For the uninformed, June is Black Music Month, a national distinction that has been acknowledged for more than 20 years. A June 2 concert at the Wolf Trap Pavilion in Fairfax County, Virginia, helped kick off the month in style with the talents of two funk music legends: Kool & the Gang and Morris Day & The Time.
Aside from one of the lead singers of Kool & The Gang repeatedly calling the venue Wolf Creek (fellow band member Dennis “DT” Thomas pulled him aside and corrected him), it was wonderful night of soul music. The nearly-filled suburban D.C. venue encompassed what turned into a nonstop, three-hour evening of fun, excitement and scintillating live music.
As opening act, Morris Day’s group provided an amazing setlist that offered an aura of mid-1980s throwback sounds, giving their fans a delightful touch of Minneapolis. It sweetly reflected a time when Prince and the Revolution, along with Morris Day’s troupe, barnstormed the nation for a rocking tour which backed the surprise hit film “Purple Rain.”
Needless to say, the energy and soul offered on the virtually perfect 70-degree evening was well-received by all attendees. Both bands noted the drama of today’s current events and that the night would provide a refuge from the noise. Fun and good times was the rule on and offstage.
From The Time’s signature hits “777-9311,” “The Bird” and “Jungle Love” to Kool’s “Ladies’ Night,” “Funky Stuff” and “Get Down on It,” the performers kept the crowd amped and hyped.
Both bands also slowed things down a bit, offered timely ballads to cool the crowd. The Time’s “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” was soothing, while “Joanna” and “Cherish” served as a welcome change of pace during Kool’s white-hot set.
Both acts are on national summer tours, but are not always performing together, thereby making this show even more uniquely special.
The combination of two classic bands from two different eras is the stuff of legend, and very appropriate for the start of Black Music Month.
Morris Day, as always, was his dapper, well-dressed, cool self, decked out in a slick, sparkling sequined white suit and matching cape. Surprisingly, a younger version of Jerome Benton now holds the mirror for Morris. The new guy, who did a great job, obviously owes much stylistically to his predecessor.
It was good to see Jellybean Johnson still holding the drummer’s throne, in addition to Monte Moir, the original keyboardist. Conspicuously missing was guitarist Jesse Johnson. His fill-in, Tori Ruffin, is a dynamite player — a lefty in the mold of Jimi Hendrix, in fact. Bassist Ricky “Freeze” was also stellar.
Credit Robert “Kool” Bell for keeping his Jersey City, N.J., band intact since the late 1960s, when it released its debut self-titled album. The band still features original members “Funky” George Brown, the aforementioned DT and longtime trumpeter/dancer Michael Redd, though tenor saxman and original member Ronald Bell was absent.
As always, the Kool band concluded the show with a rousingly energetic version of “Celebration.” The tune complemented an entire night of partying hearty.