In My Write Mind
The Sugar Water Festival
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Jones Beach Ampitheater, Wantagh, NY
(left to right) Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah, Jill Scott
Just A Taste
Sweet music. That's what I was expecting with the name of the tour being The Sugar Water Festival. I was expecting music that would satisfy my soul's sweet tooth, music that would give me energy...give me a rush. The lineup demanded as much, with R&B/rap duo Floetry as the opening act, followed by Grammy Award-winning artists Queen Latifah, Jill Scott & Erykah Badu. A Fantastic Five that would make Marvel stop and er, marvel. On one stage. On the beach.
The clouds parted, the sun shone. It was set to be a wonderful night. All that I expected.
How sweet it is.
The Jones Beach ampitheater was buzzing. The parking lot crowd was 80% women, most coming in groups, some coming with their men, some coming... with each other. And although the show was being held outdoors, the outfits worn most resembled club gear. In fact, in keeping with the "Sugar" theme, most women's jeans and tops were sweet n' low.
The show started on time. 7pm sharp. First up was Floetry. Love them. Their combination of spoken word and R&B made them instant favorites. (Speaking of which, did anyone see their performance on Def Poetry a few weeks back? The girls are tighter than ever. Can't wait for their new CD.) Backed by a live band (a theme of the night--REAL instruments), the girls from London by way of Philly performed a select number of their hits during their 30-minute set. Blame the late arriving (read: black) crowd for the poor acoustics. Singing to a half-empty theater is the ongoing curse of many an opening act. However, the lack of bodies didn't take away from the performance. Didn't make their taste of sugar any less sweet.
But to be clear, it was just a taste.
The half-hour break between acts gave the crowd a chance to file in. Gave them a chance to get settled in for what was to come. Gave the sun a chance to fill in the background with a warm orange glow as it began to set in the west. Made the sky almost as colorful as a Badu outfit. Almost. Finally, after all the adjustments were made to the stage, after several sound checks and light tests...
"NEW.YORK.CITY!!! Are you readyyyyyy?"
The voice was a blast from the past. A voice of royalty out of hip hop's heyday. The ampitheater stood in unison, all hailing the Queen as she came into the house. With her came Badu and Scott. They performed together. The crowd roared their approval. Couldn't wait to take big sips of the promised confection. Got a taste and knew it would be sweet.
Ahh, the Queen. Her turn. The crowd was hyped. Ready to re-place the crown on the head of hip hop's first First Lady. Ready to reclaim one of their own. Ready to forgive Bringing Down the House by bringing down the ampitheater with adulation and applause.
Give it to 'em, Queen. You got it!
The slimmed down, Jersey-born Slash (rapper/actor/singer) treated the yearning masses to just a taste of the "La." The late '80s/early - '90s rap hits ("Latifah's Had It Up 2 Here," "Just Another Day," "Ladies First") gave her subjects the lightheaded rush, the fix, they paid for. Her turn as Dana Owens, standards singer, was more Splenda than splendid. The live band and background singers were more than solid, just seemingly better suited for a smoky blues club than a night on the beach. Throughout her 90 minute set, the crowd was left up in arms, prepared to bow down to the hip hop queen, but instead getting her pop princess alter ego. Let's put it this way: If her hip hop catalogue could be compared to a superhero like Wonder Woman...the choice of songs (less rap, more ballads) would make one wonder, woman.
However, never say the Queen doesn't know how to close, how to leave a sweet taste. Her romp through the crowd to the anthem "U.N.I.T.Y." gave La her musical groove back, made us remember what royalty sounds like. Helped us recall how sweet it once was.
sug·ar: Slang. Sweetheart. Used as a term of endearment.
Sweetheart. Sugar. Straight from the Big & Beautiful spring tour, straight from her press tour for her book of poetry, straight from Philly...next up was Jilly. For my money, the sweetest dose of musical sugar this side of Chaka. Voice, hair and skills just as big. Just as sweet. With Jill, you feel every word, every note, every breath. "He Loves Me," "Golden," "Cross My Mind," "A Long Walk," "Getting in the Way," "Do You Remember?"... six songs. Just a taste... but no real rush. You still felt it. All of it. Six songs and my sweetheart was gone. If Latifah was the 90-minute medicine, then Jill was the 35-minute spoonful of sugar that helped it go down.
Soooo sweet. But still... just a taste.
wa·ter: The transparency and luster of a gem. A level of excellence.
"The Sugar Water Festival is much more than just a concert tour. It's about educating, enlightening and entertaining." And Erykah Badu. There's a reason why Floetry, Jill and Badu have all put out live CDs. A reason why they excel at that medium. That reason? They all have a level of excellence... a high water mark.
Next up, Ms. Badu--with all the luster of a gem. And just as colorful. She put the "water" in the Sugar Water Festival, more colorful than the aforementioned sunset, her vocals flowing like the surrounding tide, providing the perfect soundtrack to the summer beach night. Her simple, soulful rendition of "Green Eyes," her educational ode "Otherside of the Game," her gritty ghettologue "Danger," kept the crowd moving, flowing. She came on a mission. Put it down. Give the crowd a taste. Inspire. Flow. Like Scott, Erykah's set was a scant 35 minutes. Left the crowd thirsty for more sweet excellence.
The show's conclusion was satisfying, with all three performers gathering on stage for one more song. One more spoonful. One that was "Never Too Much." (R.I.P., Luther.)
At that moment, with that mix of voices, I finally realized the significance of the tour's name. Finally realized that with everything added, everything stirred and poured... the Sugar Water Festival was indeed one of the sweetest treats the summer would bring. It flowed, satisfied my soul's sweet tooth... gave me the rush I craved.
Even if it was just a taste.
scribbled by Will at 7/15/2005 08:00:00 AM
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I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. (Joan Didion)
The Write One
Will. Lefty. Since Summer 1971. Over the next six months, I'll be saying some hellos, some goodbyes. Living, laughing, growing. Don't.miss.a.word.
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