Santigold performing at ONE MusicFest 2012. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
Few things in the world unite differently-minded people than music. With school starting back up again, kids in high schools all over the world are developing friendships based on that band tee shirt their new comrade wore on Tuesday, the records on their bedroom shelves or MP3s on their iPod. Over the years, I have discovered that one of those few things that possibly unites people even more than music is growing delirious together under a blazing sun all day long. ONE MusicFest, along with other music festivals across the globe, realized years ago that combining those two methods of unification, music and relentless sunshine, yields great results. With the third annual ONE MusicFest, the city of Atlanta was brought together in that sweet spot of blissful delirium that only a day full of music under the Labor Day weekend sun could bring.
As my girlfriend Jenna and I entered the Masquerade Music Park, taking in the sights and sounds for the first time during the day, it was immediately evident the amount of effort the festival organizers put in to make the day special. The concrete entryway was turned into a dining experience, with food trucks lining the outskirts, and a DJ pumping out varied mixes of hip-hop, R&B, and dance to inspire rhythmic eating and conversing. As we wandered back into the music park, wondering which of the delicious smells emitting from the food trucks we would choose to become our tastes for the day—whether it be the jerk chicken from the One Love truck, a taco or burrito from Yumbii, or some fries from the Fry Guy—we perused the various vendor stands set up at the back. The typically bare Masquerade Music Park was transformed into a veritable festival ground, complete with jewelry and art booths, a little something for everyone to occupy their time between sets. We placed our blanket to the left of the soundboard and got ready for what was to be a great day.
To start out our day was the neo-soul troubadour, Eric Roberson. He came out firing with the title track from his newest record, “Mister Nice Guy,” a funked-out adventure through R&B, combining the high-spirited glee of the classic sounds in the genre and the crisp, modern instrumentation. Roberson’s band played tightly-wound funk around his soulful voice, and the entire show had the feel of somewhere between a trip to the club and a trip to church. After he reached his “one-song jacket quota,” Roberson loosened up, letting his voice fly high over the crowd largely relaxing on blankets throughout the field on hits from his latest two albums, including “At The Same Time” and “She.” He was the consummate showman, allowing for some crowd participation and leading his band through an impromptu song about words that were suggested from those in attendance. By the end of the song, from which he promised to spread the royalties equally amongst the crowd members once R. Kelly got ahold of it and made it a hit, everyone was in high spirits, nodding their heads along to a tale about making an ambidextrous co-ed, wild like a platypus, scream “Hakunah Matata.” Roberson wound down his set by inviting an audience member to sing Lalah Hathaway’s part in the breakout hit, “Dealing.” The version was moving in its honesty and on-the-spot nature; it felt well-rehearsed and refined, yet free-spirited and joyous. Eric Roberson’s opening slot at ONE MusicFest felt like that in general—his funk-infused soul music cut through the air to warm our hearts right along with our bodies.
Eric Roberson by Jeff Pearson.
The English songstress Marsha Ambrosius took the stage next, bringing much of her debut album, Late Nights And Early Mornings, with her. She continued with the playful nature of Roberson’s set, paying homage to the “type of sex it took to write” songs like “Far Away” and “Lose Myself.” Her band led the crowd through an expertly crafted, fun medley of songs ranging from celebrations in sensuality—Silk’s “Freak Me”—to celebrations of the coming autumn—Earth Wind & Fire’s “September,” before launching into Ambrosius’ hit from her Floetry days, “Say Yes.” Ambrosius and company took the crowd on a journey, from the bedroom to a late-summer cook-out, and finally back to the bedroom. Most journeys that Ambrosius seemed to take the crowd on ended in the bedroom, in fact. Her soulful odes to late nights and early mornings were sexually charged, consistently evoking questions of “how hot is too hot,” from many of those in attendance.
Marsha Ambrosius by Jeff Pearson.
Each year, ONE MusicFest hosts the Searching For The ONE contest, where they give an up-and-coming local musician a chance to command the large stage at the Masquerade Music Park. This year, the winner was Bosco, the Savannah-based alternative group fronted by Brittany Bosco. The inclusion of Bosco on the bill showcased ONE MusicFest’s diverse nature; having the high-energy, stylistically all-over-the-map act after two soulful songwriters actually made perfect sense from the comfort of our sun-drenched blanket. The shoe-gazey guitars were blanketed by huge beats, as Bosco’s somewhat softly sung vocals fluttered atop. She was received warmly by family, friends, and strangers, who all felt like family and friends once her short set came to its conclusion. Her set was a whirlwind of flying braids, seas of guitar, and massive bass, and was over before we even really knew it. She graciously thanked the festival for the opportunity, and gave shout outs to her family before disappearing from the stage.
Bosco by Jeff Pearson.
As the sun began to loosen its grip on the swelling crowd, finally allowing some reprieve from the heat, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. heated things right back up. He took the stage with ferocity, ripping through “I Just Touched Down,” decked out in an Atlanta Braves jersey and wooden Mississippi medallion. He was obviously feeding off of the crowd’s growing energy, bouncing all over the stage, soaking up the audience’s force, much like we had been soaking up the sun all day prior. The pace never let up for a second throughout the duration of Big K.R.I.T.’s set; he went through hit after hit from all across his illustrious career as an underground hip-hop sensation. Having just released his first major-label full-length record, K.R.I.T. mentioned the fact that many reviews pointed to all of the talk on Live From The Underground about cars. He was unapologetic about his obvious love for candy-coated cars and trunk-bumping bass as he launched into “Rotation” and “My Sub, Pt. 2,” anthems for all the car-lovers in attendance. Aside from being an adept lyricist, spitting relatable tales of a true country gentleman rising to fame, K.R.I.T. also displayed his ability to do one of the most important jobs as an emcee—to throw a party. He closed the set with two high-energy bangers, “Country Shit” and “What You Mean,” two of K.R.I.T.’s biggest hits to date. As K.R.I.T. exited the stage, the entire crowd with their four fingers in the air, representing his Return Of 4Eva and 4Eva N A Day mixtapes, the Masquerade Music Park was truly coming alive.
Big K.R.I.T. by Jeff Pearson.
The nearly palpable buzz that radiated the outdoor venue was seemingly at a constant crescendo. The energy at ONE MusicFest had a consistent arc, only seeming to peak out as the attendees spilled back out on to the Atlanta streets. As Santigold took the stage, the sun painting the field in golden light as it neared its final descent behind the skyline, those once sprawled out on their blankets began to stretch and welcome the idea of dancing, and those who had no reservations about dancing all along entertained the concept of busting out their most uninhibited dance moves. The Brooklyn-based Santigold came out with “GO!,” the stand-out opening track from Master Of My Make-Believe, backed with futuristic chirps and throbbing bass, complete with frenetic and hard-hitting, yet precisely choreographed dancers. She emitted such a positive energy throughout her set, giving the crowd as many infectious smiles as infectious songs. Each song expounded upon the energy of the last, and hits from both of her records sat side by side to create a cohesive, fluid set of combustible dance music. For one of her biggest hits to date, “Creator,” Santigold invited dozens of fans onstage to dance alongside her. The atmosphere was a party from start to finish; songs like “Shove It” and “L.E.S. Artistes” from her first record had the crowd lost in a wave of positive energy, and as the band pounded their way through the closing number, “Big Mouth,” Santigold had transported the Masquerade Music Park to Africa with the thunderous tribal drum lines.
Santigold by Jeff Pearson.
The diversity on display throughout the day came to a head as the Legends Of Hip-Hop took the stage. Representing the roots of the genre, without which the majority of the acts playing earlier in the day wouldn’t have found inspiration for their music, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane and MC Lyte celebrated the legacy of hip-hop to a packed music park. Doug E. Fresh acted as the curator of sorts throughout the set, promising from the very beginning a unique experience and a message that hip-hop is the most powerful force on earth. Whether that statement is true or not, hip-hop was definitely the most powerful force in Atlanta that night. The artists treated the fans to a revolving door of hits, each playing one or two of their biggest hits before seamlessly weaving into the next artist’s showcase. Big Daddy Kane ripped through “Smooth Operator,” and interpolated the remix of Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down,” to have MC Lyte storm onstage for her acrobatically rhymed verse. The entire set felt like a homecoming for hip-hop music, an all-inclusive party to celebrate not only the genre but of life itself. A true New York affair, the show even saw MC Shan take the stage and get in on the party. Just when things didn’t seem like they could get any better, Doug E. Fresh introduced the legendary Slick Rick, the proclaimed “greatest storyteller the game has ever seen,” and the duo delivered an awe-inspiring version of their 1985 hit “La Di Da Di.” If there was any question as to whether these legends would be able to deliver, they dissipated immediately as Slick Rick ripped through his classic, fun-loving verse and Doug E. Fresh provided the incredible backbeat simply with his beat-boxing expertise. By the end of Fresh’s breakdown, the music park was chanting, “Dougie!” in unison.
Legends Of Hip-Hop by Jeff Pearson.
One thing that was on display through the Legends’ set is how much hip-hop has changed, yet how in a lot of ways has remained the same. In comparison to Big K.R.I.T.’s set earlier in the day, the Legends’ verses seemed so much more innocent and carefree, but the one thing that has always remained with hip-hop, and music in general, is the fact that music is meant to be fun. Those who play music are meant to have fun doing so. ONE MusicFest was an event meant to unify all styles of music, and show how humans have the ability, no matter how different their mindsets are, to come together as one, if even for a day. Doug E. Fresh was right in that sense. Hip-hop united thousands of people that day, regardless of whatever stresses or hardships were on the minds of those in attendance, and as all the Legends Of Hip-Hop united onstage to send us all back to those stresses and hardships, we, too were united.
Legends Of Hip-Hop by Jeff Pearson.