This past weekend was not only a celebration of Father's Day and the first day of summer, but residents of Baltimore and surrounding areas came to the city to celebrate the annual African American Festival and revel in two days of engaging family fun, empowering panels and exciting music performances from popular soul, R&B, hip hop and gospel acts.
Saturday's festivities were kicked off by DMV-based boy band 4EY The Future. The three-man group and their troupe of dancers had the teen girls in attendance going crazy with their energetic stage show. DJ Beauty & the Beatz kept the teen theme going as she moved the crowd on the turntables and showed Bmore that girl DJs do in fact rock and can rock the house.
Empire star Yazz the Greatest, aka Hakeem from the hit FOX television show, got the growing crowd hyped performing by some of his songs from the Empire soundtrack. Of course, Yazz had to perform everyone's favorite guilty pleasure, the earworm “Drip Drop,” and got everyone turned up. He definitely had the ladies going crazy with both his performance and his bare chest and sculpted arms.
Keeping with the Empire theme, songstress V. Bozeman showed why she’s got next in R&B and soul with her commanding performance. She kept the crowd enthralled with her songs, but it was her big finish with “What is Love” that was most impressive. V. had folks hanging onto her every word and singing along with equally passionate expressions.
Eric Roberson opened with fan favorite “Picture Perfect,” a song he wrote about his then pregnant wife. As usual, he was a dapper Dan, rocking a hat, tailored blazer and fly pair of shoes but switching things up by wearing some crisp white shorts, which were picture perfect for the hot sunny day. Erro sang other crowd pleasers such as “Can I Borrow You” and did a soulful tribute to The Notorious B.I.G., transforming his hip hop classic "Big Poppa" into an R&B song that had the crowd going nuts. He closed his set with his house mix of “Change for Me,” which had Baltimore's house-heads amped up.
The talented ladies of SWV took to the stage in denim shirts and black tutus and ran through some of their biggest hits such as “I’m So Into You” and "Anything," taking listeners on a nostalgic trip to the '90s. It also felt like temperatures were in the 90s, with the heat getting the better of Coko who fainted in the middle of their performance. Sadly, Coko's fainting episode ended their set and landed her in the emergency room. Taj later posted a heartfelt apology to fans on Instagram with a photo of her and Lelee surrounding Coko laying in a hospital bed where she was diagnosed with severe dehydration.
With SWV's set abruptly ended, a DJ filled in the time with music before former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis took to the stage to deliver an inspirational message to the people of Baltimore. He had the audience's full attention with his timely and powerful speech before it was time for Saturday evening's headliners to perform.
Baltimore native Brave Williams introduced Faith Evans who had everyone in the crowd of thousands standing on their feet from beginning to end. She kicked her portion of the show off with "You Used To Love Me," which got everyone moving to the hip hop soul grooves. Faith took music lovers on a joyride through her catalog of hits with stellar vocals on “All Night Long,” "Soon As I Get Home," “Caramel Kisses,” “I Love You” and so much more. Evans also shared some new music with fans and even brought out surprise guest and former R&B Divas: Atlanta co-star Keke Wyatt to perform their duet “Make Love.”
After Faith's rousing performance, quintet Brotherly Love were up. The Philadelphia-bred group sang and danced their way onto everyone's radar. With energy like New Edition, dance moves like B2K and vocals reminiscent of Boyz II Men, these new jacks may just be the next boy band to blow up.
After a day full of R&B and soul, Doug E. Fresh brought some hip hop flavor to the African American Festival stage and the old school crew ate it up. He had grown folks and young heads dancing, singing and rapping along with him while he performed his classics “The Show” and “La Di Da Di.” But he really got the crowd going when he performed “Teach Me How To Dougie.” Once everyone was good and hyped, Doug E. and his DJ kicked things up a notch with a mix of old school jams like “Brick House,” "More Bounce To the Ounce," “Before I Let Go” and “Candy,” making his show feel like a bona fide party. The jams didn't end there, when he brought out special guest Vicious who took us to the islands with “Freaks” and “Murder She Wrote.” Hands down, Doug E. Fresh had the best performance of the day; he hasn't lost his magic touch and he looked amazing.
Unfortunately Doug E. Fresh's performance was the last one of the night. By the end of his set a light drizzle had turned into a full-on thunderstorm. Sheila E.'s performance had to be canceled because of the inclement weather. She later gave her regrets via a video message on Instagram.
After the downpour Saturday night, Sunday morning brought blue skies and sunshine to Baltimore on summer's first day. The second day of the African American Festival began on an inspirational note with a performance by gospel artist Randy Roberts & Kingdom. Actor and comedian David Mann tickled many a funny bone with his jokes before his wife Tamela Mann took everyone to church. Tamela made a joyful noise with numerous selections from her gospel albums and finished big with her chart-topping, award-winning song "Take Me to the King."
Once the praise and worship portion of the day's performances ended, it was time for more R&B and Demetria McKinney brought it. The actress/reality star/singer opened with a high-energy medley of R&B songs, including Chaka Khan's “Ain’t Nobody” and Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat.” Flanked by two male dancers, their choreographed routine mimicked dance moves from the artists she paid tribute to. McKinney also sang some original songs and showed the crowd she's got chops on current single “Trade It All” before ending her show with “Keep It 100.”
The Prince of Sophisticated Soul Will Downing lived up to his name and mellowed things out with his performance that was both soulful and jazzy. He sang fan favorites such as “I Go Crazy” and “Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This,” which he performed as a duet with one of his background vocalists. Downing also gave his band time to shine with a live jam session that found them performing classic R&B songs, including Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and “Rock Creek Park” by Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds.
Stephanie Mills was the final performer of the weekend and she provided the cherry on top of an already phenomenal Sunday. She shimmied her way across the stage and belted out a number of classics, including “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” “What Cha’ Gonna Do with My Lovin’,” “(You’re Puttin’) A Rush On Me,” “Sweet Sensation,” “Two Hearts,” "Put Your Body In It" and “Something In the Way You Make Me Feel.” At one point during her set she said, “this is what 58 looks like and sounds like,” which looks absolutely amazing on her. Stephanie's high-octane set would put many a younger performer to shame. She never missed a beat nor dropped a note. The show-stopping highlight was her rendition of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' “Uptown Funk.” Yes, Ms. Stephanie Mills put on a show with all the moves and some well-placed and tasteful twerkin'. Mills was having a ball and so was everyone watching her in action. The singer also called people to action, urging an end to violence and for us to spread love. The exclamation mark on her show was her impassioned, soul-stirring classic “Home,” which ended the weekend's African American Festival festivities on a high note.
Congratulations to event producers greiBO for another successful African American Festival that already has us looking forward to next year. Thank you to presenting sponsor Black Enterprise for an awesome experience, PepsiCo and Frito-Lay for providing refreshments and Huff Events & PR and Simone Smalls PR for rolling out the red carpet for media. Baltimore needed this and so did we.