The Stage Is A Cage: Underground Artists Turn Le Poisson Rouge Into Creative Melting Pot

I love music because it expresses emotion in a way that spoken conversation cannot. When I sing, or play piano, and I hit that note, I am sharing in that moment the passion and love that I cannot manifest otherwise. Last Friday (June 21), Le Poisson Rouge, an underground bar and club that resides in skinny-jean-and-fedora-riddled downtown Manhattan, hosted BK Nation: The Live Music and Culture Session. Presented by Kevin Powell in partnership with VIBE, AT&T, and Fusicology, it featured a parade of artistry—from live painting to dynamic musical performances—and showcasing a melting pot of personal expression.
Amidst the cramped, intimate seating on the dance floor, one could not feel the beaming heat of the stage lights that left every artist with a sweat-beaded forehead. However uncomfortable the stage was, this did not faze the performers nor did the broken air conditioner keep the seats in the audience from being full. The event truly was a cultural event, spanning our human condition.
 The stage would, at one moment, feature the house band, The Soulfolk Experience, a funky group with a contemporary country twang. The next moment, Odetta Hartman, a young woman toting a banjo, would pluck with folky precision, accompanied by her voice that blared indie-soul, belting high notes that pierced my heart with a charming edge.
Another artist who strongly impacted me was Chaz Shephard, who sang an R&B tune through a sanctified lens as the house band improvised along with him as he sat at the keyboard. This proved to be a lethal combination as he poured his heart out to the woman he loves with a soulful stream of consciousness and high level of vocal passion. As he crooned his bluesy piano solo, marrying ’60s and ’70s soul music with new-age gospel, I was filled with the spirit of his set, it felt as though I was in church.
Cultural diversity went beyond the stage as the audience included Chadwick Boseman, the young star of the 2013 Jackie Robinson blockbuster film 42, as well as the likes of Barrett Strong, the 72-year-old Motown legend who sang the label’s first hit, “Money (That’s What I Want),” and later wrote other classics such as Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”
This is the direction I want music to go.
I want to see more musicians getting lost in their music like Odetta and Chaz did that night. It is one thing for an artist to connect with the audience but it takes transcendence for one to reach nirvana while on that stage, spiritually blacking out before a live audience like the impassioned performances of Woodstock ’69 from the likes of Santana, Jimi Hendrix, or Hip-Hop Gods like Eminem and Rakim. That is what we need: game changers.
—Caleb Bloomfield

DJ Tabu rocking Le Poisson Rouge
Photo Credit: Devin Lightner

Check out photos from the event by hitting next above.