I have to admit. I made some bold statements about the first Queen City Jazz Fest. I remember saying, “With so many young acts that have jazz as a connection, there could be something similar to the AOC brewing right here in Charlotte.” The Art of Cool festival is making noise in conversations with bigger festivals like South by Southwest.
The real question was can ‘the Queen City Jazz Fest come on just as strong a second year in a row?”
When I first saw the lineup I was a little nervous of the sophomore jinx. Gerald Albright is a big artist, but he has been in and out of the area several times over the years and Brian Culbertson just closed the festival a year ago. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen both of these guys several times and have yet to see the same set list twice. Then I saw Lalah Hathaway. Music fans have been asking promoters for years to bring her to town, and I applaud Charles Whitfield for listening to the fans and the audience. Trish Andrews, a local talent, brought it all together. The key to some of the newer festivals is to bring together a mixture of national, regional, and local acts and allow the audience to explore different artists and styles.
The evening kicked off with Trish Andrews. Opening a show like the #QCJAzzFest16 can be rough. Even more so when you are a female vocalist and the crowd is there to hear Lalah Hathaway, but Trish came out and killed it. I arrived to the show early and many of the people there where unfamiliar with Trish, but they know who she is now. She quickly got the crowd moving to her beautiful voice and placed everyone in their “Comfort Zone.”
When I think of a smooth jazz artist, Gerald Albright is always at the top of the list. I’ve been lucky enough to photograph him on several occasions, and each time he has brought something new to the table. He also brings a catalog of hits that fans have loved for years. He cracked open that catalog last night and the crowd was on their feet. It takes more than just a list of hits to play live. Gerald always seems to feed of the energy of the crowd. Last night’s energy was strong enough to light up the city of Charlotte.
That energy Gerald built up went into overdrive when Lalah Hathaway hit the stage. The packed house welcomed her with open arms. She took the stage in heels but lost them by the second song and then it was on. The key to being a great live performer is a connection with the audience and she definitely has that. I think every couple in the house moved a little closer to each other when she performed her hit single “Angel,” and everyone was back to dancing. Her band was amazing.
A Lalah Hathaway-thirsty crowd is a tough crowd to face as a closer. I’ve been shooting festivals for over five years so I’ve seen some lineup placements lead to the final act playing to a near-empty venue. Brian Culbertson and his band, however, would be at the top of my list as closers. Brian came out at 100 MPH and didn’t slow until the last note. I tweeted out last night, “Photographing Brian Culbertson is like a sports shoot.” Selina Albright jokingly replied, “Don’t I know it! I toured with him and lost weight, LOL!!” His interaction with his band has him all over the stage. He’s not pulling up a piano stool and sitting for an hour. When he’s not doing his version of keyboard aerobics, he is playing his trombone from one side of the stage to the next. If you’re shooting Brian, be ready to move because HE is always moving. It’s something if you are in the audience. You’re up on your feet dancing all night. I think I even saw a few people dancing on the way to the parking lot.
I’m thrilled with Charles Whitfield for finally bringing Lalah Hathaway to Charlotte. I was in the VIP immediately after her set and the line to meet with Lalah stretched all the way across the Fillmore.
This isn’t Whitfield’s first rodeo, and it shows in an exceptionally good way. The entire lineup was on point. If Charles and his staff keep putting together great shows like this one, I’ll keep taking the pictures (although I would like to sneak in a request for Snarky Puppy, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and Andra Day. They don’t all have to be on one show because I’m sure the Queen City Jazz Fest is going to be around for a long time.)