Live Review: Summer Spirit Festival @ Merriweather Post Pavilion — 8/7/22

Erykah Badu performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo by Will Colbert)

August in the DMV is synonymous with sweltering humidity, but if you’re a fan of soul, R&B, Go-Go, and ‘90s hip hop, it also yields the Summer Spirit Festival.

This year’s recent daylong concert event at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, featured Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton, Method Man and Redman, Marsha Ambrosius, Junkyard Band, and J. Brown.

At Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 7, colorful umbrellas adorned the lawn. Families, friends, and couples found refuge under their canopies. An occasional breeze from the west brought relief, but the real respite came from the stage. 

R&B newcomer and Detroit native J. Brown would be the first to perform. The singer-songwriter is a throwback to a time before toxic R&B dominated the airwaves. Songs like “Don’t Rush” and “Simpin’” highlighted J. Brown’s brand of feel-good music. His cover of Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down” gave the ladies in the audience an opportunity to warm up their vocals. Now a unified chorus, they sang as if in Sunday service for the rising star. 

Watch the official music video for “Don’t Rush” by J. Brown featuring Tank on YouTube:

The Summer Spirit Festival has been a staple of the DMV for over a decade. Last Sunday would mark the event’s 15th anniversary. British soul singer-songwriter Marsha Ambrosius helped fans celebrate the milestone ahead of her (Aug. 8) birthday. The Leo stepped onstage in a floral short set, blonde streaked hair, and showed endearing energy.  

The first time we heard the songstress was in 2002 when she was a member of Floetry. Marsha’s “Say Yes” performance from the Floetic album transported fans. The now fully warmed-up audience sang along to the sultry ballad. Marsha would also perform hits from her solo career, which included “Hope She Cheats on You,” “Far Away,” and “Late Nights & Early Mornings.”       

Marsha Ambrosius performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo by Will Colbert)

I’ve lived in the DC area for over 20 years, but according to the by-laws of the District, I cannot claim the city. I wasn’t born in DC, didn’t go to high school there, and granny has never lived around the way. I write that partly in jest, but folks who are genuinely from DC are very particular about who can declare themselves one of the city’s own. The show attendees may have found a loophole. 

There is nothing more DC than Go-Go, and no band more emblematic of the genre’s storied history as the Junkyard Band. That statement is not hyperbole. In 2018, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser officially proclaimed January 15 as “Junkyard Band Day.” Seeing the kings of crank perform “Sardines,” “Loose Booty,” and “The Word” didn’t transform me into a Washingtonian, but it was a pleasant reminder of how the sounds of the city can feel like home. 

Junkyard Band performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo by Will Colbert)

In 2001, Method Man and Redman starred in the buddy comedy “How High.” The stoner film didn’t win them any awards but solidified their status as hip hop’s Cheech and Chong. The debauch pair showed they were still about the high jinks during their performance.

“Welcome to the Redman and Method Man show. Two things you must bring to a Redman and Method Man show, first thing, weed! The second thing is energy,” said Method Man.

Red grimaced at fans, from atop a floor sound monitor, during the performances of “Time 4 Sum Aksion,” “Fuck You,” and “Tonight’s Da Night.” Meth teased the audience with an extended tongue and middle finger as he rhymed verses from “Method Man” off the Wu-Tang Clan album “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” “Tical,” and “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I need to Get By.”   

Watch the official music video for “Time 4 Sum Aksion” by Redman on YouTube:

Pioneers like DJ Kool Herc planted the seeds of hip hop nearly 50 years ago. The genre has sprouted many branches over the years — backpack, mumble rap, trap, drill, etc. ‘90s hip hop has become one of hip hop’s most beloved sub-genres, but for fans and the performers at the festival, it signifies more than a category.

“We come from an era where you had to be a bad motherfucker to get on…we didn’t have this internet shit where your grandma could be the next hot rapper. We had to work to get where we’re at,” Redman said. Meth and Red would put an exclamation point on that statement and performance with their 1999 collaboration, “Da Rockwilder.” 

Redman performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo by Will Colbert)
Method Man performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo by Will Colbert)

At this point of the festival, the sun had relented and gave way to the evening. The timing couldn’t be more ideal for the lovers in the house to get a little closer. Singer-songwriter-producer Anthony Hamilton facilitated the romantic vibes. The man in the white wide-brimmed hat performed the wedding-appropriate ballads “Best of Me” and “Point of it All.” 

Every wedding has a reception, and Hamilton’s up-tempo songs “Cool,” “So in Love,” and “Po’ Folks” (Nappy Roots, Feat. Anthony Hamilton) are the kind of music that packs dance floors. A few fans demonstrated what that might look like as they took to the aisles. 

Hamilton’s music can be as sweet as saccharin, but the North Carolina native also knows a thing or two about the rougher aspects of life. “Comin’ from Where I’m From” was an excursion through the back roads of Charlotte to the dives where a poker game can lead to a fist fight or worse. “Sometimes it gets rough/Comin’ from where I’m from,” sang Hamilton. He would close out his set with another cautionary tale — “Charlene.” 

Anthony Hamilton performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo by Will Colbert)

In the myth of Medusa, a beautiful woman with a den of snakes for hair had the power to turn anyone into stone with a glare. Similarly, the sirens of Greek mythology could allure sailors to their detriment through the beauty of their songs. Erykah Badu is not a mythological figure, but she has spent a career weaving allegorical songs with a mysticism that feels mythical. The Dallas, Texas, R&B singer-songwriter with piercing eyes closed out the Summer Spirit Festival.

“My eyes are green/’Cause I eat a lot of vegetables/It don’t have nothing to do with your new friend,” sang Badu. 

Her eyes were barely visible below the shade of her signature tall hat. The light would occasionally catch the contours of her face like a Rembrandt painting. We were one song into Badu’s performance, and the crowd was already mesmerized. 

She would perform “On & On,” the lead single from her debut album Baduizm. The album came out in 1997, but the record was ahead of its time. “I wrote Baduizm for the ‘90s babies, and I’ve been waiting for y’all to grow up so I can talk to you,” said Badu. She would also perform “Apple Tree,” “No Love,” and “Other Side of the Game” from the Grammy-winning album.       

Watch the official music video for “Other Side of the Game” by Erykah Badu on YouTube:

Badu occasionally stepped away from the mic to tap away at a drum machine on her left. She freestyled the tempo of a J.J. Fad-like beat (think ”Supersonic”) for the ‘70s babies and a percussive 808 track for the ‘80s babies. The multi-talented singer would tap the intro drums of “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)” before launching into the love letter to hip-hop.

Many of us picked up new hobbies during the pandemic. While some people learned how to make banana bread, Badu appeared to have added a new instrument to her repertoire. She would perform an unexpected harmonica duo with harmonica master Frédéric Yonnet during her performance of “Southern Girl.”  

Ms. Badu was full of surprises. At one point during the show, she brought an eager fan onstage. “Somebody crowd surf that man to the stage…you kept me going. We’re going to smoke some weed later,” Badu said. She would put a bow on another successful Summer Spirit Festival with the crowd favorite “Tyrone.”   

Here are some photos from the Summer Spirit Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 7, 2022. All photos are copyright and courtesy of Will Colbert.

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