As errantly bouncing booties berated me from all sides, a first drop of sweat rolled down my back and I began to realize just how literally the words “Azz Everywhere” could be taken. I was just a few minutes in to my first Big Freedia concert, and every member of the audience was twerkin’ their hearts out. There quite literally was unrestrained, unfettered ass everywhere you looked, and it was a joyous sight.
Big Freedia (pronounced Free-DUH) has been championing New Orleans’ own variant of hip-hop known as bounce since the turn of the millennium, although she gained a lot of extra exposure after the New York Times Magazine ran a 2010 story entitled “Sissy Bounce, New Orleans’ gender bending rap.” Although it was a genuinely interesting article, I worry that it may have immortalized Freedia as more of a niche-market performer and less of a unique force to be reckoned with in her own right – an honor of which she is more than deserving. Since then, she’s been garnering fans with a relentless touring schedule, including a previous stop at the Rock & Roll Hotel last year.
Although the show made for a powerfully queer-positive environment, it never veered into the treacherous waters of feeling either too exclusive or too much like a novelty act. Big Freedia’s shows create a temporary space that is powerfully, even aggressively accepting. The audience was mostly female, and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes were encouraged to shake their moneymakers unabashedly. This wasn’t a grind-fest though – it was much more about releasing that sexy-dance energy without being distracted (or harassed) by would-be dance partners. This is not to say that men were shunned or made unwelcome – Freedia even called “All the DC boys” onstage to twerk it by themselves for a song – but the focus was definitely on empowering those who are all too often portrayed in demeaning ways by the hip hop community.
The music itself was great fun, with Freedia performing all of her hits; “Azz Everywhere,” “Booty-Whop” and “Ya’ll get Back Now, ” were the standout performances for me. But to be honest, the music didn’t really seem to be the big draw for the show as much as the dancing was. Audience members were not only treated to some truly anatomically impressive booty bouncing by Freedia and her three dancers, but encouraged to put on their own shows as well by jiggling their jelly either on the floor or onstage if they were lucky. And the fans were packed in against the stage begging, pleading, and dancing their asses off to get pulled onstage and into the spotlight. During certain tracks, Freedia and her dancers would select audience members to join them and show their stuff, and if you were pulled onstage, you worked for it – hard. I can honestly say that I did not know that people’s asses could move so independently from their bodies, and I was thoroughly impressed.
While Freedia and her dancers undeniably stole the show, plenty of credit is due to the openers, Abdu Ali and Glitterlust. The venue remained mostly empty until briefly before Freedia took the stage (at which point it abruptly transitioned to packed), but those who came late definitely missed out. Abdu Ali put on an intimate performance that ended with both crowd members and Glitterlust’s own guitarist dancing onstage. DC-locals Glitterlust put on a great follow-up with their unique brand of queer disco-punk, complete with frontman Mikey Torres donning a long and flowing gold cape for their final numbers.
Overall, my first Big Freedia show was an incredibly liberating experience. There is something so very refreshing about seeing a middle-aged woman dressed up in leopard print and heels get on all fours and bounce her booty in the air while being cheered on by her peers. The show was equal parts sweat-soaked workout and visually stunning performance, and I don’t think anybody left without a grin on his or her face. By blending the line between audience and performers, Big Freedia creates an environment where everyone feels free to back their asses up without being judged or objectified.