I went to Cleveland for several reasons:
--- Myron Ruffin, one of the key organizers of the Family Unity Festival, invited me to come. Myron is a brotha that I have worked with on several different projects over the years. He has put some serious "skin in the game" in supporting Soul-Patrol over the past few years and we have developed a close working relationship. Like many people who contribute to what we do here, I have never met him in person and I wanted to do that as well as SHOW UP and support his event.
--- Our friends SounDoctrine was on the bill, and I wanted to SHOW UP and support them and their new CD ENDURANCE
--- This gave us the opportunity to have a Soul-Patrol "Meet and Greet" in Cleveland the night before the Family Unity Festival and turn it into a "weekend" for those who wanted to participate and hang out with each other.
--- The nature of the festival itself was very appealing to me. To have a big music/cultural festival featuring both Classic Soul, Neo Soul and Jazz artists right in the middle of the ghetto called "Family Unity" is a throwback to the types of community based events I had grown up with in NYC when I was a teenager and I wanted to expose my (suburban) daughter to that type of an event.
--- It gave me a chance to take a 3 day "road trip" with my family. There's nothing like being trapped inside of an automobile for eight hours at a time to foster "family closeness". We also made a little side trip along the way to Pittsburgh so my 13 year old daughter the campus of the University of Pittsburgh (yes I am trying to influence her college decision...lol)
After arriving in Cleveland, we checked into a hotel downtown. We were already somewhat familiar with the general layout of downtown Cleveland from the visit to the RRHOF a few years ago. Tourism seems to be the major business activity of downtown Cleveland, with the Football stadium, Basketball arena, Baseball stadium and the RRHOF all within walking distance of each other. Hotels would seem to be the second most important business activity, followed closely by parking facilities and sports bars.
I think that there is something wrong with this picture, because I would have thought that manufacturing and shipping would be the major business activity of Cleveland. Then I remembered that Cleveland was the personification of the term "rust belt" back in the 1980's. The term "rust belt" of course refers to a industrial city that has lost its industry. The only reason why I mention this is because this situation doesn't bode well for Black folks in Cleveland or any other former "industrial city" whose key business is now "tourism". Tourism is an industry that generates high revenues for business owners (and corrupt government officials), but usually pays low wages to workers (ball park ushers, restaurant workers, parking lot attendants, shoeshine boys, etc.). On the sociological tip it also leads to even higher levels of segregated housing, cultural and social patterns than most "urban areas", that don't rely so heavily on "tourism" for their economy.
(7-28) SOUL-PATROL MEET & GREET @ THE GHOST BAR
"Mrs. Earthjuice" and I boogied on over to the "Ghost Bar" at 9pm for the Soul-Patrol "Meet and Greet". The "Ghost Bar" is a pretty cool multi-level facility, which is Black owned. It's got a bar area, a large dance floor, a stage and looks like it can seat 400 or so people. Upstairs has a large ballroom that looks like it easily holds 1,000 people or more. On this night it looked like there were 200 or so folks in attendance downstairs, which is where our Soul-Patrol "Meet & Greet" was to take place. As I walked in the sounds of serious classic soul/funk were blasting from the sound system of the club.
I found Cleveland Soul-Patrol Coordinator Iris Smith, who had organized the event. I greeted Iris along with Columbus Soul-Patrol Coordinator "Miss Jennie" & her daughters. They introduced me to Dwight Childress, the owner of the "Ghost Bar". I had a great conversation with Dwight as he took me to school on some of the history of the Black music scene in Cleveland, some of the artists and some of the modern day realities of Black music in Cleveland and elsewhere. After spending some time with Dwight, I then met 20-30 Cleveland Soul-Patrollers who were coming into the club all evening. Some were folks that I had communicated with via email in the past like "Big" Walt, Andrew Hamilton and Clifton Brown (R&B Museum on Wheels). Others were folks that were members of Soul-Patrol that I hadn't met before. Later Jere B and Phil from SounDoctrine showed up. Myron Ruffin came in with Lady Skilz, who ended up doing damn near all of the stage announcing during the festival the next day. I had a great time at the Ghost Bar (and for those of you who are wondering it was "full of spooks"...lol) socializing with folks in both serious and silly discussions about Black music & culture. It was a great evening of fellowship with some great classic soul and funk music supplied by the DJ.
(7-29) FAMILY UNITY FESTIVAL @ LUKE EASLER PARK
The next morning, as we left the hotel, I was fumbling around with the directions generated from Google to Luke Easler Park, the location of the Family Unity Festival. It was a short drive from downtown Cleveland, just one exit on Interstate 77. But it might as well have been a million miles away. As soon as we got off the exit we were in the midst of a seriously hard core ghetto. For most of the 3-4 mile drive to Luke Easler Park, we were riding along the legendary Kinsman Avenue, from which the (Kinsman) Dazz Band takes a portion of its name. For block after desolate block all I saw were scary looking housing projects that looked more like prisons, than places where people were tying to raise their families. All of the doors and windows had bars on them. There was no movement of people, except for an occasional child playing or "shaky individuals" plying their "trade" in the shadows. Except for an occasional church or vacant lot, this is what the neighborhood looked like during our drive. At one point, when I was at a traffic light, I looked back towards downtown Cleveland and thought to myself that for all practical purposes, it might as well have been the "emerald city" from the Wizard of Oz. Not surprisingly, none of this human devastation can be seen from the interstate highway. The poverty and despair of Cleveland is well hidden from the casual visitor. For the people who live in this neighborhood all of the icons of the tourist based economy of downtown Cleveland have no meaning in their lives. Those icons might as well be on a different planet.
This was exactly the picture I had wanted my 13 year old (suburban) daughter to see. I wanted her to see that even in the midst of what must certainly be a horrible day to day existence for the residents of that community, that it is indeed OUR CULTURE that allows us to survive as a people in the face of all that we have had to endure during the 400+ years since we were "kidnapped". I could see, even before I entered Luke Easler Park that The Family Unity Festival was going to have real meaning in the lives of the people of this community. It was an opportunity to come together and celebrate OUR CULTURE in music, arts and ingenuity. But more importantly it was a chance for families to just be families across the generational
divide. And for me it was most important to be at this event with my own family.
By the way, in case some of you might be wondering, I would guess that on 8/29/2006 Luke Easler Park in Cleveland was quite possibly one of the safest locations to be at in the United States. There was a heavy uniformed and undercover police presence at the park. There were no incidents or even the thought of any criminal activity. Although I am sure that the police presence had much to do with that, I also feel that the community as a whole was simply on their best behavior because after all, it was a "family event", and NOBODY wants to "act a fool in front of their mamma". I am not good at estimating crowds, but I would say that by the time the event ended there were 20,000 people (including Terry Stubbs and Kevin Amos) in Luke Easler Park.
So with all of that as a backdrop, here is the schedule of events for the 2006 Family Unity Festival
11:30AM-11:35AM - Start of Show/ Announcements
11:35AM - 11:55AM - Deep 3
12:05-12:15PM - Mt. Pleasant Orchestra
12:15 - 12:45PM - AfiNur Project
1:05 - 1:35PM - Paul Samuels Trio (LSK Records -
1:55 - 2:30PM - Soundoctrine (http://Soundoctrine.com )
3:00 - 3:30PM - ALGEBRA (Kedar Entertainment - http://kedar.com )
4:00 - 4:35PM - Governor (Grand Hustle/ Atlantic Records -
5:05 - 5:50PM - Fertile Ground (BlackOut Records -
6:20 - 7:05PM - Conya Doss (Unique Beat Entertainment -
8PM - 9PM - The OHIO PLAYERS (Fireworks shooting off @ 9PM)
At this point, I am quite sure that some of you might be expecting me to write a review of each one of the performances of these artists. After being at the event I can tell you that the music wasn't really what this event was about. However I will say that "Deep 3" impressed the "old headz" in the crowd with their ability to do a ½ rap and ½ doo wop performance, in a strong demonstration that the "Afrikan Oral Tradition" is still alive and well. The Paul Samuels Trio ("straight no chaser with a bite") and SounDoctrine ("alternativefunkfusion") showed us that the Black American art form known as Jazz, isn't supposed to be music that you fall asleep to. Fertile Ground and Conya Doss gave us a good view of where the future of Soul music is headed. And the Ohio Players (in their typical "uneven performance"), showed us where the music came from. So it was a full day of GREAT BLACK MUSIC FROM THE ANCIENT TO THE FUTURE. So I knew that I was certainly in the right place from a musical perspective.
However in the end it wasn't really about the music at all. It was really all about Black folks coming together in a positive fashion and just grooving with each other. That is something very important because there was once a period of time when the "assembly of slaves" was against the law. Here in 2006 we as Black Americans often behave as though that law was still in existence. We often treat each other like the enemy. When we behave in that fashion, we truly become "our own worst enemy" and we give aid and comfort to those would like to continue to oppress us. Events like the Family Unity Festival help to teach our younger people that coming together in this fashion is a good thing, not only for our people, but for them as individuals. For the people on the east side of Cleveland, being able to come together like this might mean that at some point in the future, they might just view that "emerald city" downtown as something that they have just as much right to profit from as the people who are currently profiting from it.
And that was certainly something that I wanted my 13 year old (suburban) daughter to be a witness to.
Big Up's to Myron Ruffin, Lady Skillz and everyone else who played a role in putting this event together. I thank them for inviting me and allowing me to participate. I am sure that there are similar events around the country, but we need many more like this.