August 2-3, 2014
City Center, Oakland
By Walt Atkins
The 14th annual Art & Soul Festival lit up the heart of downtown Oakland last weekend. As usual, the festival covered a wide range of music, entertainment, art, and food. The multi-stage venue had blues, gospel, classic funk, R&B, Latin, spoken word, and All Styles dancing (jazz, hip-hop, battle dance). The A&S Festival prides itself on having something for everybody, and this year was no exception.
On Saturday, the Main Stage featured blues artists and a tribute to the legendary Curtis Mayfield. The Plaza stage featured the preliminaries for the All Styles Dance Battles, with pairs competing and advancing through various rounds. Both competitors and fans enjoyed the exciting hip-hop routines. Break dancing and body twisting moves prove youth must be served. There was a 15-minute show by Bandaloop, an exciting troop of vertical dancers who used the side of the City Hall building as their high-rise dance floor.
Clay Street Stage featured the Gospel Showcase, coordinated by the Rev. Edwin Hawkins and A Community of Unity. This stage presented a full slate of uplifting choir groups, including Terrance Kelly & the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, which had the audience in rapture. The all-day joyous uproar put everyone in a relaxed and friendly spirit throughout the day. Oakland’s A&S Festival was family-friendly, with parents pushing baby strollers on every pathway.
The Family Fun Zone included rides and activities geared for young children, and tons of kids fresh from their visit to the face-painting people scampered throughout the festival. There was also a car show that included Corvettes and a rare steel-bodied DeLorean.
The Jefferson Street Stage hosted the festival’s inaugural Oaktown Throwdown BBQ Competition. As part of this new event, there was a tribute to local restauranteur and “California Chef of the Year” winner Tanya Holland. She runs the Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ, both located in Oakland. There was no shortage of positive comments and happy faces on the Q front. The Festival provided plenty of moist towelette packages, with the Oaktown Throwdown logo inviting you to “Come Get Messy.” I put them to good use after polishing off two of the largest chicken wings I’ve ever seen. (Even if they were genetically altered, they still tasted pretty good!) Besides the usual variety of food and beverages, I noticed an Ethiopian Sweet Wine booth.
Tommy Castro & the Painkillers closed out the day with their rocking style of blues that had folks dancing happily in front of the stage.
Sunday’s Main Stage was an all-day funky rhythm & blues dance party explosion, hosted by KBLX. Things kicked off with the Five Tempting Men, the Dazz Band, Rose Royce, and Lakeside. The Dazz Band can still keep it live, and “Let It Whip” still has serious staying power, judging from the large enthusiastic audience. Fans were grooving in the front, side, aisles. and seats. People just had fun dancing to Dazz in the Oaktown sun. There was a closing comment from the band, asking folks to go home without incident “so the police could stay at the damn doughnut shops.” In the afternoon, Lakeside lit up the stage before closing it down, performing their funk classics such as “All The Way Live.”
The Plaza Stage hosted more All Styles dancing, including modern dance, jazz, and other forms, as well as the National Poetry Slam Preview. Clay Street staged the ensemble Mik Nawooj and their blend of hip-hop and orchestra. For those who were truly musically adventurous, this sonic mix was somethin’ else. Vocalist Jennifer Jones had fans dancing to her style of of conscious music.
Lively Latin rhythms filled the afternoon with Alto California and the Pacific Mambo Orchestra. I heard PMO last year at KCSM’s recently reactivated Jazz on The Hill concert and thought they were good. This year, I thought PMO was even better, and their pulsating music turned the front of the Plaza Stage area into one big happy salsa house party. Local artists were well represented, offering “witness wear” celebrating the spirit and energy of Oakland, with slogans such as “Oakland Roots” and “Black Girls Rock.” Jewelry and art vendors included the renowned Charles Bibbs. His original style is distinctive and very popular in the Bay Area and across the country.
Oakland’s Art & Soul Festival celebrates the best of Bay Area talent on many fronts. For the price of an hour’s parking in the City, you can spend the day enjoying great performers, artists, food, and entertainment. If you haven’t yet attended, mark your calendar for 2015. You won’t want to miss it!