Sunday at the Grove
For many this concert was the event of the season, not just Stern Grove's 70th season, but the summer season. And from the looks of the hillsides, full tables, and picnic area outside where latercomers sat and listened once the Grove officially closed, most people agreed. The Hugh Masekela and Goapele musical experience almost defies words, but I'll try to convey a sense of the afternoon for fans who were unable to make it. For those who were there, we can just say ashay.
The afternoon was just as cold as had been predicted, and if its hadn't been predicted, it was kind of expected given the traumatic week Bay Area residents had lived through--nine people shot, seven killed in Oakland alone. I knew four of them and was in the vicinity where someone was stabbed just the evening before in San Francisco. A young man was stabben to death near Columbus Park, walking distance from Jazz at Pearl's where my weekend ended at Pearl's with Andy Bey.
Bey can certainly iron out the kinks in a person, even when warming up, flippin' through a songbooks and skipping lyrically through the keys as he decides. "The first set is hardest," he said modestly.
I was just happy to be in the same room, a napkin throw across from the piano bench, my table in front of Bobby and Rosemary Hutcherson. Bey spoke about being nervous; if he was it soon dissolved as his love potion began to work its magic on the room.
But I'll talk about Bey in a moment.
I'd been trying to get to Stern Grove for 12 noon, 11:30 to be exact for the pre-concert talk, and I just made it. Masekela was as eloquent as he always is. Such a generous man, he always has time for his fans no matter how long the line. At the end of the concert the line for autographs was minimally 50 people deep and there he was, after coming into town to perform without a chance to rest signing autographs like he hadn't a care in the world.
When my friend and I walked in there was a percussion workshop happening which I watched for a moment, before looking for my table. I have grown addicted to taking photographs now. I gave my notepad to friends who jotted down the set list as I went down front to the pit where I could reach out and touch the musicians feet if I'd cared to; they were that close, which means, the photos were that spectacular. But I'll let you be the judge.
Goapele looked fantastic; one wouldn't have known she recently became a mother if she hadn't told us. She was in a mellow acoustic space that afternoon, with a keyboardist, bass guitarist, guitarist and drummer, and a back-up vocalist.
Her first song was an acapella "A Change is Gonna Come," followed by "Long Way from Home." Her arrangement of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," affirmed the cloudy day which sent drizzles down on us periodically. But nothing could squash the vibe in Stern Grove--it would have been all good if it had poured people just moving in a little closer for warmth.
"Chasing" was next with her back-up vocalist, a Berkeley High graduate, my daughter recognized when I showed her her picture. "You Bring It on Me" featured her pianist Mike Auburn. Her classic, "Getting Closer to My Dreams" had everyone on their feet singing along, if they hadn't joined in before.
The concert which she'd been looking forward to also was rather bitter sweet, her father, from South Africa also, having died this year. He and her mother met in East Africa, her mother a student in South Africa. The soundtrack of their love was Masekela, Goapele said as she wished all the summer children happy birthdays: Geminis, Cancers and Leos. She's a Cancer.
At the end of the concert Masekela came out and played on her last song. What a highlight. If anything Goapele is just as strong a singer than ever, maybe stronger, her range perhaps a little further now that she'd walking for two.
The audience was mixed. Some were there for Goapele and others for Baba Hugh, the chance to create new audiences was certainly evident in this programming choice. Baba Hugh even had a drummer on stage who lives here: Ian Herman. The rest of the band he'd been playing with for anywhere between 17 and over 25 years.
His new CD recorded live looked good, especially the liner notes and photos. He has another album coming out later this year and he'll be back in February at Cal Performances at UC Berkeley.