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Just an hour after the announcement of President Obama’s victory of being reelected to a second term in office I found myself venturing into the night and stopping at Char’s Has the Blues, a jazz and blues nightclub in downtown Phoenix, AZ better known as simply, Char’s. The club was small and intimate; I noticed the cozy atmosphere right away that was created by extremely dim overhead lighting and exclusive seating areas near the entrance and also within the interior flanks. The crowd, mostly consisting of patrons approximately 30 years old + sat in various places in the club, including near the full bar where the bartender provided friendly service and delicious beverages.
To celebrate my mother’s birthday, we indulged in Vodka Cranberry’s and Pina Coloda’s at amazing prices and settled at a side table to enjoy the live music. Essence, the headlining band of the night, excited the crowd with dazzling jazz melodies that were mixed with beautiful nuances and splendid subtleties that clearly showcased their talent. Shaun Johnson, the lead vocalist, smoothly crooned through many classic hits such as Michael Jackson’s, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and “Bustin’ Out (On the Funk)” by Rick James. At one point in the evening, Johnson invited my mother on stage and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ with soulful accuracy, much to her extreme shock before continuing on with the designated set list.
The band, which is comprised of Sonte Vales, the lead guitarist, Dbazz who plays bass and Lawrence Ross on keyboards, delivered each song with marked passion that showed a deep and genuine appreciate for performance and music. The drummer, Jamarl Baker aka JB That Drum Killa executed every beat with brilliant precision and gracefully carried the quintet through each moment. The tiny crowd in Char’s Has the Blues responded to classy and equally impressive lineup with applause; a few of the club-goers took to the dance floor to sashay to the melody.
At the conclusion of the band’s lively set, the crowd disbursed for the night, either exiting from the small parking lot or lingering outside of Char’s for a smoke and conversation. As a whole, Essence was thoroughly impressive and deserves much recognition for their inexplicable talent and prodigious showmanship.
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This weekend was one to be reckoned with. Going hurdy-gurdy, 100 mph, on a beer–fueled 4 hour road trip into Inland Empire’s Coachella Valley in Indio, CA for three days of music. But let me tell you: you must go prepared.
My best friend Josh and I drove about 70 miles from our hotel to the fairgrounds, stop the car and immediately get searched by 2 yellow-clad, officials who rip through everything and feel us up. Protocol I suppose. Like the silly gooses that we are, we abandon our vehicle and get into the main line to be searched again unbeknownst to us; we didn’t have to do that.
In the main line, we were separate by gender and left to wilt in the sun as the line moves at the speed of molasses. All the girls at Coachella look like Tumblr gobbled them up and shat them out. These girls were trying so hard to be hip and different but actually looked like clones with their billowy Forever 21-style tanks and frayed, dyed denim cut-offs that were pulled up so high that they almost touched their nipples. Don’t even get me started on how many top-knot buns I saw, or floppy hats modeled straight from the 1970s. While in the midst of my observations, I was informed by one of the guards that we were not supposed to leave our car after the search; we had a camping pass, so we were supposed to drive right onto the festival grounds…oops, almost got the car towed within 15 minutes of arrival.
Despite this first snafu, I was more excited than a 10 year old in the middle of Disney land; I turned to look at everything that moved, and even the pigeons seemed interesting. The cars were lined side-by-side with an 8 by 10 foot space in front to erect a tent or put down a blanket. There where people everywhere chilling in front of their spaces, drinking beer, but Josh and I did not even bother with such things. We traipsed right into the festival like whimsical fairies on acid-camera clicking all the way home.
Our little party was swiftly interrupted once we got closer to the starting gates. Here is one warning for first-time Coachella-goers who bring digital SLR’S: be prepared to shove the camera body in places where it don’t belong. I popped of the lens, gave it Josh and shoved the $200 dollar base between my legs. Then I duck-walked to the line to be searched for the second time; I was beginning to think this was an airport. Also, no outside beverages were allowed in and the security fiends are serious about it. I had to pound 3 beers by the time I got in line, because once you arrive at the second checkpoint, you cannot bring anything in except for a backpack, sunglasses, a small camera, iPod, etc. So, don’t show up with a backpack full of snacks and booze ‘cause you will have to throw it away. Along with my SLR, my video camera was not allowed in. Well, good thing I was hyped up on Budweiser and I am extremely clever, because I put that bad-boy right into my bra. They only pat down the outside parameter of your body, without fondling your goodies, so I got into the main festival area with my contraband intact. Suckers.
The crowd teemed in masses, just thousands of people were milling around everywhere. It was quite a dangerous place to be. We walked around the grounds, as the rain started to threaten us all. The weather alternated from grey and angry, to light sprinkling through the entirety of the first day. But I knew just the remedy for the cloudy weather: a beer. After standing in line for an identification check, I took my 21+ bracelet and my wallet into the Beer Garden for some watered-down liquor. The goddamn cup of beer was 7 dollars. Warning number two: don’t go into Coachella without 100 dollars to blow; money cannot be an object at this sort of event. I learned that, as I checked my steadily dwindling bank account (ATMs charge $4.00 to withdraw money, so tip number 3 is to take ALL of your cash off of your card because the fee is not worth it), and then trekked on over to the biggest obstacle of all: the port-a-potty’s.
I have never in my 21 years used a port-a-potty, and if you haven’t either, then get prepared because it is not for the faint of heart. The toilet facilities at Coachella are nothing short of disgusting, but I figure that is the best they can do for the amount of people there. My suggestion is to not drink too much water or beer. Seriously. Unless you don’t mind pissing every 30 minutes in the depths of hell. The worst part of the whole occurrence is when I was in a perfect spot to see a band I loved, I had to pee again. I made 5 different treks to those dreaded, mock-bathrooms in the 9 hours I was there that day.
After the restroom trauma, we went to listen to some music. People were dancing wildly in the crowd as the bands thrashed and played along. Joints burned freely and plentifully like a scene out of the Woodstock DVD. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or my nose, as I witnessed the passing of blunts and joints from person to person as the music pounded on. If you are not a fan of weed, then just be warned, because you will get a contact high no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Alcohol was everywhere also, even though it was not allowed on festival grounds; Tecate and Budweiser were the most popular beers that I saw folks drinking. Occasionally, I saw a bottle of hard liquor being passed around. The security guards lined the walls and stayed around the outskirts of the crowd but surprisingly, they never interrupted the boozing and smoking.
By the time 8:00 p.m. arrived, I felt like I had been pummeled with boulders and I was freezing. I was so exhausted from walking and standing and all I wanted was to be warm and dry, but the rain and my short-shorts were not going to allow that. I was wallowing in misery as we made the trek from our car (we went back mid-way through the day to eat and rest) and back onto the grounds to be viciously searched once again and shuffle our way to the front of the crowd to see the Black Keys.
I love the Black Keys. I went through a 6 month phase of absolute obsession last year, so it was a wonderful moment when I shimmied my way in between the cloistered bodies and waited for them to start. Dan Aurebach, the ginger-haired, bearded lead singer, titillated the throngs of people with his Hendrix-esque crooning. His talent mingled beautifully with that of the drummer, the mousy, but kind-of adorable Patrick Carney. The thin, and willowy Aurebach, melted the crowd with heartfelt, bittersweet melodies. His voice issued from his throat, effortlessly, and the audience responded with admiration from the first chord to the flashing light show at the end. The words, “The Black Keys” were illuminated above the stage and blinked in white-hot unison as the band closed out the show with a song from their latest album, El Camino. I managed to capture it all on film and video despite the security guards trying to knock my camera from my hands several times. I am dedicated.
By 11:30 p.m. , Josh and I went back to the car, humming and dragging our feet. We experienced the glory of the Black Keys and took our tired selves 70 miles back into a city between Indio called TwentyNine Palms, to rest for Day 2 where we would see the legendary Bon Iver…but we survived Coachella Day 1, bravo to us!