Ladies and gentlemen, the rumors are true: I’m getting old.
That means that aside from aging in dog years ever since COVID put the world in a figure-four headlock, my days of celebrating my birthday by cavorting around Las Vegas, or consuming enough alcohol to make my internal organs unionize and go on strike, are officially over.
These days, I’d much rather spend my free time scrapbooking—or knitting a sweater. But since neither was a particularly attractive option while recently celebrating my [REDACTED] trip around the sun, I opted instead to embrace my fate as an ardent jazz festival enthusiast—because that’s what all Black people of a certain age are contractually obligated to do. (Look, I don’t make the rules.)
This past weekend, thousands of aspiring grandmothers and grandfathers like me descended upon Napa Valley for the inaugural West Coast iteration of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, which involved copious amounts of wine, enough white linen to make Frankie Beverly and Maze file for copyright infringement, and three straight days of beautifully Black-ass music curated by the reigning god of jazz himself, Mr. Robert Glasper.
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Upon first glance, the lineup was about as stacked as a 90s posse cut (can we bring those back please?), with Chaka Khan, Thundercat, hip-hop heavyweights Black Star, and my girl Alex Isley among those recruited to perform on the main Black Radio stage. But there were plenty of gems to be found elsewhere at the massive Charles Krug Winery, as Butcher Brown (affiliates of personal fav Mac Ayres) and Marcus Strickland held it down throughout the weekend in the garden, while the Soul Rebels, Th1rt3en (comprised of rap royalty Pharoahe Monch and musicians Daru Jones and Marcus Machado), and Madlib were kind enough to anoint the more intimate Blue Note Napa stage.
One of the best performances of the weekend came from Brooklyn’s own unsung heroes Phony Ppl, who refused to allow technical difficulties to derail their electrifying set. Despite whatever the hell was going on with lead vocalist Elbee Thrie’s microphone—the devil was clearly busy that day—Thrie corralled the crowd with his contagious energy and effortlessly powered through the group’s catalog before eventually bidding everyone au revoir with a triumphant rendition of one of my favorite songs of the past decade, “Why iii Love The Moon”.
And yes, while this was a jazz festival, it was also beautiful to see dearly departed hip-hop icons J Dilla and MF Doom receive their flowers throughout the entire weekend. Whether it was Anderson .Paak protégés Domi and JD Beck’s (who co-wrote Silk Sonic’s anthemic “Skate”) brilliant Madvillainy tribute, Chris Dave and The Drumhedz’s ode to Slum Village, or the elusive Yasiin Bey personally ensuring that both Dilla’s “Wild” and Madvillain’s “Meat Grinder” got their due, for hip-hop connoisseurs, it was the perfect supplement to a weekend full of contemporary jazz.
Speaking of which, Glasper is truly a master of his craft. As Blue Note’s artist in residence, he served as co-headliner throughout the festival with Dave Chappelle reporting for duty as his hilarious co-pilot. Thankfully, the polarizing comedian abstained from any controversial remarks and instead poured his energy into serenading the crowd with Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love,” freestyling with Kat Williams (“We’re at the Blue Note/ Me and Dave, two GOATS”), and bestowing Napa Valley with the perfect nickname: Nappy Valley. Meanwhile, Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, Thundercat, and just about every other Black-ass, world-class musician you can think of lent their talents to the festivities while everyone from Ledisi to Goapele to Snoop Dogg took turns catching the Holy Ghost on stage.
And did I mention Maxwell—yes, that Maxwell—closed the historic festival out on Sunday?
I didn’t? Oh.
“This is the Blackest weekend [Napa] has ever seen,” Chappelle proudly proclaimed as the festivities came to close on Sunday night. “This culture is wherever we put it—whether it’s New York or L.A. or the vineyards of Napa, it’s wherever we say it’s going to happen. I’m so happy it happened with all you guys this weekend.”
If this is what getting old is like, bring on the varicose veins.