The bookends of my week were Sunday, the Strength of a Woman Tour (Mary J. Blige & Lalah Hathaway) and Friday, Rachelle Ferrell (RF), both very moving experiences. At Rachelle’s 7pm set, I found myself wanting to write. I wanted to do the physical act of pushing pen over paper, so, as she performed I wrote a little, but when things got real I stopped writing in real-time and finished it on the train home. I haven’t done much with this, it just is what it is. Raw. I move in and out of present and past tense, but I trust my sentiment and reflections are palatable.
Rachelle Farrell came on this City Winery stage seeming a lil unsettled and out of sorts. Ma is regular, no frills no extra, looking like she just stepped off the tour bus and onto the stage with a “clear” drink in hand and her cell phone in tow. Which, I think if you have a skillset like hers, you can come out in a fleece hooded-footie-onsie and no one should have a darn thing to say. Which, on the real, ain’t ish regular about RF but this ensemble she has on.
With craft and precision she’s taking her time warming up her instrument, her voice, as she settles into, “So Satisfied.” She’s kept it simple with the band, only 3 musicians, commenting that the bass and drums are the foundation. As I’ve said before about her voice, her vocal acrobatics and the time she’s taken to explore and uncover parts of her voice and range is, awe-inspiring. I love seeing her live because she is not only a technician, she is also guided by ancestors and spirit. She radiates…oozes a deep seeded soul-knowing that maybe she doesn’t even know the depth.
Whenever I see her live, which is not often cos she doesn’t tour often, but when she comes through Chicago, I try my darnedest to see her even if I cannot get good seats, I just want to be here. I’m glad she’s here at the Winery. I like Chicago’s west loop, City Winery; I call it my artist date dip-off spot. It’s one of the places I can take myself on a date to see live music and rarely be noticed. I usually get the same exact seat and order the same exact thing on the menu, and sometimes, I get a lil fancy with a wine pairing with my meal.
She takes her time with “Sista,” such care in the enunciation and breath control of one of my favs.
“What if Bobby McFerrin and Rachelle Ferrell had a baby, who would it be?”
Ladies pops into my mind.
Like Mary J. Blige, earlier in the week, Rachelle is celebrating us, speaking truths of Black womyn and our bond as sistas. And like Mary, she also brings in the male energy, not to de-center sistas, but to speak of our experiences with men. RF said: “I love brothas tooo,” but she broadened her breadth with: “Sometimes I have to separate from men and call on my own masculine energy.”
I digress, I would be remiss not to mention the sistas who are at the table with me. Two older sistas, both with beautiful salt/pepper hair who were loving their red wine, and another sista who’d invited two of her friends, one of which is high as the price of the red-bottoms she’s wearing. Sus has an edge on her, and she has the munchies. She is also flip at the mouth and sometimes her commentary is brash, not comical, though her hair is laid and lined to perfection. Which, her hair and her mouf have nuffin to do with one another…lol lol lol. She doesn’t really want to be here, but her friend who invited her, is trying to “contain” her. Her friend thinks that if she just gave it a chance, she’ll enjoy herself.
*pause in my writing and then started back up*
Rachelle started talmbout brothas and the bass was sounding good to sis at the table. As she ate her kale salad and flatbread she threw her fork in the air and affirmed: “Yeah, that’s it right there. Play it like that. And let’s talk about these men, not all this sista stuff, cos these dudes out here be suckas, breaking our hearts and shit.” All I can do is look at her like, Um kay, how you really feel? Lol lol lol
Back on the stage: Rachelle Ferrell acknowledges whose city she’s in. She pays homage to Uncle Bernie (Bernie mac) and she really felt attuned to the spirit of Sam Cooke. She offers up an impromptu verse of “Darling You Send Me,” and shares that Mr. Cooke was the first to combine gospel with soul, and where would we be musically, without him. But then she takes it too far by acknowledging Michael Jordan, everyone at my table is like um, no. Yeah Jordan was great on the court, but as it relates to giving back to the city or the people, we weren’t feeling him as it relate to him being a “Chicagoan” on that level.
Since this was her first set, out of the two she’ll be doing tonight, I don’t know if she’ll actually play for us. There’s a baby grand piano and keyboard on stage but yeah, we can only wish….
*I stopped writing in real-time at this point, and wrote the rest on my train ride home*
When she went over to the piano I got really excited and couldn’t stop cheesing, and when she sat and started to play, “I Can Explain,” I had a yaaaaas, dere is a Gawd, moment.
She played and sang the shit outta that piano. She went to the bedroom, the streets and then, she went to church. The intensity of her playing increased and she felt it in her body as she swayed and moved back and forth often dropping her head and trying to shake off the feelings that were bubbling up. But she couldn’t contain them, there was no managing her emotions they crept into her fingertips…into her playing.
After “I Can Explain.” She got up from the piano and went back over to the standing mic, she took off her glasses and wiped her face, her eyes, with a black hand towel. She was still full though, her emotions still high. She said, “Glory and honor…praise to God.”
This is when it got real…
I was raised in the church and have been around church folk my entire life. Different denominations. Different schools of thought. Different doctrine, ideologies etc. I say this to say, I know everyone is not familiar with the nuances, and for some it can be scary or even comical. But what happened next, was spirit, energy, ancestors…God moving and when that happens it’s no controlling it.
Rachelle Ferrell “got happy,” “the holy ghost moved through her,” and she started “speaking in tongues.” She also kinda translated what she said in “tongues,” and it was clearly praise and worship because she talked about “the enemy” and “where 2 or more are gathered, and how, “spirit wants to be here.”
I understood this. Yes, a tad bit taken aback that we went from “I Can Explain” to her “shouting, dancing and praising Him,” but not scared or without understanding.
I digress even further, my week has been a very trying one, so I was trying to manage my own emotions while also being a container and hold space. But, when she started singing acapella, I chose to be fully present and receive this gift of song and affirmation for my own life and my week.
She sang, He Looks Beyond My Faults. This is one of my favorite gospel songs. The words of this song always place me in a space of supplication, gratitude and at peace.
Amazing Grace will always be my song of praise
For it was grace, that brought my liberty
I’ll never know just why He came to love me so
He looked beyond my fault and saw my need
I shall forever life mine eyes towards Calvary,
to view the cross where Jesus died for me,
how marvelous His grace that caught my falling soul;
He looked beyond all my faults and saw my needs, my needs.
[Hindsight: A quick internet search I found footage of her covering this song at another performance, but in seeing this footage, I realize how deep she was in praise and worship on Friday, because though she sang her face off on this footage and had the church organ accompanying her, the heart and urgency and presence on Friday was 10x’s greater than what’s on this video.]
As she sang the song acapella, and a presence moved across the audience, the people “got it.” At my table the sista who brought her two friends, me and the other sista found ourselves harmonizing as we sang along with Rachelle Farrell. It happened organically and at various points of Rachelle sanging, various folk in the audience, that had morphed into a summertime Vacation Bible Study congregation, released a: “Praise Him…,” and a “Let’em use you.”
On my heart was: Elegba is here. Someone(s) at the crossroad.
Rachelle shared: “I’m here too, I’m channeling with you and thank you for the gift of your intention. Thank you for acknowledgement. Laying on solid ground.”
After this song she had a better handle of her emotions. She sat at the keyboard, played and sang “Run to Me,” but spirit was still high and she was tryna be still(er), but as she played her legs flared. Then the tempo changed for the remix, it became a breakbeat and the musicians settled into a groove. She let out a loud shout as if it was sage—to clear space and energy. She danced a bit, did a soul clap, said a lil sumthin while introducing the musicians one last time and that was it.
The audience didn’t move, though Rachelle had left the stage.
We wanted more.
I guess we also wanted to process with one another.
We wanted to hold onto the temporal space we’d just co-created.
But, she didn’t come back out, and the lights and music were on, and slowly we began to file out of the performance space.
I’m grateful to have experienced this.
Ashe. Amen. Ameen. Namaste.