A glorious summer afternoon, a diverse lineup of talented bands and vocalists and the rolling hills of the recently-upgraded Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia made for a perfect combination attracting thousands from around the region — from hip-hopping millennials to Old School go-go heads — for a celebration of Black music that has become a D.C. tradition.
Summer Spirit Festival 2019 offered something for everyone, and then some — disheveling earlier, perfectly-coiffed locks and tresses, reducing smooth-operating brothers to puddles of sweat and taking older fans back down memory lane for a joyful journey.
And while musical genres of the various entertainers ensured a variety of tastes and styles, one element that permeated throughout the lineup of performers had to be the influence of D.C.’s homegrown style of music, go-go, whose influences could be seen even among entertainers more often associated with the world of R&B.
Headliner Anthony Hamilton, capable of singing himself into or out of any situation, even played the cowbells during his encore, much to the fans’ delight — also paying homage to the legacy of the go-go swerve as he called upon the talents of the legendary “Sauce,” known for his contributions as a member of D.C.’s Backyard Band and who brought the rhythm with syncopated splendor on the congas.
Raphael Saadiq, whose new CD (“Jimmy Lee”) will drop on Aug. 23 and will be his first release in eight years, reminded us of his unique signature placed within our minds from his years in the past while a member of the highly-touted group, Tony! Toni! Tone! He invoked memories of yesteryear with songs that have long captured our hearts, at the same time displaying an effortless soulfulness that has continued to make him a favorite of New Jack/R&B aficionados.
Summer Spirit Festival, presented by the talented, entrepreneurial duo of Carol Kirkendall and Darryll Brooks, business partners who head highly-respected CD Enterprises, Inc., also continues to provide opportunities for lesser-known, emerging talent, particularly those from the Greater Washington Area — bands, singers and rappers who continue honing their skills, making sure they’re poised and ready for whenever that big break comes their way.
Of course, the Festival would not be the same without onstage representation from the go-go community. As always, our desire for the sound, soul and swing of go-go was met once again as Sirius Company (Ms. Kim & Scooby) returned for their second consecutive year after leaving the audience screaming for more following their show-stopping performance in 2018.
They were followed by all-women group Be’La Donna whose skills are legendary and who have long proven their ability to withstand the pressures of being a minority-led ensemble in contrast to the more familiar makeup of bands who remain male-dominated. Near the end of their set, they brought out D.C. legend Sugar Bear, lead singer for E.U., performing a revised form of the song that broke records and once dominated the charts for E.U., “Da Butt” in the late 1980s and remains, decades later, a fan favorite locally, nationally and abroad.
I had never witnessed the much-talked-about PJ Morton in concert but he quickly gained a new fan. From displaying a voice that can soar in ways similar to the late, great Marvin Gaye, to his prowess on the keyboards, Morton has “it.” What’s more, he comes armed with originally written songs whose themes cause the listener to really tune in to the lyrics — songs whose themes included love, heartache, disappointment, loneliness and the search for one’s soul and connection with the Spirit.
I could go on with a lot more but suffice to say, he was spectacular. And as a diehard lover of Old School music, his performance was greatly appreciated as he effortless tackled intricate poly-rhythms, showed off with the services of his band to deliver beautifully-arranged harmonies and then, sang as if there was no tomorrow.
The Dominating Power of Go-Go
A recent transplant from New York City now residing in Laurel, Bernice Wooden, returned to the Festival for the second year in a row, she said, so she could once again encounter D.C.’s unique form of music, go-go.
“I’m a longtime fan of R&B music but I have grown to really love go-go,” Wooden said who also celebrated her 35th birthday on the day of the Festival. “I was drawn to this year’s lineup because it included PJ Morton and he is one of my favorite singers. As for go-go, it’s the kind of music that gets into your mind, your heart and your soul. It reminds us of the uniqueness of Black culture and the importance that the community has long played and continues to play for Blacks in every city or town on the planet.”
Donald Gross, 50, a resident in Northeast, has been getting his swerve on at the Summer Spirit Festival for the last 10 years and said he couldn’t miss the annual affair.
“I love it — all of it,” he said. “The thing about go-go is it’s unique to the Black D.C. heritage and culture. We made go-go; it started right here. I guess you could say that go-go is so much a part of me that it lives inside of me — it took residence in my soul many years ago. I live for go-go and the way it makes me feel and allows me to celebrate life each and every day.”
Greenbelt resident Garrett Jackson, an acclaimed vocalist in his own right, said the Festival brings something special every year in a way no other concerts or promoters have ever been able to equal.
“These guys bring talent that is deserving of being showcased but who are still trying to make a name for themselves,” he said. “For those artists, while the world may not know about them yet, it’s a chance for them to shine, to do their thing and send a message that they’re ready whenever greater opportunities come knocking at their door. The Festival makes that happen for artists year after year and they deserve kudos for that.”
Meanwhile, CD Enterprises, Inc.’s production manager, Gerald Scott, part of the company since 1974, says go-go has its own appeal and power that’s difficult to explain and even harder to match.
“I’ve been with Darryll and Carol for a long time and been part of some amazing shows — I mean mind-blowing artists from Salt N Pepa to Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and the Parliament/Funkadelic crew. But go-go remains the backbone and the foundation in my view,” Scott said.
“It’s the cultural lifeline of DC and I ought to know since I’m 70. Two of the most important people in our city’s history remain Marion Barry and Chuck Brown. Imagine that. A political leader and a cultural leader — both icons who were the face and the representative spirit of the District — at least until the second round of gentrification took hold.”
“But I’m excited today because we’re now seeing a new revival of go-go music that’s making its way to the national stage. Go-go is the one thing, the only thing we have left to hold onto if we want to maintain the Chocolate City spirit and legacy.”