Compliments of…. Sheila E.??!

Me, Sheila E., and Sy Smith in Washington D.C. – 08.30.12

I’m a homebody. Rarely do I EVER say, “You know what? I need to get outta the house and go somewhere.” There’s always too much to do right here. But with my musical sibling, Sy Smith singing background vocals for Sheila E. and her incredible band, I wasn’t about to be caught sitting at home reading the tweets of my people who were there. I wanted to see this show for myself and make sure that I was in the house to support Sy. I took my first trip to the restored and revamped Howard Theatre (ironically the same place where Robert Townsend as Donald “Duck” Matthews took his legendary keytar solo in The Five Heartbeats in 1972….Yes, you read that correctly. In 1972. Sorry, I STILL think that’s hilarious). I walked in and parked myself in the front, stage left and observed as Sheila and her crew brought the damn house down. From the first note, her show was exactly that… a SHOW. If there was a weak link in that band, I didn’t hear it… These kats were ridiculously tight and the added bonus was watching Sy up there murdering right along with them. This musical clinic of a performance went on for almost two hours and left everyone in the spot completely satisfied. Now of course, I told Sy a couple weeks before the show, “Ayo… You’ve gotta introduce me to Sheila when y’all get here.” She saw no problem with my request. When I got to talk with Sy after the show she told me the after party was gonna be at Tap and Parlour over on 11th and U… Bet! I’m there.

I headed over to the spot and even lucked up on an 11th Street parking place only a few yards from where I needed to be. ..Rolled up into Tap and Parlour, immediately got up with Sy and started talking about how dope the show was and how hyped up we were for our then upcoming Labor Day NYC show date at the Blue Note. I then decided it was time for a quick draink (yes, dammit… “DRAINK”), so I walked on over to the bar for a rum & coke and also grabbed a water for Sy….. By the time I made it back over to the rear of the place, Sheila was already over there hanging out. I handed the water over and as soon as Sy could, she introduced the two of us… “Great to finally meet you’s” along with a hug were both exchanged. It was dope because Sy has told me on a few different occasions that she was familiar with who I am because of shows and she and I do and my affiliation with +FE Music. I made it a point to let Sheila know that she gives a helluva performance and that they thoroughly shut the Howard Theatre down without question. Now…. when giving a compliment to someone you look up to and highly respect in your professional field, you never expect for them to return your compliment with a compliment….. or two. So imagine how blown away I was when she said to me…

“You know, I’m really diggin what you and Sy are doing…”

Hold up… What?!! Our live performances?!!?? You know, I’m not exactly sure what the expression on my face did in response to what she said, but I’m sure it was kind of along these lines. In the middle of my humbly thanking her about 48 times, she then hit me with…

“Yeah, I look you guys up on YouTube all the time…”

Done.

Aaaaand from that particular moment, to about 17 or 18 minutes afterward….. You couldn’t tell me shit. I was damn near on the verge of cussing at Ms. Escovedo out of excitement on some, “Sheila E., what the hell you say to me?!!?” …….In a good way though, in a good way!! The best part about it was, her words were truly genuine as she is about as down-to-earth as they come. The worst part about it was…. Where the hell do you take a conversation after that?! I had not a clue… We did end up chatting a little more and taking a picture with Sy (see above) and after I finished my drink, I was pretty much ready to head on outta there and call it a night………… That didn’t end up being the case. Why? Because as her band began to trickle in one by one, Sheila would pull each of them to the side, “Have you met Zo?… He and Sy tour together!” Maaaaan, lookahea… Somebody get another draink because I’m gonna be here for awhile. I got up with the majority of the band, including fellow Michigan native, drummer Chris Coleman, who by the way was kiiiiillin’ on stage! I couldn’t have asked for a better night – smiles, laughs, drainks and toasts consumed the remainder of it.

Believe it or not, as many times as something like this happens…. I’ll still be in disbelief, so don’t mind me and my excitable ass storytelling. This just completely goes to show that you never know who’s listening, watching, and most of all enjoying your music. Man, I love what I do…

The Foreign Exchange at Detroit’s Chene Park – 09.13.12

Phonte, Me, Deborah Bond, Kush El-Amin & Sy Smith backstage after rockin’ Chene Park… Photo courtesy of Drake Phifer

Going back home to perform always seems to disturb my already dysfunctional “sleep-pattern”… I can never get enough rest the night before a Detroit performance – whether it’s a solo show or one with The Foreign Exchange. It’s actually very similar to preparing for a huge game…at home – YET it’s even more special than that because there’s a “we’ve missed you” factor on both sides that can be added into the equation now since I’m not living in the area anymore. As a matter of fact, the only sleep I participated in before this show occurred on the one hour-ten minute flight from Baltimore to Detroit. I was OUT and do not remember taking off at all.. But, I DO remember being awakened by that ridiculously hard ass landing executed by our pilot. I’m talking the type of landing that has been known to make you look extra crazy in public as your sudden waking up from a deep sleep while fighting the air tends to be accompanied by various random, yet well-placed expletives …..I’m not saying this happened to ME on this particular flight, but I’ve heard that’s how it goes down sometimes and you know, uhh… well…… ANYWAY, upon our arrival to DTW Airport, we were to be picked up and taken to the hotel located right along the Detroit Riverwalk. Kush El-Amin (bassist), Deborah Bond (vocalist) and I all walked off of the plane safely and randomly ran into Tim Scott Jr. (drummer) in the baggage claim area. We then caught up to our driver a few minutes later after letting the organizers know that we had arrived into town. The driver was cool as all hell and seemed to be a music head. He also began to hit us with a couple of hilarious quotables and stories… including the one explaining why he wasn’t allowed back on our hotel’s property. We were all in the van like, *crickets*…..  But the brotha got us everywhere we needed to be on time… We just had a bit of a walk ahead of us when we were dropped off on the far side of that hotel damn near by the Jim Crow entrance.

Behind our hotel… The Detroit Riverwalk

After introducing Kush and Deborah to one of my most frequented sammich spots when I lived in MI, *sings* “Tubbyyyy’s Submariiiiiines,” the crew hit up soundcheck at our scheduled time and as I walked up to the stage I could immediately tell that it was about to be a reunion for me… The first person I ran into was Monica Blaire (featured on “MakeLuv2Me”) and right behind her was vocalist, L’Renee whom I hadn’t seen since I moved to Maryland at the beginning of 2006. Then up walked Dwele, who I’ve known since 2003 and would sometimes even jam out with him in Slum Village’s old stomping grounds, Barak Studios in Southfield, MI. He and I got to catch up a bit during his soundcheck… meanwhile, I realized that I knew a few people in his band including drummer Eric “Rain Man” Gaston, keyboardist Brandon “Showtime” Bland, background singer J. Tait, and saxophonist LaDarrel “Saxappeal” Johnson who has played alongside Sy Smith and I twice, at our Detroit (February ’12) and New York City (May ’12) shows. To say that I felt right back at home would be a huge understatement… Now when you’re around all of that talent, not only is there a strong sense of camaraderie but also a feeling of friendly competition as well, which as a former baseball player is something that I will probably never shy away from. It’s natural because you always want to sound your best in front of your peers. With that being said, we sounded our best for about 15 minutes because we were forced into knocking out one of the shortest soundchecks in life (Arrested Development, whose flight was severely delayed had arrived and was on the side of the stage waiting to check after us and the doors were due to open soon after). After our 15 minutes of fame during soundcheck, we made our way back to the hotel for about an hour of down time before it was time to head on back to Chene Park and hit the stage for real this time around.

As we rolled back to the venue in preparation for the night’s performance…let’s just say I was a tad bit beyond ready. Momma Zo! had already sent me a text saying that she, Pops Zo!, my sister and her boyfriend were already there and seated. Meanwhile, I was backstage in full out clown mode in order to distract myself from the fact that I was anxious as hell to get out there and murder this +FE set. My adrenaline was on 12 AND I had the nerve to be sipping on a can of Red Bull. Yeah, I know…But I told y’all, show preparation very much parallels getting ready for a big game. Aaaaand, then the time finally came for us to walk out on stage… I arrived at my keyboard rig and started to get everything set up… I then began hearing people start to call my name from the crowd…

“WE LOVE YOU ZO!!!”

Monica Blaire was there hosting the show along with Suga Rae stopped and said,

“Oh… Do we have some Zo fans in here?”

*crowd cheers*

Crazy…

Adrenaline now on 14.

It was finally time to start up and with only 40 minutes to show our people a helluva time, we knew we had to be on level 10 fresh outta the gate……. And that’s exactly what happened. From the jump, the music felt really good, the crowd was with us the entire time, my hands felt loose on the keys, and the added bonus….. I received a standing ovation during our individual introductions, which just put the show over the top for me. Some of y’all have heard me talk some about hometown love and how unbelievable of a feeling it is to get it… This episode was no different. And the fact that my parents and sister were in the crowd both times that it has happened?… Maaaan, come on nah!!

After leaving the stage ablaze by playing what I thought was one of our best sets this year, I decided to try and head out into the crowd so that I could see my family and check out Dwele and Arrested Development’s shows. Man, I got into the crowd and was greeted by friends, fans, and even a few folks I went to high school with whom I had not seen since high school (’96 if ya nosy ass needed to know). Hell, those folks still know me as a baseball player! I found my family in the crowd via “text GPS” a/k/a “Where y’all at?! / We’re right here!!” guidance. My sister and Momma Zo! were rockin’ the crispy ciel blue Zo! T-shirts while Pops came with the suit and tie combo, per usual. ‘Twas all hugs and pictures as I was soon joined by Sy and Deborah not too long afterward. We proceeded to chop it up with my family and enjoy the remainder of the show…. But uhhh, one of the highlights and my personal favorite moments of the entire night was watching +FE’s Director of Operations, Aimee Flint hit the “Baba Oje dance” (skip to 3:36) in the stands with us at the end of Arrested Development’s “People Everyday”… And y’all know exactly what I’m talkin’ about too – the dance he does at the end of said video to accompany his chanting.  She had the shit down PAT!!! We were loving it so much, we couldn’t do anything but join her…

Ok now… The post-show meal came in the form of one of my favorite Downtown Detroit spots…. Bucharest Grill. Phonte and Tim Scott Jr. became instant believers after I successfully put on to their famous chicken shawarmas. C’LAWD!!!!!! Those two brovahs damn near cleaned their plates by the time I had returned back to our table from the bar with drainks! The Bucharest meal accompanied by a strong rum & coke was an excellent ending to another near perfect day and performance by The Foreign Exchange. I’m always looking forward to the next one… Detroit, we love y’all and we’ll see you again in 2013…!!!

PHOTOS from +FE’s Performance at Chene Park