I admit it. I was a little skeptical walking up to the 11th annual Summer Spirit Festival. For one, I was rolling dolo to an event I typically would’ve brought my mom to, and I was worried that I, the girl who just belted out Lil Uzi Vert’s “Scott and Ramona” in the car, would feel somewhat out of place during this two-day affair. However, I’d arrived to the Merriweather Post Pavilion down for whatever. Situated in the Symphony Woods of Columbia, Maryland, the show was set to feature queen headliners Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, with The Roots, Janelle Monae, Kindred The Family Soul and other acts I loved sprinkled throughout. So basically, audience aside, I could dig it.
To be quite honest, staggering heat was the main attraction on Saturday. My weather app was tap-dancing around 90 degrees as British boy wonder Daley hit the stage, so I did my best to focus on the cool sounds of his Marsha Ambrosius-assisted hit, “Alone Together.” Thank God I plopped down in the covered seating area, where super-large fans circulated some air, but there was still a chorus of flyers doubling as church fans to keep folks’ body temps on chill. Other than the humidity, I settled into the show and instantly felt as if I was kickin’ it with my fave aunties. This was a nice departure from fighting over girls in Ivy Park to snap pics of Beyoncé or duck out of Travis Scott’s way mid crowd surf.
You become fast family with the folks sitting or standing next to you, laughing at their jokes and swapping “I know that’s right” and “gon’ head, girl” quips when Avery*Sunshine hit a speaker-rattling high note and effortlessly slid into Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love.” She took our makeshift family to church as she called for sopranos, altos and tenors to sing along, complete with hallelujahs, shouting and a cover of “Safe In His Arms.” It didn’t take long for folks to get on their feet, drinks in hand, and get the party started.
Just imagine you’re at a family cookout where folks have had about two or three cold ones––this was that.
Later, Janelle Monáe took the crowd on a fantastic voyage to the future. Besides the electric lady’s customized Black Girl Magic leather jacket, tribute to Prince and dazzling rock show of “Q.U.E.E.N.,” “Yoga,” “PrimeTime” and “Tightrope,” her social message to “choose freedom over fear” in the face of racial injustices struck a chord. The ArchAndroid reappeared for Mother Badu’s set, which, for a lack of more eloquent words, was f**king insane.
Ms. Badu kicked off her soul-stirring set with “Green Eyes” then floated through jazzy, stripped down renditions of “Bag Lady,” “…& On” and “Window Seat.” Naturally, her vocals both soothed and ignited the crowd. This was more lit than an incense, and quite frankly, I was happy my iPhone died. I was left to do something our generation has a hard time doing: just enjoying the moment.
A photo posted by Erykah Badu fanpage (@erykahbadufan) on
With cooler temps and acts like The Chuck Brown Band, the musical crew that keeps the late genre-founding legend’s sound alive, day two turned the party up to a new level. The “Godfather of Go-Go” blessed the set with nothing but a funky good time as the crowd (in unison, might I add) sang along and grooved non-stop to Chuck’s latest and throwback jams, including “Chuck Baby” and “Run Joe.” The vibe was undefeated, especially as the DMV-specific sound rang off for close to two hours. With the music and live energy, this felt like home.
You would think the constant throwback to adult contemporary joints would stale the mood, but DJ Reddz of WPGC 95.5 mixed it up by playing everything from Biggie’s “One More Chance” and Janet Jackson to “Panda” and “Cut It” in between sets.
The breaks were also the perfect opportunity to hightail it to a concession stand or peep local vendors. Even artists like The CrossRhodes (Raheem DeVaughn and Wes Felton) stuck around after their set to sell merch, CDs and mingle with the crowd.
Later, the D.C. tunes segued well into the city of Brotherly Love’s soul scene as Kindred the Family Soul and The Roots prepped for Jill Scott’s headlining set. It wasn’t until I witnessed the legendary band’s energetic jam session that I realized they should be on my bucket list. Picture Black Thought slide-stepping with his bandmates while spewing fire bars. Not to mention, hip-hop’s first band introduced us to Jeremy Ellis, an out-of-this-world electronic beatboxer.
my phone died immediately after this, but lemme tell you: @theroots put on one of the best shows i’ve seen! there’s truly nothing like watching musicians high-key have a jam session in front of you. very few greater moments to witness. so, so glad i could vibe out to them tonight. | #ssfmpp #theroots #myhusbandmightbefromphilly #whosthetrumpetplayertho 👀
Again, my phone quickly R.I.P.’d as “Jilly From Philly” brought nothing but operatic, sunny vibes to the stage with “Slowly Surely,” “Golden” and “Whatever.” But by night’s end, my soul was completely satisfied.
Ya know, I’ve never considered myself to be an old soul, but as I was elbow-to-elbow with the crowd––a mix of men with towels draped over their heads and women with natural coifs rocking sundresses and Converse sneakers––I realized I had it all wrong. This festival isn’t just for your favorite aunties.
What sets this musical fete apart is that each day is crafted for true-blue music lovers. In today’s radio rotation, you can easily forget raw, authentic musicianship still exists: big-cheeked trumpet players, rockstar guitarists, political drummers (hi ?uestlove), roaring vocalists who deliver poignant messages and the like. But if you love live instrumentation over artists rapping over electronic sounds and one-man concerts, add the Summer Spirit Festival presented by CD Enterprises to your list.
I promise you, the vibes are warm, familial and refreshing.