There are some folks who you should always listen to when they offer advice and insights. They have a knack for getting it right and in the process illuminate our lives with their wisdom. In the Bay Area, lovers of the FUNK have learned to keep their ears tuned to whatever the organizers of the annual San Francisco Funk Festival have to say. In only three short years they have assembled a singular line-up of soul troopers to fight the very good fight and turn EVERY mother out each Fall.

DJ Motion Potion
"This year's event is as focused on funk's history as its future," states Funk Fest Director Robert Kowal (a.k.a. the bumpin' good DJ Motion Potion). "Events like the Last Poets-Blackalicious MC's-Youth Speaks offer three generations of conscious rap. The Grandmaster Flash-Greyboy night is classic old school vs. new school. Plus, we have some absolutely serious old school heavyweights in Mandrill and the Headhunters."

After setting it off with an opening party with Top Four Flights and DJ Cool Chris, the festival proper hits the Great American Music Hall on October 10, with the first of its theme nights, "Fusion Funk." Steering the mothership through the treacherous waters of fusion will be beloved West Coaster DJ Greyboy and Herbie Hancock's old sparring partners The Headhunters, who'll be laying out their new material alongside crowd pleasers "God Make Me Funky" and "Watermelon Man." With the towering drumming of Mike Clark anchoring it all, it's sure to be a return to days left behind along with that dashiki in your closet.

Grandmaster Flash
DJ culture gets its due on Saturday, October 11th, when one of the greatest conflagrations of turntablists meets to shatter sound and show there's grooves within grooves within grooves. This "House Party" takes place at Kelly's Mission Rock and will feature amongst others Ubiquity Records guru Andrew Jervis, DJ Zeph, Motion Potion, and the grandest of granddaddies for the vinyl set, DJ Grandmaster Flash.

The other half of the hip-hop dyad gets its due Wednesday, October 15, at the Great American again, when "The Living Word" drops verbal bombs on an attentive audience. There might not be a rap culture as we know it if The Last Poets hadn't cried "Wake Up, Niggers" in 1970. Joining them will be some true inheritors of their mantle, Gift of Gab and Lateef the Truth Speaker of the Soulsides/ Blackalicious crew. Rounding out the night is Youth Speaks, an exciting organization that gives voice to young people in a creative, positive manner.

"World Funk" steers the funk into global cross-pollination on Friday, October 17th, when stoopid baaaad Mandrill lays it down with Vivendo de Pao, one of the Bay Area's sauciest ensembles, opening it up with the flavors of Oakland and Brazil simmered to perfection. Later there's visits to New Orleans with Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes on Saturday, October 18th, and "Urban Soul" gets a drive through city streets on Friday, October 24th, as the Soul of John Black performs at the Elbo Room.

Everything wraps up at glorious red velvet Bimbo's 365 Club on Saturday, October 25th, with a one-two punch of Robert Walter's 20th Congress and Will Bernard & Motherbug, both major league modern heavyweights that perfectly balance the pressures of holding down tradition while continuing to forge one's own road.

Surprises are bound to pop up at nearly every event at this year's festival. Half the fun of being in the crowd at a Funk Fest gig is the crazy, blood-pumping, inspired madness that takes hold of performers and attendees both. And even the organizers themselves find a few surprises just putting it all together. What is the most interesting thing you've discovered this time out, the third gathering of funkateers in the City-by-the-Bay?

"Maybe how excited everyone seems to be that we are still alive, kicking, and kicking ass," says Kowal. "A lot of things like this have been TRIED before, and then they fade away. I think the media and our peers have been surprised we are still at it, and have booked our best lineup ever."

Dennis Cook
JamBase | Bay Area
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[Published on: 10/8/03]

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