This evening I missed a concert and stumbled into a concert.
Missed concert: I recently reconnected with an old friend, and he invited me to one of his band’s local concerts. They’re not really my kind of music scene (though I do like what I’ve heard and really wanted to be there, it’s always great to know the performers and see friends succeeding), but it would have been fun to see ‘em. Alas, I was interning in NYC today and couldn’t make it back in time.
Enter: the silver lining
Spur-of-the-moment concert: Back in March the talk of the town was all about SXSW (South By Southwest, an industry music festival in Austin, TX); the bands to see, the bands to watch, the big acts who came in and ruined the up-and-comers feel (I’m looking at you, Kanye- The Strokes as well, but I love The Strokes so they get a pass). The best part, though, is talking about the acts who no one anticipated, who came out of nowhere and stole the show. This year, Charles Bradley was that guy. I can’t remember the names of the acts surrounding his set, but the demographic most represented in the crowd was young, impatient, and rowdy. Before he took the stage it was “Charles Bradley who?”, and a lot of people just expected him to carry a similar vibe. Not. At. All. Out comes this middleaged black man with a ridiculously infectious smile and a personality you instantly live- and this is even before he starts singing. Open his mouth, and it’s like James Brown’s been resurrected. It feels like Brown’s alive when Bradley’s singing. And boy can he sing. Boy can he belt. The content of his songs are consistent with what you’d expect from a soul singer from Brooklyn- the neighborhood, growing up, changing places, America, passion in all its forms.
Now, I write of his SXSW show as if I was there but in fact I missed out on that one and heard about it from a couple people who were lucky to wander into that venue (and for the record, the audience ate him up in a most unexpected way- they transformed from rude punks into whooping kids showing their respect for a god). As his record was played over and over during the months between then and the present, I was so jealous that I missed out on the experience that is a James Brown concert.
However, the prayers I didn’t even think to send were answered tonight when one of the guys in the office mentioned offhand that he was going to see Charles Bradley tonight. In Brooklyn. At Fort Green Park. FOR FREE, no tickets required! I was there before he finished speaking, so there. The odds were against me as the Q train decided to run very late and slow, but I made it to the concert, I followed the music and ended up in the middle of the park, surprised that there weren’t too many people there- maybe a few hundred? He deserved a few thousand, at least. During his last song there were flashes of lightning illuminating the night sky followed by a torrential downpour at the end of the song. Some ran away, some (including me) ran for a few small tents that were set up for the sound guys and stayed for the encore song (undoubtedly worth it- wet clothes dry but his voice will stay in my mind forever).
Even from a ways away, I could see his bright smile and feel the positive energy shooting out of him. He was wonderful and the kind of singer who’s meant to be heard live, in his element there. I feel so lucky that I heard even a few of his songs in person.