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The Soul of Essence

15th July 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

The atmosphere in the Superdome during Essence Music Festival changes not only from venue to venue — main stage, superlounges — but night to night. This aspect seemed particularly pronounced at Essence Fest 2013, which was held from Friday, July 5, to Sunday, July 7.

The relaxed vibe that prevailed on Friday and Saturday that offered easy access to anywhere one wanted to go was over on Sunday with the anticipation of superstar Beyoncé’s closing performance. The Dome was sold out and you could feel it. For some unknown reason, the first set on the main stage, didn’t hit until 8 p.m. The hallways and the superlounges were packed – good for the vendors and some of the lesser known acts; difficult for gettin’ around. The appearance of the very popular Rachelle Ferrell complicated matters but word was she put on a tremendous set. New Orleans-born vocalist and composer Luke James also fared well from his 7:05 p.m. set upstairs though it was apparent that many of his friends and family would have been there anyway to hear his vibrant falsetto. The 7th Ward native shouted out, “Hey, my mom’s here y’all.”

Okay, it’s time to get down to it. Long lines of ticket holders waiting to be screened and get into the Dome remained at the late hour of about 8:30 p.m. Obviously, they had one thing on their minds – Beyoncé – as funky, dramatically robotic Janelle Monae was due up on the main stage at 9:10 p.m. Among them were women sporting stunning, super high-heeled and platformed shoes that during their entry remained on their feet though later the fashion statements were often swapped out for flats or bare feet.



Monae, who hosted the Cover Girl Superlounge on Friday and Saturday nights presenting artists from Atlanta’s cooperative Wondaland Arts Society, had the unenviable position of coming on right before Beyoncé. Dressed in her signature black and whites, as were many of her fans, the vocalist put on a stunningly musical performance backed by a great band that included horns and strings. In an old school, make it personal style, she got down on the floor and mixed it up with the crowd. A cape was slipped on her shoulders ala James Brown as she paid tribute to the Godfather of Soul when she evoked his memory singing “Tightrope.” She and her excellent ensemble gave it their all and though they were well-received, it remained evident that the mostly seated crowd was awaiting Beyoncé.

The gorgeous superstar was, of course, in great voice and her dance moves rocked the Dome though the set as a whole was somewhat reminiscent of a Las Vegas show. Beyoncé performance was so full of pyrotechnics, videos and an abundance of costume changes, that the music would sometimes get lost in the fireworks. The warmth that often surrounded the closing act of the festival, which is truly a reunion for many of the attendees, seemed to missing but maybe that’s been true since the never-to-return-to again days of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly singing “Joy and Pain.” There are others who could fill that very personal emotional chasm, but who?

Essence Festival 2013 stood as an event of discovery. There was a lot of solid music out there to be excavated and veterans to be newly appreciated. LL Cool J., one of the few rappers to be invited to the “party with a purpose,” got the crowd happy, on its feet and dancing – no small feat. Pianist, vocalist and composer P.J. Morton, the son of the Reverend Paul J. Morton, was notably extremely musical in the midst of some acts that showtime, rather than musical substance, seems to be the aim.

In the early evening of the first night of Essence Festival crowds are often slim. R&B artist Brandy, who performed at 7:10 p.m. on Friday brought the people out. It kicked off Essence 2013 in good spirit, an attitude that abounded as
proved by the smiling faces.

Ike – Saying Goodbye to a Horse New Orleans Style

The phrase “only in New Orleans” may be over-used and is sometimes not quite accurate but in the case of at a recent event, it was oh so true.

At 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, people gathered at the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home for a jazz funeral in remembrance of Ike, a recently deceased, gray horse who passed away at the age of 35. A Katrina survivor, Ike retired in Geismar, Louisiana, after the storm and was buried there.

Now as one can imagine, Ike wasn’t just any horse. He was the first horse purchased by Mid-City Carriages when he was 12 years old and through the years Ike gained quite a reputation. “He was always asked for,” says Louis Charbonnet who co-owns the funeral home located on North Claiborne Avenue and St. Philip Street in the Tremé.

“He did just about everything,” says Kim Charbonnet who co-owns the stables and who, along with her father Louis, enthusiastically led the second line to the beat of a combo brass band that included members of the Stooges and Royal Players groups. One young trumpeter would make his instrument “neigh” during traditional tunes like “I’ll Fly Away.”

Kim, who, as a member of the Money Wasters Social Aid & Pleasure Club knows some street moves, got into the spirit. She danced up a storm, literally rolling on the street, and poured beer over the life-size, fiberglass statue of a horse that rode on a trailer in tribute to Ike. Lois Andrews, the mother of musicians James and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, acted as the strutting grand marshal for the second line and for a time rode on top of the statue.

Kim relays some of Ike’s famous, light-hearted moments like pulling Santa Claus’ “sleigh” to the center of the field at the Superdome at a New Orleans Saints game.” “In the early years, he was the ‘poster horse’ for Christmas in the Oaks,” she says adding that he was also on duty for another notorious jazz funeral in the Treme. In 1992, Ike was harnessed to the carriage for the home going of the much-loved dog, Buck “Andrews.”

Ike participated in more solemn jazz funerals for many musicians and dignitaries including the funeral procession for the Reverend Avery Alexander.

As was fitting, the second line, with many participants sporting “IKE – R.I.P.” T-shirts, wove through the Treme and ended at an outdoor repast at Mid-City Car­riages on Lafitte Street. Drama­tically and with much good humor, Kim wailed, screamed and carried on as the procession entered the stable gates.

“We had to send him out in traditional New Orleans style,” she declares with obvious sincerity.

This article originally published in the July 15, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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