Making It Hot with the Summer Spirit Music Festival – Nas,The Roots, Erykah Badu and more!
Making It Hot with the Summer Spirit Music Festival at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in MD
This past weekend Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland was taken over by the Summer Spirit Festival thanks to our friends, CDE Presents. It’s a full two days stuffed to the gill with a combination of great hip hop and R&B artists; headliners like Erykah Badu, Nas, The Roots, Method & Redman, Daniel Caesar, and newly Roc Nation signed emcee Rapsody. The lineup was so appealing that I happily drove the four plus hours to D.C. to make sure I was in attendance.
Merriweather is a great venue, large and accommodating but in the MD heat it was like deciding to go chill in oven for several hours. Apparently DMV folk already knew what was up because those that didn’t come out of pocket for a pavilion seat brought canopy chairs, and event tents and radio stations were gracious enough to pass out free fans. Hallelujah! Regardless of the heat, clearly fans found it worth it because the pavilion was already filling up early on.
First act up I caught was Lion Babe. I’ve been wanting to catch this duo for the last couple years but they’ve never made it close enough to check out until now. Made up of producer Lucas Goodman and Jillian Hervey, these two NY natives have a kind of pop hip hop fusion sound. Like when you want the knock of Wu-Tang but your working at the office so you need a mellower version. That is Lion Babe. Their music incorporates everything so it’s kind of like alternative R&B if you will. It was an energetic set, and Jillian doesn’t stand quietly behind the mic with Goodman rocking behind the tables. Her presence is as big as the mane she is known for; jumping and dancing accompany her vocals.
This was their first time in Maryland and hopefully with tracks like “Honeydew” and “Rockets”, they were able to gather some new fans from the performance, because I loved them. They definitely had the crowd involved, and one fan said she came with her husband just so she could expose him to their music!
Next up was Philly R&B favorite Bilal. Best known for his Prince-esque presence, powerhouse vocals and collaborations with hip hop acts Common, and the Roots, his live shows are highly recommended. If you’re not familiar with him, you’re definitely familiar with his voice. He’s a singer that sounds better than his recordings, instead of just like them and he’s an awards show favorite because he just delivers simply put.
He sang his classics like “Soul Sista” from the Love and Basketball soundtrack and one of my own favorites “Sometimes,” off his 1st album 1st Born Second. The crowd were off their feet, and couples were slow dancing, singing to each other. Baby-making music at its finest!
I was happy to see NC native Rapsody perform since oddly I never can catch her on home territory. She was accompanied by 9th Wonder and I noticed some members of Durham band Zoo Cru with her on stage. There’s no misunderstanding why she’s signed to Roc Nation, this woman is lyrically fit compared to majority of the artist’s or right now. She reminded the crowd that women emcees are not to be toyed with and any emcee thinking they could test her “can get it.” 9th Wonder also let the crowd know Rapsody was the only woman emcee to get nominated for a Grammy recently, a huge feather in her cap. Not that she needs one to validate her dopeness. Her set was full of bravado and a little comedy when she pulled a fan on stage to dance with her. It was hype, and engaging because not all hip hop artists understand how to use the stage but she clearly gets it. She even performed The Roots classic hook from their song “Proceed” as a nod to the headliners.
Redman is in my top ten emcees of all time so to say I was excited to see Meth and Red’s set is the understatement of the millennium. From clips of the craziness on their tour and Redman recently formally joining the Wu Tang family, the crowd began to move towards the front in preparation for a good time.
From coordinated dance steps to cracking jokes, they gave us everything and the crowd eagerly partook. Highlights were the Old Dirty Bastard dedication performance of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Da Rockwilder” but with the crazy discography between the both of them, you could just pick and choose and it’s a win win regardless.
Their set is so fluid and well timed. Anyone looking to have a great performance needs to study them because it is how it should be done. I mean yeah it helps to be two of some the best hip hop artists out their but between the jokes, the crowd participation, there was never a dull spot. They performed their individual hits and some of Wu-Tang’s classics like “C.R.E.A.M.” They even had a battle set with their DJs and gave a commentary on why 90s hip hop will forever be the greatest.
At this point we were getting to the culmination of day one and the last stranglers had found their way into the few remaining open spots and the venue was filled to the brim. Thankfully by now the heat had turned down to hot as hell instead of hot as sin so it was slightly bearable.
Only slightly though because I was still dripping sweat but you don’t want to hear about that. You want to hear about Nasir aka Nasty Nas. He entered the stage, all NY swagger.
The crowd was on their feet for the whole set, surprising because it’s not like he’s got tracks made for the club but when the Pete Rock produced track “The World Is Yours” came on, everyone was up and rhyming along.
I’ve seen Nas perform in NC before and the crowd was nowhere near as hype. I mean people were rhyming along of course but the vibe wasn’t same. Merriweather’s crowd was here for a show and people were dancing and laughing with other comedy goers all around them. It was celebratory and oh my goodness, when “Oochie Wally” came on the crowd started filling the walkways to dance, sweltering heat be damned. Highlight was when he broke up his set, declaring sometimes we need to “switch it up” and had his DJ play us Beethoven as he mimicked an orchestra conductor to the screen behind him showing the notes being played only to turn around and say that’s enough and break into the uplifting knocker “I Can,” which made the made the crowd erupt.
Mrs. Fatbelly Bella AKA Erykah Badu was a little tardy as usual starting her set but still, it’s not like someone was going to actually leave. Coming out to the music of “Tyrone,” a grand entrance with her wild locs, painted red eyelids and cape. She was greeted to a storm of screams, folk hollering out “Badu!” Erykah always mixes it up; either the arrangements are different, the vocals are slightly shaken up though there’s always a nod to the original but she always keeps her songs fresh and new.
She started in the the usual fashion with her opener as of late, “Out of My Mind, Just in Time.” Of course there was “On and On” but I was stoked because I got to hear her perform one of my favorite tracks of hers, ”Love of My Life” from the Brown Sugar soundtrack. Erykah isn’t one to mess all around the stage but her light show was so dope! She stood center stage with her keyboard and had this laser pyramid coming down over her. So fly and the pictures can’t really capture how awesome it looked.
She went through a medley of classics but my favorite or my highlight of the evening was when she performed Bag Lady. We all know how that song starts out and let me tell you I could not help but laugh and feel the joy as it felt like every woman started belting out that song. It was just such a great environment. I can’t lie day one was not a disappointment on any level at all. By the end of the night I was like the walking dead but still ready for what day two had in store.
It’s my second day at the Summer Spirit Festival in MD and I have well learned my lesson from the previous day. I made sure that I had frozen water bottles on deck, an umbrella and a seat in the shade because I was NOT sitting in that sun, baking like a damn pork chop for a second time. On the first day of the festival there was like a mass exodus of people walking from the parking lot to the venue. This time it was not as many travel companions walking with me. I think that was the only downside of this festival for me. That there was not a trolley or bus to take you from the parking lot to the venues in this sort of heat. So when I got there early the crowd was already still kind of light but the smart people had made sure to get their lawn seats before the inevitable crowd again.
First I caught Grammy Nominated singer Raheem DeVaughn, a local DMV (District of Columbia or DC/Maryland/Virgina = DMV) artist. Raheem DeVaughn is well known in the DC area for both his music and his community work. I think of him along the lines of Musiq Soulchild but a little funkier. and he has had some moderate successes over the years with album like Love Behind The Melody.” I was surprised to see him performing with go-go music (more on that later) but apparently he’s possibly releasing new music with a go-go band of his own. Raheem was animated, hyping up the crowds, doing covers and basically making sure everyone was having a good time. I spoke to one girl who said she never misses a Raheem DeVaughn show and was there to make sure she got the chance to see “my baby.” The crowd hadn’t filled in yet but the difference with DC and a being in hometown territory is that it doesn’t matter because they always feel you; DC is very supportive of local talents. He had the crowd’s attention and was hitting those notes! You should take a listen to his latest single, “Don’t Come Easy” and enjoy him like we did.
Artist Lizzo is why I love festivals. You get the chance to be introduced to artists you might not normally have checked out. I absolutely adore this woman. When she stepped on the stage the first thing I thought was she is giving me Beyonce and honestly that’s who I kept comparing her to. You know how when Beyonce’s on stage, she’s confident, hair all blowing in the wind. This is the vibe I got the entire time. I enjoyed the music but I dug her performance. There is nothing like somebody owning who they are and was making sure people knew that she wasn’t concerned about any conceived perception.
She knew her music was dope and you were going to like it. She rapped, she sang, she did the choreography to Ciara’s “Level Up!” She spoke to the crowd, describing how she was all about body positivity and loving herself and gave a special shout-out to Missy Elliott for inspiring her to not feel the need to change in an industry that often demands a lot for women to sacrifice. Any artist that can transition from twerking to hot doing over a Baptist praise break deserves my coins. Check out my favorite track she performed “Phone.”
As a native of MD, you don’t grow up in the area without knowing about Go-Go. It’s a style of music native to the DMV, heavy on percussion that has been used by mainstream artists. Beyonce’s song “Crazy Inlove” had go go all through it but most people were first introduced to go go by EU with their single “Doing The Butt back in the late 80s off Spike Lee’s School Daze movie. Backyard Band has been killing the go go since the 90s and I haven’t seen them in years. Go Go bands are huge, they’ll have 2 to 4 singers, a couple a keyboardists, a horn section, and of course a couple of drummers, one who must be able to work those bongos.
Once they got on stage, the crowd filled up and the party began. Go go tends to reinvent popular songs so we got hear their amazing version of Adele’s “Hello” and one of my favorite songs ever Raphael Saadiq’s “Still Ray.” Backyard truthfully got the crowd moving and people were again dancing in the aisles having a great time. It’s a different genre but once you start listening you can’t stop and go go is saturated all throughout the DMV so you can pick and choose a favorite band but give it a listen and expose yourself to something new.
There was a late change to the lineup, apparently Anderson Paak and The Nationals cancelled their set which I won’t lie was kind of disappointing, I had been forward to checking him out again. But CDE Presents got us Philly sweethearts Kindred instead. Okay so let’s discuss Kindred. These two are like watching love in the physical. No I’m not exaggerating. They are a husband and wife sanging their asses off duo that are so damn cute it’s not allowed somewhere I’m sure.
I always feel sappy after they perform and I’m certain they drug the air with pheromones somehow. How often do you see singers singing about love and actually living out their lyrics. I’ll wait. They performed “Rhythm of Life,” and did a crazy harmony with their back up singers while doing a riff on “My Umi Says” by Mos Def.
Then it was time for Canadian crooner Daniel Caesar. I am partial to a crooner. Heavy hitting singers are great but for a good love song sometimes you need a crooner to talk that talk and slowly wrap a melody around you. This young man has it down, and his music is everywhere right now. First off he knows how to set the mood. He had the stage lit like the were several candles all around, nice and intimate feeling. He began his set with a mellowed version of “Can You Hold Me Down.”
Nothing fancy: just Daniel, his band, a mic and music and it’s fantastic. The focus is on him and the audience connecting, and it’s awesome he already gets it so early on in his career. He’s laid back, nonchalant and polite, even during technical problems. It wasn’t a lengthy set but it was enjoyable. He performed “We Find Love/Blessed,” but when the best dropped for his radio darling “Get You” it was nothing but screams and singing from the people. One older gentleman was singing it to his wife she’d dancing with her as she blushed, which reminded me again of how soulful but timeless a good love song can be when done right. Daniel exited after that song with a quick thanks and I was suprised to see people heading out. Traffic the night before had been a beast, it had taken 45 minutes to be able to exit the venue but I couldn’t see it being that bad enough to jet out so early.
Fun fact, I’ve never seen The Roots live, but I have all their albums and I’ve even read Questlove’s books. I’ve also had foodie envy with them because Questlove has visited one of my bucket list food adventures twice (I need that Jiro hook up Quest!). I’m a fan I guess but I don’t say that would. They’ve been an ever present source of music in the backdrop of my life.
It’s more familial at this point. I mean like what can I say that you don’t already know she’d expect from such top notch talent? Did Black Thought just calmly step on stage and destroy that poor mic? Yeah, of course he did. Did their band come with it, and make you wish you had kept up those clarinet classes in elementary school because maybe you missed out on being as amazing as they are?
Yup, sure did. Did Tuba Gooding Jr, as they called him, make you realize you need to stop complaining about walking up the steps when this dude is literally running around the stage performing with a big ass tuba, not only killing it but with audacity of dancing as well? Yup, that also happened. These are all undeniable facts as much as water is wet. What is truly the crazy part is that these dudes this CONSISTENTLY.
I’ve never, not once heard of The Roots having a bad set that can’t be blamed on bad sound and that just comes with the territory. They are masters of their craft and as such should be viewed, and celebrated. My highlight was seeing two of my favorites of theirs live, “Proceed,” and “Act Too.” It was an experience.
Matter of fact, the whole weekend was and hats off to CDE Presents and Merriweather Post Pavilion for coming together to put on such a dope festival. I not only had a ball but I met some wonderful people there.
We forget how festivals are meant to bring people together for the love of music and the entire time you could feel the community.
I’m not sure how they did it, but they got it right and I can’t wait to see what they pull together for us next year. Because yup sweltering heat be damned, just like everyone else we’ll be there too.