Sunday, August 19, 2012

Give Up the Funk

You've got a real type of thing going down, getting down
There's a whole lot of rhythm going round

I can always tell when the Down Home Family Reunion starts because I can hear it through my open windows.

After all, I'm only two blocks from Abner Clay Park.

I'd invited a non-family member to join me and he arrived with a picnic, so we took our chairs and dinner and walked the short distance toward the sound.

The Down Home Family Reunion isn't like any other festival I've been to, which is exactly what I love about it.

Besides the fact that it's two blocks away.

You see people dressed up at this one.

Like a leopard print jumpsuit.

Jean shorts, a red t-shirt and red and gold pumps.

His and her black leather chaps.

Skintight paisley bell-bottoms and a purple polyester shirt and hat.

I don't even try to compete with the likes of that.

Settling in with our picnic, the emcee said, "I wish y'all could see what y'all look like from up here!"

I'll bet the two of us looked starved, considering how we dug into roast chicken, caprese salad, bean and olive salad, hummus and peach pie.

We took a break to move closer when the Kenya Safari Acrobats took the stage.

Part dance, part magic, part gymnastic, part yoga, they amazed.

One condensed his body to almost nothing in the way they were taught to do in Kenya and Tanzania when confronted with a leopard.

Another got on a table and proceeded to bend his body backwards until his feet were resting on his head.

He even removed his hat with his toes.

There was a limbo dance (done to win a wife) with a stick on fire, making it essential to go as low as the limber, brave man could go.

He did.

For their final act, they created a human pyramid using a woman as the base.

It was significant because no acrobatic troupes there will use women because the men presume a woman will drop them.

Aminia, the female base, went on to support all kinds of men in various configurations, even walking a short distance while supporting them all.

The entire act required such skill and precision as to have been absolutely Olympic-worthy.

Meanwhile, I ran into a friend (and pianist for the Richmond Symphony) and caught up with his escapades (turkey burgers! Chopin! Pocahontas Park!)

And that's exactly what's supposed to happen at the Reunion.

I spent over six hours behind a woman who was serially greeted by no less than thirty people.

It was impressive to see.

A girl asked me to take a survey about the festival, inquiring about how far I'd come to see it, how much I might spend and if I'd been before.

I'm always happy to share my opinions.

Next onstage were NYCE, a local group who wore matching salmon-colored outfits while executing synchronized steps and singing '60s and '70s R & B.

Stuff like Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations, but not the Top 40 stuff.

Their set got people in the mood, like when a man walked by, spotted a friend and did a synchronized dance move in front of him before saying hello.

The Elegba Folklore performance group played drums and danced while a costumed figure on stilts moved through the crowd.

"If you can walk, you can dance," the group's director shouted.

I would have broken it down even more basically than that.

Periodically, the scent of incense wafted by.

Once the sun went down and I lost my companion to work, I was glad I had a blanket to drape over my legs.

"You had the right idea with that blanket," a man said to me when he saw me getting cozy.

By the time the big names arrived, the crowd was large and feisty.

Original P, comprised of four of the original members of Parliament Funkadelic and eight of their siblings and children, took the stage like they owned it.

"We're ready to party like it's 1975!" leader Calvin shouted to raucous response.

Almost at once, a freaky-looking guy started walking through the crowd with a large sign saying, "One Nation Under a Groove."

A guy came by to check on me. "How you doing?" he inquired sweetly. "You look comfortable! Enjoy yourself."

Of course the twelve piece had a big horn section and an array of back-up singers, but I was unprepared for the keytar.

Damn, we were taking it all the way back.

The crowd went wild for "We Want the Funk," but they also went crazy for tales of booty patrols and an extended psychedelic jam that had people dancing in the field.

By that point, audience and band were feeding off of each other under the night sky.

"Richmond Vee-Yay in the mother-fu*kin' house!" the bandleader yelled as people waved glow light swords and hands in the air.

I alternated between staying in my seat (where a guy came over to ask if I was okay by myself over there) and standing closer to the stage to enjoy the sheer spectacle of so many musicians clearly having a ball.

"If y'all don't get up off your asses now, I'm gonna be forced to get mean," we were informed.

It only took one warning for everyone but the oldest and most infirm to follow P-Funk's advice: "Free your mind and your ass will follow."

When the band finally ended, it was only because the organizers told them they had to.

The band made it clear that they wanted to keep playing.

Danced out, the crowd resignedly started packing up.

Original P serenaded us as we made our way out to the streets of Jackson Ward.

If you're not gonna get it on
Grab your date and take her home

My date long gone, it looked like I wasn't going to get it on.

But my answer to the final survey question had been confirmed in spades.

Would I come back to the festival next year?

Hell, yes. We want the funk.

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