All words: Jeb Gavin — Image credit: Anthony Washington
This past weekend’s Summer Spirit Festival was a laid back affair, due mostly to the heat and humidity. Merriweather Post Pavilion was packed Saturday for the relatively small festival. Each performer did their set in the pavilion itself, and unlike the Sweetlife or Freefest there was no need to extend the grounds to accommodate additional stages.
I arrived as Estelle closed her set with her 2008 single “American Boy.” Absent was Kanye’s verse, though this wasn’t surprising. I wandered the grounds a bit, as I often do, before sitting down for the next set. Sharon Jones, backed as ever by the Dap Kings, was up next. It felt as though most of the audience had never heard Jones, excepting the four or five people dancing in their seats to every song. Her set, far too brief in my estimation, included her own hits, like “100 Days” and “She Ain’t a Child No More”, as well as an insane cover of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately”, and one of Gladys Knight’s “Givin’ Up” which actually got the crowd moving, at least for a bit. The whole time– well, at least whenever I wasn’t thinking about how much their ace percussionist looked like a CPA– I kept thinking, “I’ve never seen them put on a bad show, and yet all Erykah Badu has to do is show up.”
After they’d cleared the stage and set up for what seemed like an an entire orchestra, the entirety of the Chuck Brown Band showed up, with every vocalist I think they’ve ever had to run through one long song. I’d love to give you the play by play, but I spent the whole show dancing, and fuck you if you didn’t. I know they got hit “Hoochie Coochie Man”, and the Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”, as well as Chuck’s own “Wind Me Up!” Then, after they teased Claudine Clark’s “Party Lights”, and worked “We Need Some Money”, they did “Chuck Baby” with video of Chuck playing on the screens, which was sort of their Tupac-hologram moment. It felt unnecessary, as the band was slaying it on their own. That said, while Chuck Brown was better than the Chuck Brown Band without him, the Band on their own is still better than a poke in the eye.
Common played the penultimate set. It was fun, but he didn’t seem to finish any of his songs. They were almost all of his singles the past decade, including a pretty interesting freestyle over Otis Redding’s “Tenderness”, during which he shouted out Chuck Brown, Erykah, U Street, the whole of the DMV and even RGIII. The set was good, but everyone looked like they were wondering if Erykah would make an appearance. Closing out the night was Erykah Badu, who is absolutely amazing live. She stood center stage, beating the stuffing out of a drum machine, striking Battlestar Galactica action figure poses after every song. It makes perfect sense now why people put up with her being a diva: when she wants to, she can bring it. Now that was a show, and a pretty solid day of music.