Live Music: Queen City Jazz Festival

by: Cathy Foreman

Saturday, June 16th marked the 4th Annual Queen City Jazz Fest. If you’re unfamiliar, the QC Jazz Fest is held in Charlotte and curated by music enthusiast Charles Whitfield. Unlike most festivals, QCJF is a one day event starting around 6 in the evening. That’s awesome especially considering the heat and humidity for North Carolina during this time of year. It’s typically held at back of the Fillmore in the Amphitheatre, now called Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre.

Kicking off the festival was Darnell “ Showcase” Taylor as the opening act. Darnell helms from the Bull City by way of Moncure, NC. Aside from Darnell’s own personal projects, he is also a band member with Anthony Hamilton. Currently Darnell is promoting his new project, Turning Point.

I was trying to think how and when I met Darnell, but I can’t seem to recall the exact moment. What I am certain about is it is based in music and probably through a live music event. So when I run into Darnell, it’s easy to strike up a conversation and play catch up… just as we did on Saturday. After his set, I saw him chatting with some fans and I threw my hand up giving the proverbial wave of acknowledgement. Once he responded, I made my way over to where he was. We exchanged some pleasantries and I was able to get some info from him, in what now seems like an off the cuff interview; go figure. Darnell is super busy right now and mostly with his own project, to which I congratulated him on. More busy with his own work than he is with his other gig, touring and performing with Anthony Hamilton but I told him something to the effect of, this is your time… ride that wave and enjoy it. When it’s time for you to come inland, you will know. You can find out more about “Showcase” on his social media; Twitter and Instagram.

Next up, Kindred The Family Soul. I’ve been following Kindred since the first time I had the chance to catch them live back in August 2016; it was opening night for Club 44. I was able to catch some pretty good images of the husband and wife duo. I vividly remember when I posted the images to my IG account, Fatin, KindredTheFam saying that the images made them look like they had put on a full fledged show. Since that show, if they are performing anywhere I can drive, I’m there.

Kindred, for me, is right up there with Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. or Valerie Ashford and Nick Simpson. You know that iconic couple who’s harmonies fit together like a glove and when you watch them perform, you can almost reach out and touch the love you see. You root for them and their music because you know its coming from a place of purity. Yea, that’s what I see when I watch them perform.

Did you know that the duo created their own showcase, Kindred Presents? That’s right, in March 2017, Fatin and Aja more or less picked up where they left off with a web series that ended in 2011. For this round they concentrated on intimate conversations and performances by other artists; singers, emcees, actors and cultural icons. If you live in or near Philly, this was primetime on Monday nights. And if you didn’t, well it was a webseries and you could catch it live or on rebroadcast. I had to see at least one of these episodes live, so when we planned a trip to Jersey, I checked the calendar to see who was playing. As soon as I saw Dianne Reeves, I knew that I was going to make that show…and do I did. As you can imagine, radio play, videos and such are nothing compared to LIVE. With my mom and son with me, it was indeed a night for the books.

Recently, Kindred announced that the webseries is temporarily coming to and end. The last show was on June 18th, ending with episode 44. They gave it a hell of a run … 18 months and never missed a beat. While on this break, they will be working on their 7th album and come back in the fall with this amazing format. You can catch rebroadcasts all summer long on their FB Page, Kindred The Family Soul Fan Page. And let’s not forget to follow them on social media: Aja, Fatin, or Kidred Shows.

I think the order of this festival was strategic. You open up with a hometown guy who will get the crowd warmed up really well, and move on to some nice mellow neo soul sounds from an amazing duo/couple, and follow that up with what I’ll call a smooth interlude by The Rippingtons. The crowd had been up dancing and singing along to covers and well known hits…now it’s time for them to sit back and relax a bit. With the sun finally setting and the temperature dropping this interlude came at just the right time. The crowd took the opportunity to refresh, fill up on libations and food as well as to check out the meet and greet tent. Finally making their way back to their seats, they were able to let the mellow sounds of the band take over and thoroughly enjoy. Follow The Rippingtons on their social media: Twitter.

It would seem that the next performer was who everyone was waiting for and that was evident based on the mass exodus upon the end of his set. If you’re still wondering, this performer was none other than Mr. Chocolate himself, Will Downing. It doesn’t take much for the mood to change once Will turns on that deep, bellowing voice. I mean I was right there in front of the pit and when he turned it on, I had to say, “dammit boi!” It’s something about the richness of that  voice. His voice, often times, reminds me of the baritone sounds of The Maestro, Barry White. For the gentlemen, it’s a rather sexy way to lay the foundation for an intimate night with your woman. Will himself said he’s had fans reach out to him and say,  “You know I got pregnant to this song”, “I got married to that song” and so on.

During his set, he performed Don’t Talk to Me Like That, a cut from his 2002 album, Sensual Journey. It took a comedic turn when Will garnered assistance from his two back up singers. He called upon Tracy to teach the ladies how to sing “don’t talk to me like that.” As she started singing, he stopped her and said something to the effect of “Now what woman do you know that would say that like you just sang it. I’m going to need to you give me some sass!” And she indeed came back with sass. Will brought in the women in the crowd. Then he went to his male singer, giving him the same instructions. When he started singing, Will quickly told him to stop and go somewhere. At which time, he took the reigns back and gave it to us like only he could, reaching down into the depths of his soul and bellowed out, “Don’t talk to me like that.” And if you know Will, you know just how deep that was. Just thinking back on it as it sit here writing this, I’m feeling some type of way.  Okay….let me move on. You can follow Will on his social media: Instagram and Twitter.

You know music festivals are a great opportunity to be be exposed to new music and acts. I think that’s part of the draw for me. For instance, last year at the Richmond Jazz Festival, I was introduced to Norman Brown. The man is high-impact and down right crazy with his guitar. Instantly, I was drawn in. He’s charismatic and super playful; it shone through with his performance just as it did at the Queen City Jazz Fest.

Sadly, a huge part of the audience left after Will Downing’s set. That was a bit surprising to me. My initial thought was that these people are sleeping on Norman, but then I had a chance conversation with one of the concert goers and she told me that they probably thought Norman wasn’t performing because it was so late. When I checked the time, it was only a little after 10p. So I questioned her and that’s when she explained that concerts in the amphitheatre usually end around 10 and that she was surprised it was still going on. I found that interesting, but I know that different cities have different noise ordinances and so forth so I backed off.

It took a little while get Norman’s set, functional. Apparently it’s a pretty intricate set. His opening was pretty unusual. Imagine a guitarist coming out, sans guitar, then going into a range of karate or wing chun stances. That’s right, you read that correctly. It was almost as if he were clearing the air and in effect, finding balance and peace for what was to come. At least that what it looked like to me. And then once he picked up that guitar, he let it rip. He worked every single inch of the stage; from side to side and front to back. I swear at one point he almost looked like a throwback to that iconic image of Chuck Berry, but trust and believe he is all Norman. With idols like the great Jimi Hendrix and Ernie Isley, one can definitely see the influence, but again, he is 100% Norman.

With all that said, Charles has done it again and curated a fabulous festival. I like to look at it as the prelude to festival season, here in the Carolinas. So in the words of Kindred The Family Soul, “pack your bags and get away fast” and  take in some of the other festivals that are forthcoming: Coltrane Jazz Festival, Hopscotch, AoC Fest, Apex Jazz Festival, Winston Salem Jazz Festival,Duck Jazz Festival and so on. Come back and let us know where you went, who and what you enjoyed.