The scope and quality of the event inspire wonder. Over the three-day Labor Day weekend, downtown Oakland's fifth annual Art & Soul celebration offers simultaneous performances on three music stages, a world dance stage, plus a major Literature Expo and outdoor Family Fun Zone -- all held in a ten-block area of BARTable downtown Oakland that can comfortably accommodate the estimated 80-100,000 attendees.
According to the City of Oakland's dynamic marketing manager Samee Roberts, Art & Soul was launched in 2000 to provide a signature event to unite the community and showcase Oakland's enviable array of talent. Aside from that, the festival may have secondary goals -- to enliven downtown Oakland through art and celebration and to showcase Mayor Jerry Brown's revitalization campaign -- but with world-renowned musicians onstage, far more than Oakland's ten thousand new downtown residents will benefit.
The Main Stage at 14th and Clay streets offers Live 105 Alternative on Saturday, including Lyrics Born, Hieroglyphics, and the Lovemakers; KFOG Rock on Sunday, headlined by Blues Traveler with world-class harmonica player John Popper; and KBLX' Smooth Jazz Monday, with renowned veteran keyboardist George Duke and vibraphonist Roy Ayers making rare appearances. Meanwhile, City Hall's Plaza Stage presents jazz on Saturday, a LGBT rainbow stage on Sunday, and Monday's Gospel Showcase with the fabled Edwin Hawkins. Classical music even alternates with tranny rock.
Ronnie Stewart of the Bay Area Blues Society will transform 12th and Broadway's Blues Stage into a three-day tour through West Coast blues history. Saturday's "New Orleans in Oakland" begins with Henry Clemente's original New Orleans Marching Band, whose 31 members, many hailing from Louisiana, sport original outfits. Hours later, headliner Maria Muldaur and Her Louisiana Hot Band return the Platinum Record winner to her original gospel and heavy R&B roots. Sunday's "Roots of Oakland Blues" showcases the blues brought to California by African Americans who migrated from Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma to work in the maritime industry. Ron Thompson, who has played with the likes of Fleetwood Mac and John Lee Hooker; Sherman Robertson, who has teamed up with Paul Simon and all the great Los Angeles and Texas bands; and the great Sonny Rhodes make the day a definite must.
To complement the Blues Society's new CD, The Music They Played on Seventh Street, Stewart is also planning an Oakland Walk of Fame for all the legendary greats -- including the Nicholas Brothers, Ray Charles, and Ike and Tina -- whose careers took flight on Oakland's 7th Street. You can get a taste of it at Monday's "R&B Reunion," headlined by Freddie Hughes, who along with Terrible Tom and Wylie Trass form the "backbone" of the Oakland Blues. "These are the guys everyone else uses as a measuring stick to see if they're of the same caliber," says organizer Stewart of a day MC'd by eighty-year-old Jay Peyton, who tapped with the Nicholas Brothers. Living history and great art for five dollars a day.
There's barely room to discuss the City Hall lawn Family Zone, with its mini-fairyland, costumed characters, performers, and storytelling tent. And don't forget the thirty authors and musicians featured at the cafe-style Literature Expo in City Center. See the complete schedule at ArtandSoulOakland.com or call 510-238-7402 for more info.
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