been
she has kept the course for 480 months
Lisa Vogel and the long crew and the short crew
and the cooks from Gals
and artisans from Crafts and the workers at the Night Stage
and the artist on the Acoustic Stage
and the witches from the Womb
and all women stirring the multiple cauldrons
that make up this crazy cavalry
they have been holding down the logistics
of this place of safety for 2,080 weeks
it fitting to acknowledge also
that it has only been 14, 560 days
since you magnificent Michigan festies
have been pushing this impossible rock
up the motherfucking mountain of misogyny
forty years is a very long time/my sisters
as the dust settles on our beloved dirt road
indulge your inconsolable ache
lament/weep/wail/cry all need or want
but know too/the seeds of joy we each planted on this land
will never be dead/instead/the legend of its roots
will grow large inside the heads and hearts
of all of us/who have loved here/and fought here
fucked out loud and without apology here
the memory of it/the spirit of it
will tingle inside the scarred chests
of warriors who survived
breast cancer
and rape
and female castration
and rape
and childhood molestation
and rape
and familial rejection
and rape
and ovarian cancer/and HIV and Aids
and drunken husbands/and human trafficking
and homophobia/and gender-policing
and poverty/and wire hangers
and rape
and rape
and rape again
this year/after we say our final farewell
we will again go home
to stand alongside incarcerated Black men
and undocumented children/and transgender boys/girls
and underpaid women/and all those bodies who remain targets
for the wealthy white bigots who would want everyone
who is not them
enslaved/or deported/or killed
with or without a yearly gathering on this land
we will never stand inside the gender-norms expected of us
we will continue to meet/in tents
in kitchens
in basements
inside convents
and churches
we will keep resisting/and out of this resistance
will come another core assembly of need and opportunity
a door that will push this community to birth itself anew
when it does/it is our duty to be ready
to receive it/every one of us
Lisa/and Judith
and Toshi
and Penny
and Holly
and Elvira
and Thokozani
and Sandy
and Hanifah
after the burning of our holy city
we must do something with this astoundingly beautiful ash
we have to cash in the credit of this place
to race toward a future in which our daughters
and our daughters’ daughters keep demanding
safety for every/body living this planet
this is call for Zuri and Cree
and Maddie
and Ruby
and Zora and Naiobi
this is a call for Zander and Josie and Emerson and Kai
this is a call for you/and you/and you/and me
this call is for all the girls/who grew up here
or came here
or heard about the magic that once existed here
to come together/to continue to fight
to grow up and out/to fucking bloom/and rise
and rise/and rise again
to find our Amazon phoenix spirit/to ascend
in flesh/in truth
let us use this moment to rewind/to reincarnate
to hatch and spawn/new blood
to amplify the ageless power we have all felt here at Michfest
the magic of this place must remain/in each of us
fueling us
protecting us
giving us direction
long after the pain of our present sorrow
is gone

Monday, December 28, 2015

Michfest 40: Long Live the Spirit of Sisterhood (Part 1)

Before we begin…
Please forgive me for any typos that you might see along the way or grammar that might be questionable. I am a self-editor and anyone who edits knows that is no easy task. I will do my best to make corrections after things are posted if need be.  Please read and enjoy.

Amoja ThreeRivers
This post is dedicated to Amoja ThreeRivers. A true trailblazer. May your soul fly free. Thank you for your work and gifts. Keep shining your light on us. Give Thanks!

Saturday, September 5, 2015 
I had a video conference call today. It had nothing to do with Festival and everything to do with my life. How I see things. How I’ve been operating. Do I want to continue to operate as I have been? It was a deep meeting. It was one that I have with myself often, but not so much with others. Well at least not someone who was willing to make an action plan with me. I guess that’s what I’m paying for, but it was more than that. I was on this call with a friend who is also a business/life coach cuz ain’t business my life after all? At least that’s how I feel most days. It’s challenging to draw a line in the sand, but I drew that line this past summer for a bit and it got me up out of my funk, but of course getting out of the mud is just one step. Not falling back in is another.

So today in my real talk/girl talk conference call my friend/coach says to me something that I tell people all the time. Something that I told a woman on the land as I was helping her to navigate what was coming up for her after the sweat lodge. I said, and it was said back to me today, “Go into your sadness. Go there, but don’t stay there. Don’t let it consume you, but go there so you can let it out.” So it is there that I will begin.

I am grieving for real. We are grieving, for real. It's a deep loss and that is when I remembered the five stages of grief. I think there are really more, but the “experts” say there are five:

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Personally I would change the order to 1, 3, 2, 4, 5. But you get my point. Grieving is not linear so this blog won’t be either. In fact, this whole year was a lot of things, but linear was not one of them. So I’ll start where it hurts. It was probably one of the most emotional weeks of my life and I was only there for a week! I mean what of the long crew? I can only imagine. So with that I’m dropping in to my grief. Hold on to yourself…

August 10, 2015: Leaving the land
I cried in the van on the way to the airport. Silently I cried. I think only Juanita saw me. At least that’s what I think. I sunk down in the back and held on to my pillow as if it would beam me back into my tent. I was silently sobbing and wishing I could scream or at least wail and moan. It felt like something was being torn from my heart. Do I sound dramatic? Well, I hope I do because I need you to understand that I was and am in mourning. I am also in some deep denial. In fact De’Nile is a river running through my backyard. I’m not sure how far away we were from the land when I started crying. The tears came hard on my pillow. If I didn’t think that the wailing would have resulted in us having to pull over to console me, I really could have gone there. That’s how I left in that moment. Broken.
Upon leaving the land I kept thinking to myself, “Am I really never going to lay eyes on this place again? Really?” It all seemed like a bad dream. I was brokenhearted like losing a loved one or going through an unwanted, but expected breakup. I saw the signs, but I chose to ignore them. My only saving grace on that day was that I knew in a few short days I would see some of my Bay Area people again. I wouldn’t have to wait till next year. Wait…and here comes the sadness again. There is no next year! Damn!
September 5, 2015 (continued...)
I had planned my trip to Cali in my mind this past spring. I didn't have a lot of money at that time, but I did a gig at UC Irvine with Burnt Sugar and two of my people from LA came down to see me. One of my friends who happens to also be my first producer, came to the show and at that moment it clicked that I hadn’t seen his face for real in 5 years! That was way too long. At that moment I knew it was time for a trip. I didn’t know how, but I was going back to Cali and I was going to drive the Pacific Coast Highway.
As my dream trip got closer everything starting to fall into place. I had a place to stay in LA, I had a place in Big Sur, I didn’t know where I would stay in the Bay, but I was on my way to Fest so I knew that would remedy itself quickly and it did. I got so many offers of housing that I couldn’t even stay at all the places. I was going to Cali and it would be sweet re-entry relief.

Monday, August 3, 2015: Arrival
The morning that I headed to the airport I grabbed the pink Stetson that Bone gave me the year before and headed downstairs where my friend Ian was waiting to take me to the airport. We were on time, but then when I got the airport I found out that the flight was delayed. So now I was early, but still on my way.
At the gate I ran into Marie who is one of my lodge sisters. She was already posted up so I took a seat across from her and we caught up a bit. Then a while later, LaFrae walks up cool as usual. Clearly she knew about the delay. Well, looks like the morning gang is all here.

After about an extra hour wait, we were off. As we flew I was excited about being on my way to Fest and away from all the madness in New York. It was getting dark in my spirit. I needed some light and quick! I could always count on knowing that no matter what the year threw my way, there was always Michigan. If the year sucked I knew in August, there would be a bright side. If the year was bright then at Fest it would be super sun-shiny! That’s just how it always went. The ugly was minimized and the great was maximized. It was magic.
We landed in Grand Rapids, rounded up our things, LaFrae and I piled in the van with Qween and a couple of other women whose names I sadly can’t remember. It was so great to talk to Qween for a while on the way there. I know how things go at Fest and sometimes you never see folks long enough again to have a real good sit down, but that’s only because we are all working and there are so many people to sit down and talk to. Also when I’m at Fest I try and find some me time in all of it since we are out in nature, but honestly, like I tell everyone, Michfest is work. It’s not a vacation. It’s the best work ever, but it’s still work.
After a short ride in the van (about 2 hours or so) we arrive on the land, well we arrive at the road to the land and the line down the road is crazy! Now let me break this down for you. I usually arrive on Monday, but I have only seen the line to get in once and that’s when we drove in 2009. There is a road that leads to the festival gate and it’s about 3 miles long. The first time I saw the line it might have been a mile or two down the road, which was amazing to see in and of itself, but this year was bananas! The line was not just at the end of the road it was around the corner. I later found out that it was about 7 or 8 miles long! It was beautiful! I knew that the 40th was going to bring folks out of the woodwork and new folks who had never been, but wow! It was a sight to behold and I just loved seeing every bit that I could. My excitement for the line has never waned, but to be fair I have never had to wait in it. When artists and presenters come in they can bypass the line and go straight to the gate. It’s like Pre-TSA if you will. So to be fair my love for the line may not be shared by others who have to wait on it, but it still brings me joy.

As artists, we always go to the front gate first, refuel and van, maybe drop a couple of folks off, and then head to the back gate. This is the other road to get us to Central Heating, which is the performer support/workerville area. One of the best moments of getting out of the van at Central Heating is opening up the van door and seeing Penny or B.E. or Diana or Thokozani or Mariasha (who was back again after a few years absence) or any one of our fab sisters greeting you upon your exit from the van. You can always guarantee there will be faces you haven’t seen in a year sitting there seeming like they are waiting just for you. This year was no exception. We rolled in to see Staceyann, Elvira, Penny, Bunty and Lisa! Soon after LaFrae and I got out of the van and started pulling our things together to check in we were soon greeted by one of our favorite people, Vicki! Everything was so, so, so good. Immediately I felt better. “Welcome Home!”

Happy People!

I don’t really know how to convey to you how real that home is or how true that statement is. Welcome home. It’s not just some fake ass greeting that we throw around when we get to the land. We are home. Wonder Woman, the first Amazon I ever knew and loved, made her home on Paradise Island, but here the home of the Amazons is Michigan.

After all the greetings, I got my packet with my rehearsal schedule, 40th program book and calendar, put my stuff on a cart and headed to my home in the woods for the week. Funny enough my tent number was 51 This is only funny because last year Elvira started calling the outside world “Area 51.” No truer words have been spoken, but this year my Area 51 was inside the boundaries of the home.
When I got all my stuff into the tent that is when I started to take it all in. Was this the last time I would sleep out here? INSIDE VOICE: Oh no! No tears yet! I pulled them back, pulled it together and opened up the calendar. I started looking at the pictures that are always beautiful, but this year was even more special as they mixed black and white photos from early Fests with more recent pics. I was just flipping through as usual when all of sudden I realized there were dates missing. Dates of when submissions were due and I couldn’t find Fern Appreciation Day and then I just lost it. I just lost it right there in my tent. What do you mean I can’t submit for next year? Really? INSIDE VOICE: Really. Take a breath. Pull yourself together girl. Wipe your tears and go outside and play. OK. Pulling it. Leaving the tent. Going out to play.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

C'mon Everybody Residency: The magic that is Akie Bermiss!

We had such an amazing time at C’mon Everybody last month! I was so excited to share the stage with my musical baby daddy #3 Akie Bermiss! We sang a few duets that night and of them was “Love All the Hurt Away.” Aretha Franklin and George Benson originally sang the song, and I first heard it when I was about eleven years old. Long time ago for sure! Here is just short clip of the song. I wish I had the whole song for you, but alas. So enjoy this taste and a few photos. Yes I had a costume change! 

"Love All the Hurt Away"

Akie!!! A man who still believes in love. *swoon*
First outfit for the Slow Jam section

Second outfit for the "Kick you in your neck" section!

Who me?

Join us on October 16th when my sister in Rock ‘n Roll, my soul sister, my sister serving the big hair and my Michfest sister, Mishti will be my special guest!

See You Next Week!

Photos by Daryl Tillman & Mechelle Rayford
Thank you!!!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

D'Angelo and the Vanguard...The Second Coming Tour: Live at the Apollo Theate (February 7, 2015)

D'Angelo and the Vanguard
 Photo by Ghana Imani Hylton

I haven’t read any of the reviews of this show. I didn’t want anyone to throw stones at my bubble. I also didn’t want to be swayed by what they had to say. Haters, nay sayers and band wagoners get on my nerves. I know many of the reviews have been glowing, but I still didn’t want to see them. I wanted my recount to be from the place pure bliss that I felt at the show last week.  I know that D’Angelo is coming back to New York on March 11th, but I’m still swimming in the magic that was the Apollo.

I have played at the Apollo in the café many times. I have been in those dressing rooms, the same ones that so many of the artists I love put on their makeup and their best outfits to grace the stage. I know that spirits that move and live up in there.  You can feel them in those walls.  Their names are pressed in the sidewalk.  There is a Black history imprinted on that space that is not found in quite any other. I know enough about the inner workings of the Apollo to know that it’s not a prefect place, but in spite of all that has happened in Harlem, meaning gentrification and corruption, it is still standing. 

There have been questions about the love I have for D’Angelo, where it comes from and have there been others. Well of course there have been others. Don’t we all have our favorite artists? You know, the real special ones that we will lay down almost any amount of money to see because by doing so we are changed. Maybe you are surprised because I’m a grown woman and not 15 so it that makes you take pause about my excitement and possibly makes you think about the last time you were really super excited about anything.  At the bottom line I’m excited because I LOVE MUSIC and I still believe in its healing power. D’Angelo, like many other artists, is special, and he’s also part of my life. Do I know him? Not at all. I’ve never even met the man although there is about one degree of separation between us. But even without ever looking him in the eye, he is still a part of who I am.  Isn’t that what music does to us? Isn’t that how it penetrates our soul?  There are many stories to tell of D’Angelo’s super highs and very lows (both career and narcotic).  This is a real struggle that he has been through and if we know anything about addiction, we know he is probably still going through. It’s a path that you or I may never fully know, but if we really step back and think about it we can surely understand. We are all human after all. I mean what’s your later 15 years been like?

Getting to the Apollo...
I can’t remember what day it was announced that D’Angelo would be at the Apollo, but I do know that at that very moment I was looking around my house trying to decide what I was going to have to sell to be there. It’s just like that sometimes. I knew the coffers were low, but I also knew I had to be there. 

As most of you know I had posted my “12 days of Black Messiah” starting almost from the time the joint dropped in the early morning hours of December 15th. It seemed to take over my whole life, and from the first time I played it I knew I had to hear this music live.  Every piece of it shook me to the bone. I sat listening and by the end there were tears in my eyes. Damn. He did it!

As good fortune would have it I didn’t have to sell my soul or my ass to get to the show. My good friend Mechelle actually called me up and said, “We’re going!”  Yes! She was there to feed my soul.  According to her I have a better Internet connection than she does so I was given the task of pulling the trigger on the tickets in the morning of the pre-sale on January 19th.  I knew I had to be focused because this was the Apollo after all. The venue is intimate, which means there are not a lot of seats to go around. I was determined to get those tix on the 19th. I wasn’t taking any shorts.

On the morning, I got up early and sat on my cushion to meditate. I was not doing my usual vipassana meditation. Nope! That day I was focused on getting those tickets.  After sitting I prayed with my malas.  Not for world peace. Nope! I prayed that I would get through and get tickets to D’Angelo. I knew how much we could spend so in that range I didn’t care where the seats came up because no matter where they were I was going to take them.

Around ten minutes to 10am I sat at my computer looking at the Ticketmaster countdown to when the sale would begin. Mechelle said it felt like Black Friday without all the busting down of doors and trampling folks and she was kind of correct.  It was nerve wracking to say the least, but before I knew it the clock struck 10 and we were off to the races. 

Now let me tell you about Ticketmaster.  They make you input a captcha code every time you refresh the screen to try for tickets. EVERY TIME! So if you are not a fast on the keyboard or have a problem seeing/understanding that captcha real good, you are screwed.

The first few times I tried to get through they kept telling me that lots of people were shopping and to keep trying. So I did just what the computer said and kept trying. I was focused. I was in my prayer! LOL! “Please Black Messiah grant me some tickets!!” When I finally got through, I was sent to a page that told me I was officially “in line” and not to touch anything. Don’t refresh, nothing, just sit here and watch this clock countdown to when you hit the front to the queue. So I sat and prayed some more. “Come on Black Messiah! We need to see you babe.”  There was nothing I could do at that point. Just wait. They made it seem like when the clock got down to zero and your turn came up that you would automatically be shown tickets in your price range, but NOOOO that is NOT what happened. When I got to the front they showed me some high price tix and tried to tell me there were no others in my price range. I didn’t believe them. “Lies!!!” I refreshed again and again and again and then my number came up!  OMG! Talk about stress. Then, Ticketmaster gives you a certain amount of time, and not a lot of it, to get your info in the fields before they release the tix back into the pool. “Say what??!!” I was typing like my life depended on it. I got all the way to the last thing, which was the card verification and I almost had a heart attack because they were asking to verify the card, which I didn’t have in my face since it was Mechelle’s and I was like, damn am I going to have to call her to go through this? This is slowing me down!! So I reached out to her and at the same time I just decided to click verify and low and behold we were IN!!!! Never give up people! Never give up! Honestly that was one of the most fulfilling and nerve wracking days of my life, but we were in damn it.  We were in!

As we were counting the days to the show we received another crazy announcement.  D’Angelo was going to be on Saturday Night live as the musical guest the night before the Superbowl. After seeing that performance,  I knew we were in for something really extra special because on SNL he looked and felt so happy and at ease.  

Photo by Amy Rosenthal

It’s Showtime at the Apollo…
On Saturday, February 7th, Mechelle and I met up to go to the Apollo. We were dressed, but not overdone. Meaning we had not come in the stereotypical, “I might meet the star” outfit. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about.  We both had on heels, but manageable for more than an hour, you know what I mean?

When we walked in we saw my girl Ginny at the door.  Then right behind her was my girl Mazz Swift  along with Marika Hughes and Dana Lyn who had all played strings with D on SNL the week before.  We were all hyped and ready to go!

Mechelle and I made our way to the lower mezz and right away I knew we were in the right place. First I see my friend Jon Tortora who might be the biggest D’Angelo fan next to me and Jeff Jeudy, and we ended up somehow sitting right next to each other for the show! Talk about serendipity. Then a few rows behind us, was my friend Kwame and his girlfriend. What??!! Then off to my right I hear someone call my name and it’s was people Ghana Imani and Ewa!  Come on!  We are in the house for real. The people around us were also very cool, which was good because we were turnt up! Ha!

We settled into our seats, the Apollo made a sort of public service announcement about the venue dos and don’ts, and at about 8:15 or 8:20pm the lights went down and one of the best shows of my life began.

First Set...
The first thing that came up was that whiney guitar that opens “Ain’t That Easy,” but it was backed by the Khalid Muhammad sermon that opens “1000 Deaths.” That alone had me wide open.  Yes I was screaming at the damn interlude! Then D came out in the dark, in a black hat and jacket, walked center stage as the track changed to “Prayer” and he proceeded to sing just with the track, center stage in the dark. Yes Lord! Can you say call to worship?  The place was already on fire and from where I was standing I couldn’t even see the man’s face.  His voice just took over whole space. He straight up cast a spell and we were all in. Slowly the band entered and took their places as he was singing, and honestly it felt like a dream.  We are here! We were there!  All of us, together witnessing what I was sure would never be forgotten.  

Photo by Amy Rosenthal

When “Prayer” closed and the lights came up and we got to see the band. On the far right was the lovely vocalist & D co-conspirator, Kendra Foster in the most killin’ dress (called the “Black Butterfly” cape dress), which I would later find out was made by my girl, the one and only, super lovely, designer/stylist extraordinaire, Ashaka Givens! Yes! Now we are ready to rock!  

Mz. Kendra Foster in "Black Butterfly" cape dress
From Mz. Kendra Foster's Instagram page

Kendra Foster & Ashaka Givens
From Ashaka Givens Instagram page

Without missing a beat they moved right into “1000 Deaths,” hands down one my favorite, probably top 3 favorite joints on the whole Black Messiah album. Yes! We were rockin’ and rollin’ right out of the gate.  That joint was fire! When I first got the album there were a few songs on there that I had to hear live because knowing D, I knew he would expand them or play with them and this was no exception. As he got into the song he took a huge stop at “Oh!” Now I am breathless!  And with that I lost my shit. LOL! Are we really here?! Is this really happening?! “OH!!! (pause, pause, pause) “And if I change it to the game before/every time I step into the unknown…” Dayum!  It was so on! Necks are broke and it’s only song two!

Out of “1000 Deaths” he went into “Ain’t That Easy.” So right now at this moment I am realizing that the opening soundscape before “Prayer” was the foreshadowing to the following two songs!  OK, as I write this I am even more open. Whew.  On “Ain’t that Easy” D gets on that same sparking guitar he played on SNL a week before. At that moment I really took notice of the two sparkling guitar players that being D and Jesse Johnson. These dudes were bedazzled and shining real hard. Gorgeous!   I really love that Jesse Johnson is on tour with D.  I don’t know if D feels this way, but it’s like looking at someone play in a dope ass band with their ridiculously cool ass uncle.  “Ain’t That Easy” is another one of my favorite joints on the album. Well, I should probably stop saying that because all of the joints on the album are like my favorite joints on the album. LOL!  During this song they broke it down a bit toward the end so Jesse could take a solo as they expanded the groove.  Honestly Jesse could have soloed all night and I would have been cool with that.  I loves me some Jesse Johnson for a long time.  

D'Angelo & Jesse Johnson
Photo by D'Angelo Connect


Photo by D'Angelo Connect

The band had a lot of great segues that just kept the party going at all times; even when the songs slowed down, but there weren’t too many slow jams happening. It was a pretty much a party all night long.  After “1000 Deaths” and "Ain’t That Easy” I realized that although I didn’t come over dressed to the show, I probably should have just worn jeans, a tank top and some sneakers to that joint because I ended up sweating like I was at the club for all the dancing I was doing.  Yes, it was like that.  So word of advice for those going to the show from here on out, don’t get too cute and stay clear of silk or the heavy sweaters cuz you will sweat through that joint after song one or two.

Let me go back to the segues because in a photo of the set list I found online I learned that the first segue was called “Vanguard Theme.” It was at this point he introduced the band.  Chris “Daddy” Dave on drums, Pino Palladino on bass, Cleo “Pookie” Sample on keys & vox, Isaiah Shakey on guitar & vox, Jesse Johnson on guitar, Jermaine Holmes, Charles “Red” Middleton and the fab Kendra Foster on backing vox, and the man D’Angelo on guitar, keys, lead vox and ship captain! I was already in space by this time, but then, he took us father out into the galaxy. Ladies & gentlemen, D’Angelo and the Vanguard!

Photo by John Tortora
Jermaine, "Red" & Sharkey
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
Pookie & Pino!
Photo by D'Angleo Connect

Next song up was one that I wasn’t expecting to hear on that show, and would surely separate the true fans from the newbies who just got hip to D on the Black Messiah wagon. Out of what felt like nowhere he busted out “Feel Like Makin’ Love” the Roberta Flack cover from the Voodoo album. What??!!  Of course they remixed that joint for the show and made it extra funky. Then this man had the nerve to take the mic off the stand and start touching hands of women standing in the front! I was waiting for someone to faint for real!  I think an immaculate conception or two happened right at that moment. For real D?! Singing “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and touching people?  Come on man!  You’re about to get snatched off the stage. LOL! 

Reach out and touch...
Photo by Amy Rosenthal

After jammin’ on this joint for a while he closed the song and the stage went black. D exited and the string track for “Really Love” came up, but as I listened to it I realized that it was a different take than is on the album. On the set list I have it is called the “Claire Fischer Interlude.” Brent Fischer was the arranger of the strings on the album so clearly this was an outtake that didn’t make it on, and it was beautiful.  I was a little sad that my peeps who played strings with D on SNL weren’t able to play at the Apollo show, but I understand budgets and it seemed they chose the horns over strings for the show, which made sense because there are more songs in the set call for horns.  As the interlude played I kept saying to myself is he going to come out in the hat and cape ala SNL?  Well low and behold when he returned to the stage the man had on the hat from SNL and a red and black check cape!  Let me tell you something, I lost my shit again! Everything that evening for D in the clothes department was about the accessories.  A change of hat, bandana, a necklace, a cape, a jacket, it all was subtle and it all worked. The base was all black. Drop crotch black pants so he could move (and he was moving), a long black cut off t-shirt (meaning sleeves were cut go you can see the guns! Ha!), and black boots. As I said, the rest was accessories.  But I digress...  He sang the hell out of “Really Love.”  I didn’t expect anything less, but once again it was live and that changes everything. 

"Really Love"
Photo by Amy Rosenthal

From there he moved back to Voodoo and into a remix of “One Mo' Gin.”  OK, now once again, this song separated the true fans from the new bandwagon folks. That joint was so amazing that I didn’t know what to do with myself. He started out on the keys, which was the first time he sat down in the show thus far.  He took off the “Really Love” hat, but kept on the check cape.  He later came down from the piano and that’s when the remix began.  Listen, they broke that joint all the way down and he was just singing so sweetly in that damn falsetto, it was like a dag on sex-me lullaby up in that piece.  He’s walking back and forth on this crazy slow jam vamp that I’m sure was the beginning of a very good night for some folks in audience if you know what I mean.  Shoot, some people were probably getting their foreplay on right there in their seat with their boo of the evening. It was that kind of sexy.  The backgrounds were giving a slow sultry, “yeah-ee, yeah-ee, yeaahh, again...again, again...” or some other silky backing vocal.  I would also be remiss if I talked about this joint without saying anything about Pino Palladino! Listen. Pino was killing that bass! I mean his touch is so on point it’s stupid. I mean, I know Pino.  We know Pino! I’ve heard him. We’ve heard him! I know what that man can do. We know what the man can do! But in so many moments during this show, Pino stood in the cut and politely kicked your bass-ic ass all night long.  That is what bass is about. It’s about holding it down. Yes you can get pretty. I love some pretty bass, but at the end of the day keep me in the pocket.  Keep it on the steady wave. Keep it rooted in the bottom. That is what Pino did that night.  This song was clearly feeling really good to everyone because D sat on the stage and was singing to women where he sat! OK, now you are just showing off.  Talking about “makes me wanna walk the dogs with you baby.” Now stop it!  Women who ain’t even thanking about being with no man were thinking about reconsidering for D that night.  If fact I know there were lots of folks considering crossing over to sides they didn’t know they had in them. Yes, it was like that! Then after that stupid sexy breakdown, these fools (said with mad love) had the nerve to bring that shit backup! See now I’m in my seat cussin’!  A girl LOVES a heavy slow jam!  It was like having great sex! Like when you slow it down and you get all focused with it, all in the corners of your mind, and then you just start moving a little faster and a little faster till you reach the climax. Are you hot? Yes you are and yes I said it! Yes I went there cuz he took us all the way there! Wet panties all up in the place! Let me tell you something, he could have ended the show right there, but instead he went back to the beginning. 

"One Mo' Gin"
Photo by Amy Rosenthal

After bustin’ that “One Mo' Gin” nut he moved into “Alright” from Brown Sugar.  According to my friend Asa who was damn near in the front row this is when a lot of white folks just sat down. Why, cuz at lot of these new white folks don’t know nothing ‘bout no Brown Sugar.  You see, I just lost all my grammar right there. LOL! Let me break this down a bit for you or at least how I see it.

To me, Brown Sugar was for black people in the 90s what Off the Wall was for us in the late 70s, early 80s. I’m not saying D is Michael, so please unscrew your face and hear me out. Both those albums were about the blackness. Off the Wall is still one of my favorite if not my absolute favorite Michael Jackson album.  It was for us. Now I’m not saying that Thriller isn’t a masterpiece cuz it damn sure is, but it was very different from Off the Wall.  Both Brown Sugar and Off the Wall were pushed on R&B radio so if you were white and listened to that side of the dial then you knew that album and the songs. Yes “Rock With You” made it to MTV, but still that album is very black.  I’m not saying that white people didn’t or don’t listen to black radio, but at that time, 1995, you had to be willing to cross yourself over to find out what was happening on the black-hand side, or going forward you had to do your research. So all this to say that when D went to the Brown Sugar side of things, my friend Asa said that some white people in her section has the nerve to say that this wasn’t some of his best stuff. Are you kidding me?!  Brown Sugar was everything! That album came in the middle of a mid-90s musical trifecta that was Omar’s first US release For Pleasure (1994) and Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite(1996).  D was right there in the midst of what was one of the best periods of R&B/Soul that I know.  At the time it was dubbed Neo Soul, which I always hated, but you know how the business works.   You always have to dub it something to get the children on board.  To me it was just soul and there was nothing “neo” about it except the singers were younger than their influences.  The music had all the markings of the artists that we knew and loved. Some of which were still making music at the time.  So all this to say that D breaks into “Alright,” and all the heads were in Brown Sugar heaven. [Note: I know there were some rockin’ ladies in the 90s too, but I’m talking about the fellas right now so please don’t get your panties in a bunch. Yes I’m talking to you...with love. Thank you.]

Then keeping in the Brown Sugar mode, after doing a bit of “Alright” they broke into a stupid funky remix of “Brown Sugar.” Again, Pino is masterful on the bassline.   Not only did they change the whole line, they also added a bridge, which was a straight up a scat section sort of in keeping with the 40s feel of “Sugah Daddy” on Black Messiah. Can you say through line? See this is why I love this man!  On this song the horns joined the band for the first time that night and it was bananas! “Brown Sugar” turned into a party and it was so great to hear a fresh spin on the song that started it all.  All the folks who knew, really knew, and the people were on their feet.

After coming out of that party he brought it down a bit and went into “The Charade.”  D was back on rhythm guitar and he opened up the end of the song even more for Jesse Johnson to get his solo on.  It was great to hear Jesse get more time on the Apollo stage than on SNL.  I could talk more about this song, but it is what it is, brilliant.  A straight up funky rock jam and it is so damn powerful, both in lyrics and arrangement.  I love this joint. After Black Messiah came out a friend called me and said that he listened to the song for 30 minutes straight on repeat. I totally understood and understand. 

"Feelin' it!
Photo by Amy Rosenthal
Out of “The Charade” they moved into what would turn out to be one of the first Holy Ghost songs of the night, “Sugah Daddy.” Of course this joint got the extended remix treatment as well and Lord, Lord, Lord, church was had. I don’t know how many times this song stopped “on the 1” and “on the 1 for real” when everyone didn’t stop. And when everyone didn’t stop it was still fly! One time he called for the stop on the 1 and the guitars kept going. I thought it was on purpose and really it damn sure could have been, but after he brought everyone back in and took them out “on the 1 for real” so who knows!  That could have just been the signal.  Just dope! You thought the party was over and just like when the Holy Ghost hits and the song ain’t over. You know how it is in church. So we are dancing, sweating and having a good time and then he calls the last hits. 1 (bam)... and we jammin’..., 5 (bam, bam, bam, bam, bam)... and we dancin’..., 11 and a half (bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, uh) and we out!

Photo by Amy Rosenthal

That is how the first set ended. I say first set because the stage went black everyone left and they took a short break. I know some folks might say that when they came back it was the encore, but I don’t agree. I just think they knew that after that joint they were going to need a break. Get some damn water. Sip some tea. Towel off. Change your drawers. Whatever.  Even I needed a break after that. I think that’s where I had some water thanks to my friend Jon’s girlfriend Miriam who was sitting next to me. She bought the water for herself and saw how much I was sweating and out of breath that she gave it to me.  Bless her cuz I was done. We all got a moment to cool down and then they were back. 

Photo by Amy Rosenthal

Second Set...
D stared the second set by returning to our beloved Brown Sugar and opened with “Lady.” He did that pretty much to the letter and then moved right into “Back to the Future (Pt.1 & 2),” which is of course another fave on Black Messiah.  Once again Pino was killing it. He was walking that line like his life depended on it. Then to top it all off when D got to my favorite verse on of the song, “If you wondering/wondering ‘bout the shape I’m in/ I hope it ain’t my abdomen that you’re referring to,” he straight up rubbed his belly.  OK, time for more true confessions of Shelley Nicole.  Drum roll please.  I love the big man.  I really do.  I know a lot of people have been looking for “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” D’angelo, but I’m loving the bigger and seemingly happier Black Messiah D’Angelo.  But let me tell you. If he keeps dancing like he was doing at the Apollo through this whole tour he’s going to be on his own Dancing with the Stars weight loss program.  Of course they played this one for a bit and D got back on guitar.  As they vamped it out the BGs had a funky little “Yeah, yeah, yeah” going, which was fun for the back up to the back up (meaning the us) to sing along with.  From this point on it was a straight up party. I mean for real. 

Chris "Daddy" Dave, Isaiah Shakey & D'Angelo
Photo by D'Angelo Connect

D jumped back to Voodoo and into “Left and Right”, which I was not expecting to hear at all. I don’t know what I was thinking he would do from Voodoo, but I was happily caught off guard, but just when this joint was getting good, they morphed into “Chicken Grease,” which turned into funkiest most blackest musical moment I have been part of in a long, long time! If anyone up in there wasn’t ready for a tent revival I hope they held on cuz we went straight to church up in that bad boy. Between “Left and Right" and “Chicken Grease” and all the clapping of hands and stomping of feet and booty shaking and praising of the Lord and cursing in the name of all that is good, we had run the full gambit of emotions.  Jeezzuuss!

On the set list it said the song was called “Chicken Grease/What it Do.” Well it did, what it do for sure.  More than any of us could have even imagined.  We were fire baptized in that moment.  All denominations became one.  If you didn’t know you were part of something legendary before, by the time that song ended and the stage went to black, you knew.

Break 2...
After that come to Jesus moment, the band took another break. Some would say that they came back for the second encore or maybe the first.  I think it was probably the official break before the end of the show. People in the audience started to leave. Clearly they were not professional concert-goers because rule number 1 is that if the party is right, you don’t leave until the house lights come up. You are sure to miss the best part trying to get out of the venue before the crowd. Oh well.  More room for me to dance. LOL

D'Angelo & Jesse Johnson in the shadows
Photo by Amy Rosenthal

Third set (Encore)...
According to the set list, the band was supposed to come back and do “Untitled (How Does it Feel),” but when they came back they did another Black Messiah fave “Till it’s Done (Tutu).”  Now let me break this down a bit. This is the song I was hoping to hear live. It’s one of those songs that I like so much and feel is too short on the record. Of course it’s fine as it is, but I just wanted it to go on.   D added a hat back into the mix and a mid-length black cape situation.  As they went through the format of the song I was wondering what they would do to extend it. Well the joint is already a cool mid-tempo, but after getting through to the end they broke that vamp down ever more to a sort of ¾ church double clap vibe. It was like a slow build to the slow down if that makes any sense at all, and when it got there it was soooo black! I know my new white folks were probably really lost. LOL. It was like a Sunday morning church processional up in that piece or maybe this was the recessional before the benediction cuz we were coming to the close of service.  This part got so deep in the vernacular and then Jesse Johnson took a solo that was putting us in a spell and it moved right into this crazy, crazy and way too short, but stupid ridiculous, drum solo by Chris Dave. I mean, I don’t really know what happened, but suddenly it just broke wide open into “Untitled (How Does it Feel)!” It was seriously one of the biggest nut busters of the whole night. It was so crazy that Jon and I turned to each other, both with mouths wide open like “What the hell was that??!” and gave each other a high five like we had done something! LOL! Damn! 

I don’t know if I really talked about how good D sounded all night. His voice was so clear.  I mean he was giving so much while not doing too much. I am not a fan of too much riffing and running vocally on a song. You know I like people to sing me the song.  Give me a little, take it back and that’s exactly what D did.  He sang the hell out of this song. I mean he gave it all the emotion, all the everything that this song really is, which is much more than him being naked in a video. This song is so beautiful and he just sang it to us.  He peeled off his cape at one point, he touched people’s hands, he walked the stage and you could tell he was really feeling it. He seemed genuinely and extremely present to that moment and we rode on his every note.  It was magical.  He had everyone doing the slow wave of the hand that made me really miss the days of putting your lighter in the air. 

"How does it feel?"
Photo by Amy Rosenthal

As the song broke down the band started to leave the stage one by one. First Chris stepped off the drums, followed by Shakey, then the forever Jesse Johnson, the singers (Jermaine followed by “Red” and then Kendra), and then “Pooky” on the keys. Finally Pino made his exit and D was left on the piano. As he sang “How does it feel?” he asked us to sing with him one last time. It was truly a benediction.  He closed the whole show with just him on piano like it all started.

May the light continue to shine on D'Angelo and all of us. We need him. We need each other.  Let the church say amen.

Much love to the young man, his piano and a sparkling guitar.  

Photo by Amy Rosenthal

Too Fly!
Photo by D'Angelo Connect

Photo Credits:
As you can see I don't know who shot all the photos that I pulled from the web, but thank you to all who have been sharing. I am using these pics in good will.  Thank You!