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I saw Original P with openers Ken Staton and his James Brown Revue for free at Fort Dupont Park in Anacostia Saturday night July 18. I was not intending to write it up, but it was such an exciting and interesting event that I gotta share. Yes, it was just an oldies tribute show, but it was one with the headliners doing an impressive job of delivering the best of the P-Funk catalogue for the 4,000 or so folks in attendance, many of whom happily sang along. Opener Ken Staton and his James Brown revue are a local act that did well-sung and played but otherwise unsensational takes on James Brown hits. “Original P” (photo is from a Baltimore 2007 show) is a large band that includes two founding singers from George Clinton’s 1955 formed Parliaments, Grady Thomas and Fuzzy Haskins, who stayed with George through the 1970s and beginning of the ‘80s glory days of Parliament and Funkadelic. Likely, for financial reasons, they split off from George around 1998 with two other original Parliament vocalists, Calvin Simon and Ray Davis. Since then, Simon left the group to become a gospel solo artist and Ray Davis died. Their group does not include well-known George Clinton associates Bootsy Collins or Bernie Worrell.
Wearing floppy hats and late 70s era clothing (and who know what else—was that a diaper—-as we were pretty far back for most of the show), Original P visually offered a bit of the late seventies craziness that was P-Funk. The group included a dancing female dwarf, a keytar player, and various other instrumentalists. They performed the occasionally meandering, gloriously ragged psychedelic funk-rock of Funkadelic and the catchy, often sampled for rap songs, funky r’n’b of Parliament. While the lengthy guitar solo- filled numbers sent a percentage of attendees heading out early to beat the gridlock, some raw and gritty bass-filled jams like “Cosmic Slop” and “Standing on the Verge,” inspired dancing. You bet there was a call and response for “Tear the Roof off the Sucker” (“we don’t need no water, let the mother-f-er burn”). This night was certainly memory lane for the mostly late 30s and up age crowd burning incense sticks and waving glow-in-the dark necklaces as the group rendered timeless hits such as “Flashlight,” and “Atomic Dog,” (yep, lots of barking). However, this seemed to be more than an oldies show. Ever since 1975’s Parliament album and song Chocolate City, P-Funk has had a special relevancy for a large demographic in DC and a little bit of that post-riot era self-determination aura was present adding to the electricity in the air.
So one other thing, for what its worth, me and my two buddies were some of the only white folks there (I literally counted seven including us and not including the Park Service employees). Yes, I recognize that African-Americans face this being the minority situation regularly and no, I am not trying to make any equivalence. No, I do not want to get into a discussion of which ethnicities, races, and classes are mainly interested in whichever genres (and how country and metal get no respect either). I know that some record-collecting geek purists do not bother with going out for retrospective oldies gigs. Yes, a woman wanted to take her picture with us, and a guy wanted me to know that P-Funk members played guitar as well as Led Zeppelin, but most people paid us no mind. There were not many white folks in the audience when I saw P-Funk with special guest Sly Stone at the Capital Centre in 1981 either. However, I thought that by now with P-Funk music having crossed over via association with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and countless George Clinton 930 club appearances, things would be different. But I guess while I recognize that it is safe to go to old-school shows at Fort Dupont (me and my buddies have been there before), to many, I am guessing, it is still just an un-gentrified not for “us” part of the city. Or maybe there is less interest in P-funk from Caucasians than I thought (although the number of old-school funk dj events in hipster NW clubs would seem to suggest otherwise). I have attended ‘70s velour soul oldies shows at Constitution Hall, and bluesy soul shows at Showplace Arena in recent years where I was also in the miniscule minority, so who knows. I am not trying to pat myself on the back and nor am I “slumming,” I’m just a music fan. But what I do know (if I must get on a soapbox) is that every time you read about Fort Reno and Wolf Trap shows symbolizing summer concerts in the DC area, you should also remember Carter Barron and Fort Dupont and hope they get mentioned too.