by Matt Bauer
Soul fans were dealt a serious blow with the recent passing of Aretha Franklin. Yet if there are a few things to be learned from the music (and indeed, Aretha’s life) they’re resilience and jubilation.
The Rochester Summer Soul Music Festival definitely celebrated the soul tradition. Upcoming acts Eli and Maurice Moore put on poised and engaging performances that opened the Saturday portion of the show before Philadelphia’s Kindred The Family Soul took the stage.
The chemistry between the husband and wife duo of Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon radiated a balmy, romantic warmth with modern classics like “If I” and “Far Away.” Quizzed about the key to the couple’s musical and personal chemistry as they prepare for their twentieth anniversary Dantzler explained, “Not only do we work together but we do something that we actually love together and that we both loved individually before we became a collective.
That’s been very therapeutic for us.” “Having a common passion gives you a common language,” added Graydon. Next up was the “R&B hippie neo-soul rock star” Raheem DeVaughan with smoking love jams for the ladies (“I Don’t Care,” “Guess Who Loves You More”) and power fist-raising revolutionary funk (“Bulletproof”) for the fellows. The cat can rock a crowd and his killer set was easily the most exuberant of the evening. “I hope people hear the growth in my voice as a vocalist, as a songwriter, as a man and where I want to take R&B,” said DeVaughan when asked how his style has evolved since his first visit to the Rochester Music Fest in 2005.
With vocalist Melody Rhodes dropping some sweet feminine touches, Al B. Sure performed a rather laidback set but “Night and Day” still got the crowd ready for Musiq. Clad in a blue baseball cap and black sunglasses, Musiq hasn’t lost any of his mystique nor vocal skill. “Love,” “Half Crazy” “Girlfriend” and more recent cuts like “Simple Things” brought a welcome chill to the summer air. Angie Stone was the closer and was worth waiting for. Sound difficulties threatened opener “Pissed Off” ( from 2002’s “Mahogany Soul”) but they were straightened out and Stone performed a set that honored the soul continuum, one that she has no doubt added to over her now forty year career.
Stone called a moment of silence for Aretha Franklin before delving into tributes to Natalie Cole ( “I’ve Got Love On My Mind”), Earth Wind and Fire (“You Can’t Hide Love”) and Prince (“When Doves Cry”) while going back to her days in the pioneering female hip-hop trio The Sequence with “Funk You Up.” “Brother” was a galvanizing call and response and “No More Rain (In This Cloud)” and “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” ended the set on a high note. DC based-songstress Cecily opened the second day with a fine set of neo-soul before
Val Young and the Stone City Family (which also featured Candy from the original Mary Jane Girls) took the stage and asked the nearly sold-out crowd “Can I Get Nasty Y’all?” The answer was yes and not only did the legendary “Lady V” perform classics like “Seduction,” she paid tribute to Rick with a smoking “Mary Jane” (done with a little gender twist ) and Bobby Womack with “A Woman’s Gotta Have It,” which had the crowd on its feet. While many still unfortunately aren’t aware of the breadth and influence of Young’s work, “To Live And Die In LA” was a potent reminder of her days with Tupac and Death Row.
“He was everything, “ Young said of James. “We learned everything from him and I miss him tremendously.” Things only got better as the sun set with the one and only Cameo who rocked a sound so bass heavy it rattled the windows in the press lounge. While Larry Blackmon, at times, had to take a seat, he’s lost none of his charisma, not to mention that red cod-piece.
The band was top notch and reminded the crowd why they hold such a high rank in the funk pantheon with booty shaking, nastay jams like “Single Life,” “Flirt” while also slowing things down with sensuous groovers like “Sparkle” and “Why Have I Lost You” before finishing with “Candy” and “Word Up.” With the audience in a funk-soaked fervor it was time to get “Cool” with Morris Day and The Time. Still clean as ever and with the ubiquitous mirror, Day didn’t miss a step in his Stacy Adams and his narcissistic player routine just never gets old, not to mention favorites like “Get It Up” and “777-9311.”
Having announced his plan to retire from live work earlier this year, George Clinton at seventy seven years old, most likely gave his final appearance in the Rochester area. Yes age is starting to take its toll on “Dr Funkenstein” but he still got “Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk” to get on down with “Flash Light” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Funkateers saddened by Clinton’s retiring will be assured to know that he plans to keep making records as he shared backstage.
Overall, The Rochester Summer Soul Festival was definitely a weekend to remember.
( photo of Angie Stone above snapped by Matt Bauer at the 2018 Fest)