The crowd, Tasting the Soul
Seven years later it’s proving to be much more than a festival
A week after the space Shuttle Endeavour was paraded through the city to its new resting place at the California Science Center, ‘the 7th annual ‘Taste of Soul’ has rocketed itself into a nation of its own establishing a cultural dynasty that drew an estimated 300,000 along Crenshaw Blvd. last Saturday.
Although the traditional event was held in the Los Angeles community, its antennas are far reaching with impressive voter registration drives, the inaugural StarQuest talent competition, trending on Twitter and escalating on Face Book with more than 60,000, serving as a powerful economic engine among African American small businesses and providing citizens with much valued transportation tips from Metro.
An early indicator of what ‘Taste of Soul’ Family Festival has become to the Los Angeles community occurred at roughly half past midnight on the morning of the event when two women canvassed Crenshaw Blvd. in search of where they would sit.
They agreed they would settle for the spot just north east of Wal-Mart on the grass, in clear view of the 94.7 FM Wave entertainment stage, and after an early morning drizzle had subsided and the scent of food vaporized the overcast sky, they were among a record crowd that eclipsed the 250,000 spectators in 2011.
After founder Danny Bakewell kicked off the 7th annual ‘Taste of Soul’ Family Festival just past 10 in the morning, declaring “ this is an event for you to come and share the love,” the bellowing of singing voices echoed from a variety of the stages and thus the Saturday in October which has become Los Angeles’ new normal had begun.
Of course, there is nothing normal about an event that clamps down city streets for over a mile radius, takes street merchants and transforms them into flourishing small businesses, and in essence provides six stages of concerts all for free.
By noon the crowd swelled to an estimated 175,000, and patrons continued to clog Crenshaw Blvd. As the day grew long, when the performances of StarQuest winners Adrian Battle and Beau Williams were complemented by the big time performance and smooth renditions of ‘The Tony Rich Project’ on the Wave Stage, and then supplemented by the surprise visit by all-time singing great Stevie Wonder on the KJLH stage served as a most fitting tribute to an event that magnetizes more African Americans than any other.
It had been a hush rumor most of the event that KJLH had a big surprise in store and program manager Karen Slade alluded to such without offering even the slightest of hints as to what was to come.
The fact that it would be the Grammy winning and undoubtedly, one of the greatest artists of all-time, the owner of KJLH, (Stevie) Wonder, afforded ‘Taste of Soul’ greater status as the premiere community entertainment event in the nation. He began his set with a melody consistent with the event theme of love to the ultimate delight of several thousands gathered at the KJLH stage perched on Rodeo Rd. and Crenshaw Blvd.
Other noted celebrities joining Wonder at ‘Taste of Soul’ included actor comedian, Kel Mitchell, actress-comedian Kym Whitley and R&B singer Ray J, who each served as host on the inaugural StarQuest stage, Guy Torey and musical pioneer Clarence Avant.
However, the event unfolding during a heated presidential election, which had African Americans anxious as to the fate of the first African American elected to the White House, took on additional meaning.
For the most part, ‘Taste of Soul’ offered Blacks and other Los Angelenos a spate of relief from the political rhetoric prior to the November 6 general election, but the seriousness of its consequences was not lost on local and federal officials who attended.
From a kid sitting at the edge of the sidewalk eating a funnel cake and an elderly lady sampling Harold and Belles seafood, a bevy of elected officials reminded the massive gathering of the power to vote.
“I think this is a wonderful occasion for our community and our neighbors to be reminded of their vested privilege to vote and make sure that their voices is heard,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas echoing his Democratic cohorts.
Congressional members Maxine Waters, Karen Bass, Laura Richardson, Council President Herb Wesson, Councilmembers Jan Perry and Bernard Parks and City Treasurer Wendy Gruel joined Ridley-Thomas on the Wave stage to offer similar passages. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was also in attendance.
“With over a quarter of a million people collectively feeling good about themselves is good for our health. The more people come together, crime goes down. The more people show love for each other, and not hating each other, provides a calming physiological impact,” said renown civil rights leader, The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stayed for the duration of the event.
Consistent with its past, ‘Taste of Soul’ brought together a varied generation of Blacks, from mothers pushing their infants in their strollers, to the elderly walking gingerly through the crowd, to the sprinting of young boys still wearing their Pop-Warner football uniforms.
Perhaps ‘Taste of Soul’ is more than just a street festival celebration of culture, but instead a statement of what can be accomplished when Blacks put their differences aside and embrace the concept of love.
A simple four letter word with a resonate meaning that can mend broken hearts, settle confused minds and heal wounded souls. A word better demonstrated than spoken softly.
L-O-V-E, a word that is more than a theme when it binds people and builds community.
At ‘Taste of Soul’ it is a word that has become the foundation for many to relax and rejoice what is good, wholesome and pure … offering a day to experience just how good things can be when we collectively gather for a common cause.
On this day, never have so many felt so good to be just one. On this day, the souls were full of the spirit of good, all the way to the very last sound bite.