The Long Beach Funk Fest has become a great tradition in downtown Long Beach. Over the last four years, immense respect has been paid to the pioneers of funk who essentially laid the groundwork for the wealth of hip-hop and soul that followed in its wake. Without many of these performers, we would be wallowing in a strange, soulless place (Well, at least stranger and soullesser than we got now). This year is no exception to the tradition with a sturdy lineup of bonafide funk greats ready to sweat it out with the masses on Pine Avenue on Saturday. The Funk Fests commitment to preservation of these great sounds should not be taken for granted. And if that isn't enough there will be fire dancers, DJs and fireworks. Here's to many more years.
The Blackbyrds earned their 'y' from recently departed jazz legend Donald Byrd. A mentor and inspiration to the band, they formed forty years ago, applying Dr. Byrd's genre-bending fusion ideas, peaking in 1975 with the million selling “Walking In Rhythm.” Their recordings became a go-to source for hip-hop with everyone from De La Soul to Wiz Khalifa sampling their smooth sounds. Members of the group reconvened in 2007 for a pair of albums and have continued to perform since.
Bernie Worrell Orchestra
Keyboardist Bernie Worrell is a founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic. That's kind of all that needs to be said. It's a pretty straight line from Worrell's unmistakable keyboard to Dr. Dre's multi-million dollar donation to USC. Without Worrell, albums like the Chronic wouldn't be the same. His whirring, intergalactic sounds defined P-funk. Worrell also lent his sounds to New Wavers like the Talking Heads and Fred Schneider for several years and has been playing nonstop since the early 70s. With a single note, Worrell can be spotted from a mile away.
Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
Soulman Charles Wright is a southern California treasure. He proudly waved his Watts roots in the mid 1960s and scored several top ten hits like “Do Your Thing” and “Love Land” but it was “Express Yourself” that became an anthem in 1970. The bopping ebullience is hard to resist and many folks have made use of it. Wright's nephew, Eazy-E, put his uncle's hit to good use, reimagining the tune with NWA in the late 1980s to perhaps even greater recognition. In 50+ years of performing, Wright has employed some of the best (Bobby Womack, James Gadson) and strangest (Captain of Captain & Tenille) and though he is in his early 70s he enthusiastically carries the torch for Watts and decades of soul.
Depending on the track he is playing at the time, Shuggie Otis is a jazzman, blues guitarist or psychedlic soul wizard. Otis made a name for himself as a teenaged guitar slinger passing up offers from the Rolling Stones in order to make a name for himself beyond his father Johnny's legend. He succeeded with the release of three albums including the irrepressibly funky Inspiration Information when he was 21 years-old. And then he went quiet. After a brief attempt at a revival in the early 00s, Otis has returned with greater vigor this year, appearing frequently around Los Angeles and working at solidifying his legacy. He can still make that guitar scream when it needs to.
For tickets to this year's Long Beach Funk Fest, click here.