Saturday, September 13, 2014

After stormy delay OutKast rules Funk Fest stage Friday

Thankfully for patient but wet ticket holders, day one of Charlotte's second annual Funk Fest didn't succumb to rain Friday at Metroline Expo. The concert promoter and performers waited it out through the storm and didn't cancel the show despite a two hour delay for the headliner. Because really? Who wants to tell thousands of fans that they aren't going to see OutKast after waiting, not just two hours, but for well over a decade for the group to even tour again much less play Charlotte.

Until mid-evening it looked as if the outdoor festival might dodge the rainy forecast completely. The sun was beating down during Salt N' Pepa's late afternoon set during which the duo capped a string of hits with Kirk Franklin's fiery gospel anthem "Stomp." By the time Fantasia went on the schedule was already 45 minutes behind, but for those stuck in traffic getting into the parking lot when Salt N' Pepa were scheduled to hit the stage the delay was a blessing.

Backed by a full band that included horns and backup singers and wearing a sequined white Vegas showgirl-meets-Tina Turner mini dress and headband, Fantasia (above) wowed a hometown crowd and brought a bit of funk and old school soul to Funk Fest. When she dropped a snippet of Drake's "Started from the Bottom" into "Without You" my friend said, "Now that means something!"

Fantasia's past may make it hard to shake her underdog status, but she's become a Grammy winning pro whether giving her vocals a break and letting her band take the lead on an `80s medley of "Nasty Girl," "In My House," "Glamorous Life," and "The Bird" (the latter in Morris Day's absence) or raising the crowd to its feet during the modern classic "Lose to Win."

Doug E. Fresh (above) again proved that he doesn't bill himself as the World's Greatest Entertainer and the Human Beatbox for nothing. He soared at both as part emcee, part rapper, part comic, and marathon beatboxer. He appropriately adopted Cali Swag District's "Teach Me How to Dougie" and had the entire crowd on its feet as he closed his set.

It was during Fresh's set that a man in front of me folded up his lawn chair, packed it in its bag, looked me in the eye and said, "In 30 minutes, this place will be shut down." Thankfully he was partly wrong. As clouds loomed and lightning struck in the distance, an announcer informed the crowd that they were herding upper level ticket holders into the buildings on the Metrolina Expo's grounds (where they regularly hold flea markets). Those with general admission tickets were encouraged to find shelter. They huddled under metal awnings between buildings, while others braved the rain - which eventually did come - under umbrellas debating when and if promoters would cancel the show.

Roughly an hour and a half later B.O.B. (lighting up above) took the stage in a drizzle. He had his work cut out for him given the soggy, tired crowd, but won over those who, as his DJ said, consider him more of "pop star" than a rapper. His breakthrough hit "Nothin' On You" was as pop as he got, opting not to include "Airplanes." And anyone that was still on the fence as he waded into the crowd for the finale of "Still In This Bitch" was probably bouncing up and down with fists raised along with him as he shouted "They tried to shut us down about an hour ago/But we still in this bitch."

The wait for OutKast was tiresome, but worth it once the duo took the stage backed by a full band at 11:20 - two hours and five minutes after its advertised start time. Five months into their reunion Andre 3000 and Big Boi (pictured at top) were already more enthusiastic, comfortable and energetic than during their Coachella debut in April bounding into the fitting opener of "B.O.B."

They charged through "Gasoline Dreams" as the rain started back up. Dancing lasers appeared to sparkle above the crowd reflecting drops of rain. Images of Gene Kelly came to mind in the sea of umbrellas dancing in the rain. One fan pulled a detached Power 98 banner over their head. The rain came and went, but no one really cared. It somehow gave more power to the image of Andre 3000 crooning tracks like "Prototype" projected through lines of rain on the big screens during his solo portion. Wearing a black jumpsuit with the words "Hiders of Pain" printed on it, he seemed to revel in performing again. He even restarted "Hey Ya!" with a grin when the crowd didn't start dancing the first time.

Longtime collaborator Sleepy Brown joined them for "SpottiOttieDopaliscious," for Big Boi's "The Way You Move," and during an old school medley toward the end of the show. Of course they hit on all the expected "Ms. Jackson," "Roses," "Rosa Parks," and "So Fresh, So Clean" before the finale of "The Whole World."

It was approaching 1 a.m. - which honestly echoes the vibe of a Coachella or Bonnaroo - and the crowd left wet and tired, but they got their OutKast and that was really all that mattered in the end. Sadly some fans that arrived during the wait just to see OutKast were under the impression that the show had been cancelled and returned home.

Funk Fest continues Saturday with LL Cool J., Ice Cube and the Roots headlining following sets from 112, 69 Boyz, and War. There's a fifty percent chance of rain all day. Let's hope it's not enough to derail the show.

Photos by Lukas Johnson.