The experience included a classy ambience, a historic venue, friendly people, and brilliantly talented musicians. This past Saturday was honestly the most enjoyable outing I have had in the three years I have lived in Washington, DC. So, let’s go on with the story.
Esperanza Spalding, whom I have praised a number of times here and here, is currently on tour for her recent album “Radio Music Society.” I attended her concert on May 12th at The Howard Theatre and was blown away.
Let’s begin with the venue. The Howard Theatre re-opened this past April after two years – $29 million – of renovations. It originally opened in 1910 and was dubbed as the “Theater of the People.” In its heyday the theatre hosted performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and many others. The restoration, architecture, and design were created by Martinez + Johnson Architecture and Marshall Moya Design. In my opinion, they did a magnificent job with the theatre. They were able to revive its historical value and authentic character with a modern flair of elegance and soul.
Before you enter the building, a red carpet and a friendly gentleman wearing a sharp suit is waiting to direct you to the entrance. The lobby is wall-to-wall marble. The box office is adorned with two large portraits of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. As you continue following the red carpet, a large flat screen shows images of upcoming performances. The groove of neo-soul and happy chatter gradually becomes louder as you enter the main floor to give your ticket to another gentleman wearing a sharp suit. You then have the option of turning left into the main room or taking the stairs to the right. I chose to start at the left.
I honestly felt as if I was stepping into another realm. Every intricate detail of the space was designed to contribute to the overall experience. The lighting was dim enough to not need sunglasses but still radiant to prevent accidentally walking into a wall. The sound system was fabulous and had a great playlist of old and new favorites ranging from jazz to soul to R&B. Elegant booths line both sides of the ground floor, all of which were taken by the time I got there. The bar is decorated with marble and two large portraits of James Brown and B.B. King. The center of the room holds the dance floor, which leads to a stage draped with blue velvet curtains. I then decided to check upstairs.
The second floor also has an elegant bar with two large portraits of Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald. There are two tiers of booths situated on an incline so that everyone has a clear view of the stage regardless of where they are seated or standing. I did not eat, but there were some delicious plates walking around, including steak, shrimp cocktail, and salads. This venue really has everything covered for a full experience. Everyone who works there are very helpful and personable. They are also great with compliments.
Now for the performance. If you are at any event where Esperanza Spalding is set to appear, you are guaranteed a great time. This was extra special because I was standing right next to the stage for the entire show. Granted I did not realize I would be standing the whole time, thus I was literally leaning on the stage due to the platform heels I was sporting, but it was completely worth it. The stage was set with a large facade of a radio that served as the music stand for all the wind instruments.
Esperanza and her band are so talented. In my opinion, jazz is a genre that emphasizes and personifies the art of music in regards to collective harmonies and individual improvisation while leaving a little room to expand in any direction the artist chooses. I think one of the reasons why Esperanza has such a large and devoted following is because she takes that room for expansion and raises it to another level that is refreshing and enjoyable. Her most recent album has more of an upbeat character and a conscious message. I loved how she transitioned each song as if they were all segments of a main story. We were even educated on the numbers of people who currently are enslaved and the reality of the Trayvon Martin case. Seamlessly playing the bass, singing, and conducting the band, Esperanza had each of her band members showcase their solo skills, as if they were sharing their own story through music. The audience, if you already guessed, enjoyed every moment of it.
Once the show ended, I went back to the lobby to buy a poster. A portion of the proceeds of her merchandise go to an organization called Free the Slaves. While I was in line I overheard many people mentioning that she will be upstairs doing autographs. I went upstairs to find a pretty full line. After a little wait, Esperanza came out, sat down at a little table with a tea-cup, and started signing autographs. When it was my turn she exclaimed, “Oh my. I love your hair.” She then touched my hair, after asking of course. I now know that my hair will definitely grow as long and beautiful as hers. She was so nice and down-to-earth. I of course praised her show and music while she was signing my poster. She said “thank you” and blew me kiss. This marks the first time I meet one of my inspirations and get an autograph. It was wonderful.
If you are into good music and/or classy venues, I highly recommend you check out The Howard Theatre in Washington, DC and see Esperanza Spalding in your area. If you are lucky to experience both at the same time, you are in for a very special treat.
Below are some photographs I took at the event.