May 2,2015 • U Street • Washington,DC
By: Andrew M • Photos by: Josh Brick
Last weekend made me proud to call DC my new home.
The U-Street corridor holds a very special history to the city. For years, U Street was a thriving neighborhood and community, particularly for African American musicians. The neighborhood was even home to Duke Ellington. Then amidst the turmoil of the late 60s, the area became to location of the 1968 race riots. An abundance of narcotics in the 70s, coupled with bad economic conditions began to plague the U Street community for quite some time. (Source) However, now, the area is starting to come back in a big way. It now thrives with music venues scattered in the immediate U Street area with some overlap to adjoining neighborhoods like Adams Morgan.
The daytime festivities of the Funk Parade reveal an appreciation for local musicians from the entire DMV live music community. I spent the first part of the day with Photographer Josh Brick walking around U street and getting a feel for the scene. We happened upon a DJ nestled at the entry of an alley while a girl hula hooped to some smack down style nasty funk grooves – a very funked up concoction of R&B, old school golden age hip-hop, and soulful vocal crescendos from the heavens. A small crowd gathered and some dance moves were exchanged in fine form. This theme would continue for the remaining 10 hours of the U street. We caught a few songs by Thaylobleu who ripped some heavy hitting in-your-face rock n roll, just how rock should be right? After a couple songs including a notable “Get Low” and “Locked” we headed to the media tent and a drink to gear up for Nappy Riddem.
Next up was the rising reggae DC talent, Nappy Riddem. Mustafa Akbar led the group through a series of powerful tales about the state of society, nature, love, and self inner reflection and awareness. Their version of dancehall is far from an imitation of classic reggae (which is definitely a issue with the current reggae scene.) Rex Riddem’s unique ukulele sound is subtle, and nuanced, adding an important layer to the sound. His live raps have also become a great addition to the show. The addition of Patrick Cheng on bass fills out a fat, nasty bottom end, which anchors to the funky dancehall stylings of the band. Gordon Sterling is always an exceptional lead guitarist who has been on the scene for quite some time (a story in of itself).
Then we set off to see an inducted member of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, take us to the mothership with a filthy fuzz-phased rendition of “Maggot Brain.” Hampton joined Funkadelic at the age of 17 and has toured on and off with the band for quite some time. His backing group featured many familiar faces of the funk scene. He also attempted to break a record of most people playing a guitar solo. While there were a decent number of people who showed up, the record wasn’t broken. However, that does not really matter. What mattered was folks surrounded the stage with their guitars and celebrated music on the streets of DC in unison as Hampton played a “Maggot Brain.” Another set highlight included a fiery “Red Hot Momma,” taking me back to Panic’s rendition on Saturday in Brooklyn. Hampton threw it down for short high energy set. (see photo of Leah (DC Phans anyone? :P) dancing on a wall in the gallery)
THEN… THE PARADE! Starting at Howard Theatre all the way to the historic and delicious Ben’s Chili Bowl, the crowd packed the streets as we got uncut funk from a laundry list of stellar marching bands; Batala Washington, Hung Tao Choy Mei Lucky Dragons, Duke Ellington Radical Elite Show Marching Band, Royal Knights Marching Band, Eastern High School “Blue & White” Marching Machine. The vibe on scene was jubilant. So jubilant, in fact, it’s hard to describe. One word does come to mind though- COMMUNITY. The parade brought everyone from the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area together for the cause of celebrating local live music and a new gem of the city – Funk Parade. Celebrating it on U Street in perfect weather with these Marching Bands was definitely one for the books in DC history.
Josh Brick went to cover the jazz funk sounds of Backbeat Underground, an act that is become a common name on the local scene because they offer a mix of some of the best around. Influences range from James Brown to Lettuce and everything great in-between spiked with some DC culture that culminates a sound that is familiar yet unique. The one band I couldn’t cover (because I can’t be two places at once) was Black Masala at Solly’s. Their gypsy funk rock party is a must see! They’ve received numerous local accolades in the past 3 years and are in the midst of recording yet another stellar album.
After the Parade I headed to U Street Music Hall: a 500-person basement room with one of the best sound systems in the US. The room hosts both DJs and bands on any given night. When local DJs like Fort Knox Five play there, break-dance circles erupt. And its not an EDM style vibe. The lights are just there to make sure you know where the dancefloor is. Since opening their doors in 2010 the venue has received numerous accolades among them Top 10 Dance Clubs in America by Rolling Stone and Beatport has ranked their ITI Audio sound system as the “Second Best Sound System in America”.
Upon entering U Hall Black Alley was crushing high-energy funk rock grooves covered in multiple vocal harmonies. Their set was met with a great crowd reaction. Stronh way to loosen things ups for See-i, the next act.
Having watched See-I play in numerous venues from Dallas to DC, I can assure you that these guys throw down in every situation no matter size of crowd or the occasion. Their Wednesday night residencies at ESL have become legendary. (that’s another lengthy piece in of itself, coming to you soon). Flex Matthews (of Congo Sanchez) got the crowd going with his MC finesse and Frank Mitchell wailed on the sax as he does every show he plays in any band. Frank plays with every ounce of energy ,always leaving it all up on stage, cards on the table. As the band got the crowd warmed up and Flex continued his onslaught of vocal rhymes, brothers Rootz and Zeebo hit the stage with their insane stage presence, lighting the place up with their dueling reggae ensemble. This set was short but more than sweet. It included old gems like “Soul Hit Man” an anthem for the group of sorts. Other highlights included a strong “Never Give Up” off their latest album, Knowledge Shine Bright. Rootz and Zeebo wrote the song as a tribute to their mother. The song is a beautiful story about their mother’s love with a theme that carries over to the listener, allowing them to reflect on their family and youth. The group ripped every song with a tempo even more upbeat than a normal 2 set show due to their shorter — albeit headlining– slot for the DC Funk Parade. It should be noted despite their individual accolades outside of the band are numerous with credentials ranging from Thievery Corporation to the Wailers. Ego isn’t really something See-i cares about; they’re more concerned with a dominating stage presence that forces audiences to get off their ass and jam. I stayed as long as possible after to hang out and soak up the post show vibes with the crew. Everyone was in a blissful mood with everyone having enjoyed an entire day of Funk.
In all, this was a wildly successful event for the Funk Parade’s second year. My tale is just one of the thousands who were there. This is going to be something that will be a national attraction in the years to come. With ten or so hours of music you really can’t go wrong. Next year is going to epic and the year after that even better. The community exuded their unwavering support for this event thanks to the work of Chris, Listen Local First, music lovers, and local gov’t officials who put this together. Shutting down the busiest street in all of DC for a Funk Parade was as awesome as you thought it was AND MORE!
SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!