Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Live Shows: We Black Folk Fest, Club Passim, Cambridge, MA 2/11/24

I've long believed that Super Bowl Sunday is the best time to do virtually anything else. Grocery stores are empty, if people are at the movies it's because they really want to see a movie, and the same goes for live performances. Sunday night was also the second night of the inaugural We Black Folk Festival. This is going to be a hard night to describe since words can't truly convey how special of a night it was.

Curated by Cliff Notez as part of Passim's The Folk Collective, We Black Folk Festival showcased black folk artists and the history of folk music through black culture. Sunday night's edition featured seven artists: Cliff Notez, Anjimile, Kemp Harris, Naomi Westwater, Gabriella Simpkins, Chris Walton, and Grace Givertz. It started off with all the musicians walking to the stage together and singing which gave the evening a true sense of community. After that, Cliff Notez acted as an MC for the night, introducing each artist who then played two to three songs and told stories.

That's the nuts and bolts of it. But the night was one of the most magical nights of music I've ever experienced. All artists performing that night are connected through culture and music, but each played a wildly different style of the genre. It went from Grace Givertz's more traditional folk to Kemp Harris' style that blended soul (and included an otherworldly cover of Aretha Franklin's "Dr. Feelgood") with folk to Chris Walton's R&B infused folk to Naomi Westwater's more mainstream style to Anjimile's completely unique alt-folk (?). All styles meshed completely together into an amazing night of music.

The songs also were wildly varied by tone and subject matter. Kemp Harris brought fellow musicians on stage for an a capella song about Trayvon Martin, and Naomi Westwater closed her portion of the evening with a song about it being ok to leave your man because there are billions of other men out there. In curating the festival, Cliff Notez was able to bring more diversity to a folk festival that lasted a little over two hours than I've seen in other festivals that lasted all day.

And then there was the educational aspect of the evening. I learned more about black contributions to music Sunday night than I did in sixteen years of formal education. Which is sad, but also makes me want to do my own research into the subject, and being inspired to learn more after an evening out is a rare thing.

Another magical part of the evening was that no one cared about the biggest sporting event of the year. I've been to shows happening during playoff events, and there has always been a TV somewhere showing the game, with people that paid to see a performance instead watching TV and cheering. I've even seen a TV brought into a venue that normally doesn't have a TV for a Red Sox playoff game. No one at Club Passim Sunday evening cared about the game, and with the talent on hand, what could possibly have pulled them away?

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