Not a Music Journalist but… What’s Going On With This Tribute?

Discussion of the show begins with a RANT.
Google Navigator provided the most convuluted directons known to woman for the Ferst Center at Georgia Tech.  I was in a full-blown panic upon reaching the venue, believing that I’d missed part of the performance, I was wrong.  The will-call line was out the door at 8:10 for a show that started at 8:00 pm.  Which leads to rant #2.  The show didn’t start until 8:44 pm AND they had run out of programs.  What you see in the photo was one I got from a guy sitting in front of me, who made me BEG, just to look at it.  Rant #3 having attended the show solo, I was in between a couple and a group of three dudes.  The male half of the couple, gave me a tongue lashing because my phone was too bright (I was using it for photos and notes).  This same guy had nerve to talk considering the blinding I received from his cornflower blue shoes.  The gentleman to my right, likely a student, was drunk or either hungover because he slept through the entire performance and was making some curious twitching moves while sleeping.
With all that you’d forget there was a show going on but there was, A Tribute to Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?
Welcome/Master of Ceremonies – Harold Watkins, the founder of Invictus Productions (producer of the show) was living in Detroit when What’s Going On? was released in 1971.  He and his brother went to a local record shop and purchased the album, which he presented to he crowd to the sound of thunderous applause.   Watkins introduced the MC for the evening, Jamal Ahmad (pronounced Ahmed).  Ahmad hosts the Soul of Jazz on 91.9 WCLK in Atlanta.  It is his show, solely (in my opinion) that is responsible for exposing Atlanta listeners to the likes of Avery Sunshine and Julie Dexter. The show streams live and I highly recommend that you give it a listen.
What’s Going On? was performed in it’s entirety by Atlanta favorites (those who reside here and those that we love here).  Here’s how it went down.
What’s Going On? – The Darryl Reeves Group: Reeves and the band during first half of the selection played in an understated fashion.  If you didn’t know the song it was almost unrecognizable because the tempo was so slow.  Yet in the second half the band shifted gears building to what could be considered a sense of urgency.
What’s Happening Brother – Joey Sommerville: Sommerville is Mr. Atlanta Jazz, well known and much loved in the city.  I’ve never seen him perform but have heard him plenty on WCLK.  His performance of What’s Happening Brother was a rousing affair.  He pretty much got the crowd into full froth with his showmanship and playing.
Flying High In the Friendly Sky – Rahbi: First I had to get past the fact that the young man came out as bedazzled Marvin, with wings attached to his back – WHEW! I wasn’t close enough to get a good photo but his costume was reminiscent of this one.

 (via and was really out of this world.  Rahbi’s wings though were appropro, he gave a beautiful almost angeli falsetto on Flying High.
Save the Children – Julie Dexter: Atlanta’s own (via Birmingham, England) gave a jazzy but too short performance of Save the Children. As soon as she went into scat mode the song was over.
God is Love – Carmen Rodgers: is new to me, but may not be for you.  I had a hard time hearing her.
Mercy Mercy Me – The Darryl Reeves Group and Avery Sunshine: it is a shame, I am a fan and had never seen her live until now.  Her performance of Mercy Mercy Me, was beautiful, clear, massive, too massive for how short the performance of the song was.  In her brief appearance she lit up the stage.
Right On – Anthony David: they could not get David’s microphone right and as much as I dig him, his performance of this song was pretty dry.  He just didn’t seem into it and with the mic issues, I couldn’t hear him very well.
Wholy Holy – Kipper Jones: Lay people, like me would not know this guy, but he got his chops writing for the likes of Brandy and Vanessa Williams and was a session singer at Motown.  On this night however he blessed the crowd with his rendition of Wholy Holy and Jones took us to church.  He flat out SANG the song.
Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler) – Phonte: blue shoes sitting next to me, didn’t feel it but the crowd went back into frenzy mode. Phonte sang capturing the essence of Marvin.  He rapped, a verse from Foreign Exchange’s Be Alright (Connected 2004), he hyped the crowd and brought humor while reiterating the relevance of the album for 1971 and for 2011.  He gave a great performance and the only one that wasn’t shortened.
Finale – all performers were brought back to the stage for a reprise of What’s Going On with two surprise additions: Donnie who sang a sentence and made me hyperventilate and India.Arie who was last to bless the mic as we exited the theater. The appearance of Donnie and Arie left me wondering, how different would this how have been had they performed in the main line-up.
Overall the show was decent and not great or even good the album was performed to the specs of the original.  Outside of Inner City Blues and the Finale, the songs were not performed in concert time but in album time of which the original was around 40 minutes.  With the break for the MC in the middle, and remarks at the end the audience was leaving the venue at 10:00 pm.  There were some standout performances however short, from Joey Sommerville, Avery Sunshine, Kipper Jones and Phonte.  It was nice to hear Marvin’s music from a variety of artists in one place, however considering the importance of What’s Going On to multiple generations and it’s landmark status, the show missed the mark in terms of execution.
Did you attend the show in Atlanta? Has there been a tribute show in your city in which you were in attendance? If so let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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One thought on “Not a Music Journalist but… What’s Going On With This Tribute?

  1. I attended the show. As a die hard Marvin Gaye fan, I was pleased with the performance. Yes, some were short but as you pointed out, that was to keep with the original theme of the album. I thought the band was great and the slow start was intentional to wrap the crowd in.

    Kipper Jones and Avery Sunshine just lit up the stage. They were spectacular. Phonte really surprised me with his performance. I was impressed. He is amazing live with The Foreign Exchange and are a must see.

    One thing I can say was that I am very thankful it started at 8:44 pm because I was late. I would have missed the whole show if they started on time! Hahaha! Nice write up. You kept it real.

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