Sunday, August 20, 2017

Livin' Large

After a dozen or so years, I've got the hang of the Down Home Family Reunion.

Truthfully, it couldn't be simpler. The festival takes place two blocks away and all it requires is carrying a chair and a beverage.

I got there just as the organizer was chiding the crowd about their fixation on the headliner, which she saw as a lack of respect for all the other performers. Okay, fair enough.

Next to me, a woman with a Wells Fargo fan began complaining about the humidity and lack of breeze. "I want to go home and take a shower and sit in the air conditioning," she whined.

Rather than listening to live music? Clearly we have nothing in common, friend.

Instead she hung around for comedian Micah "Bam Bam" White, although she was unimpressed, observing, "He's not very funny, is he?"

Actually, his humor about the difference in how historically black colleges hold a football game versus white colleges was pretty hilarious to me. He did an imitation of a half time show and mocked how black vocalists, unlike white ones, never just sing the words on the page. According to him, they testify, they bend notes, they stretch things out.

Yep, and that's what we like about it.

Next up was Full Power Blues, a D.C. blues band led by a woman named Mama Moon, who welcomed the crowd, saying, "Welcome to full moon music!"

And, just as Bam Bam had noted, she and the band testified, they bent notes, they stretched things out.

After they finished, a lone singer named Shep (who will apparently be performing at the Folk Fest this fall) came out to do "A Change is Gonna Come," making for one of the more moving parts of the evening.

In between sets, a DJ played music that defined the demographic of the crowd: "One Nation Under a Groove," "Super Freaky" and "Higher Ground." I know because I sit squarely in that demographic.

A guy came over and sat down near me, striking up a conversation by asking if I was having a good time. Sure was. While the Elegba Folklore Society's performance group played, sang and danced (its leader proclaiming, "If you can walk, you can dance!"), he went on to explain African drumming to me as each drum beat meaning a different word.

When I said I did know that much, he changed tactics. "Do you smoke weed?' he asked blithely despite the cops a few feet away. I guess since I already knew about African drumming, he just assumed I was cool that way, too.

Or maybe it was that I was still wearing sunglasses after dark. I'd tried taking them off, but the park was lit too brightly and the whole scene looked less tawdry with shades on.

What I'm saying is, no one needs to see a fryer lit up. "Someone left their phone at the funnel cake booth," Bam Bam announced between sets. "If you left your phone, go get it now!"

It wasn't me, so I headed down to the row of Porta-Johns, where I found an entirely different party going on. A row of motorcycles, many strung with LED lights, was holding court near the outdoor bathrooms and Prince was blaring from a boombox.

Clearly they didn't need any stinkin' live music.

As the stage was being prepped for DC go-go/funk band EU (Experience Unlimited for the uninitiated), Bam Bam came out and announced that activist Dick Gregory had "transitioned." I've never understood using euphemisms for death. The man died, so just say died.

A collective groan went up from the crowd.

The members of EU showed up onstage wearing all white and ready to party. Leader Sugar Bear began exhorting the crowd immediately. "Get up, Richmond! Y'all got to get up!" We did.

Weaving in classics such as "Family Affair," "Shake It Like a White Girl" and "It's Your Thing," the 7-piece band showed off their smooth choreography, still strong voices and vintage showmanship. Even better, they looked to be having a ball doing it.

When they got to their set closer and biggest hit, "Da Butt," you better believe we - young and old - were following Sugar Bear's directive to, "Shake what your Mama gave you!"

No regular at the Down Home Family Reunion has to be told that twice.

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