Harlem Arts Festival, June 26
I woke up at 6:03am hearing the birds chirping outside. ‘Today is the big day!’
Sound check begins at 11:30am, but I arrived at 11:10am. I am at Marcus Garvey Park, or what used to call it, Mt. Morris Park. The sound man’s name is John, and he’s super cool! I’m at stage 2 and there’s no cloud in the sky. My band mates, Keenyn (Soprano Sax) and Tommy (Guitarist) are there and excited like I am, too. Everyone checks for their own mic and amp. We jam a little to the keyboard to check the sound and drums. A crowd starts to form around the stage of bikers in the area, because we started jamming out! It was a great energy because the sun was shining so bright. We made up 3 new songs on the spot, and the people were dancing; it was great!
Wasting time until 1:30pm playing the guitar and singing for a private party, baby shower, before performing in the area of the festival. All of the beautiful people there, I felt right at home. I walk into the brownstone and down the stairs and all of the people knew each other — smiling and joyfully chatting. I see one of my music mentors, Rakiem Walker, who was watching me play. This guy is ridiculous on his instrument, so to see him smiling was kinda nerve wrecking — but in a good way, because I admire him so much. It’s the man of the house, Marcus Samuelson, the chef of the Red Rooster, whom I met the day before at my job. He heard me play and invited me to play this gig and I said, ‘yes!’ Here he is dressed clean and bright and is all smiles with his beautiful lady, who is almost due. They are a beautiful couple. I sing my songs and the people gather to eat the freshly cooked barbecued and Ethiopian cuisine, prepared out in the backyard. It looks like something out of an Oprah magazine. All of these beautiful black Ethiopian people, mixed with European, and little kids and this awesome food. It was beautiful! I played for about 30 minutes and some cameras came by to film before the other band started, so I was done.
At 2:15pm, I headed back to the Harlem Arts Festival stage where I was singing background vocals for the Whitney Marchelle band. Lonnie Plaxico was on bass, Camille Gainer Jones on drums, Willerm Delisfort on keyboard, Sweet Lee on sax, and Paul and myself on background vocals. I had missed the rehearsal because I had a restaurant gig, so this would be my first time playing with the the band as a whole, but I learned and rehearsed the songs on my own the week before. The show started late, but the music was awesome: Whitney played her original song on guitar, then she played the piano and sang on some tunes. Feeling successful after the gig and getting some good feedback, I headed home to get ready for my show at 6:30pm. And it was already 5:00pm! I go back to the private party to pick up my instrument and thank Mr. Samuelson for having me. I was grateful that he was looking out; he said he’d rather have a local talent, someone indigenous from the neighborhood. That’s love and support right there! This gestured that he did encouraged me, because he is genuine and said he wants to support brothers and sisters out here. I left with my guitar and amp excited for my show next with my band.
I meant to leave the house at 5:45pm but my hair was soaking wet. Instead left around 6pm and arrived to the festival at 6:07pm. We had 2 bands playing before us so our time got pushed back to about 7:30pm. The music was amazing: one Latin band, Grupo Descarillo and Ikhlaq Hussein, whom played sitar with a drummer. I greeted friends and family that came to enjoy the festivities and our show. I love my bandmates: we’ve been through so much together. I pray to God and give thanks in my head and soul for this moment. When we played, the Sun was setting in the horizon. Then it took off like a spaceship. The people were dancing along with their hands up, out in the sunshine. It was such a beautiful sight when I looked at my bandmates killing it and the audience feeling loved, I thought that I was so happy I could have died. We played all of the music on the setlist. Graham (drummer), John (pianist), Clint (bassist), Tommy (guitarist), Peter (horn), Keenyn (sax), and myself, all melted as one with the audience. The festival was awesome and I enjoyed every moment!
I found joy in letting go and dancing to the rhythm of everyone else’s heart as I played with them into the universe. In other words, there is more strange and exquisite discoveries in creation than there is in thinking only of yourself. I learned something from everyone today. Now, thinking about the next thing. God is so good!
Noël Simoné Wippler