Another lovely late summer weekend in Akron brings yet another round of fun festivals.
Besides the familiar Hamburger, ethnic (Italian, Irish, African-American), Rib, White & Blue festival, we’ve had Signal Tree and this past weekend, it was the twofer of the inaugural Akron Pride Festival at Hardesty Park and the second (it’s official!) annual Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival, which took place downtown at the Maiden Lane shops, the library and Lock 3.
I managed to experience both festivals sweating profusely all day Saturday, then shivering at Lock 3 at night. I’ve experienced a few previous Flair Fests, but Hardesty was a good place for Pride and people-watching sure was entertaining. I was slightly disappointed by the limited alcoholic beverage choices but that didn’t stop me from gleefully imbibing.
Also, I got to see Martha Wash perform!
Wash was one of the late, great Sylvester’s Two Tons of Fun backing vocalists, who became the Weather Girls and the voice behind C+C Music Factory’s massive early ’90s chart-topping hit Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now), the barely remembered gold-selling (You’re My One and Only) True Love by Seduction, as well as Black Box’s hits Everybody, Everybody, Strike It Up, and I Don’t Know Anybody Else.
You may recall that Wash had to sue both Black Box and C+C Music Factory for proper performance credit and some dough after both groups independently decided that a large black woman in her late 30s wasn’t visually marketable as a dance/house diva. She won both cases. And good for her.
Anyway, Wash gave the appreciative crowd pretty much all the aforementioned hits plus some newer stuff, and at age 63, rocking a dark pantsuit that made me sweat (get it?), she can still bring the full-on diva to her performance. I also realized that in the harsh light of day, drag shows definitely lose some of their mystique.
Jazz & Blues Fest
Next, I caught the opening night and the latter half of the Jazz Fest. Friday night at BLU Jazz+ featured a performance by several horn-playing students of Open Tone Music Academy backed by some grown-ups. (The nonprofit strives to provide musical education, performance and access for underprivileged youngsters in and outside the classroom using a regional pool of talented musicians.) Holy crap, those kids were cute swinging on an old jazz standard that morphed into Thriller and then Santana’s Oye Como Va and a round of solos before ending with a little New Orleans style stomp.
The Admirables closed the night with a rollicking set of their mix of R&B, funk, and hip hop flavoring, getting folks up out of their seats and wiggling. I also caught the Howard St. Band at Musica, paying tribute to the late Howard “Sonny” Robertson with a mix of old school blues, soul and R&B. As someone who sees a lot of younger bands energetically thrashing around and finding their sound onstage, it’s also nice to see a group of veterans expertly do their thing.
Likewise, the main event at Lock 3, with steel pan player Victor Provost and headlining organist Joey DeFrancesco, were also darn good shows.
I’m definitely looking forward to the second annual Akron Pride Festival and Rubber City Jazz & Blues third edition.
But wait, there’s still more on the way.
This weekend, Kenmore gets in on the neighborhood festival track with Kenmore Better Block happening Friday and Saturday. This festival mixes pop-up shops with the de rigueur food truck hub, the obligatory beer garden, some music workshops and live bands.
The music begins at 5 p.m. Friday on the Jilly’s Music Room Stage with classic rock cover band Mr. Pink, followed by local outlaw country act Blonde Boy Grunt and the Groans. Then at 7 p.m., uplifting folk-pop-rockers Zach and the Bright Lights perform, followed by the Living Deads.
The music picks up again at noon Saturday with Outdated View, followed by country and Americana band Rachel Brown & The Beatnik Playboys. Akron Hip Hop collective Red Rose Panic is up next at 2 p.m. and the stage will be closed by Robert T. the Real Soul Pleaser and the Brand New Bag, a suitably tight and funky James Brown tribute band.
Also on site will be Calhoun Record Shop pop-up featuring store owner and DJ Forrest Getem Gump along with DJ Vince Giles and more record spinners. Expect a lot of really good and classic drum breaks.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.
Sound Check: Praise for Akron Pride and the Jazz & Blues Fest, and a preview of Kenmore Better Block