By Taryn Peters
Assistant Music Director
From the beginning, it was easy to tell that Jean Grae was going to put on a unique show. Grae walked onto the stage like it was her own living room, wearing a cut-up Siouxsie and the Banshees T-shirt and carrying a mason-jar-shaped tumbler cup. Immediately she began talking to the audience at Austin’s Empire Control Room as if they were all long-time friends; she was honest, unfiltered, witty and humorous.
The introduction consisted of not a song but a brief set of rules laid out by Ms. Grae. She requested that everyone who liked to watch shows through their phones put them away and focus on having a good time. (That was the censored paraphrasing of her words.) Another one of her demands was that everyone be enthusiastic throughout the entire show, which wasn’t very hard with her commanding the stage.
After a few minutes of characteristically warming up the crowd she began her first song, “Uh Oh.” Then she stopped mid-song after noticing there wasn’t full participation from the audience. “Now I’ve got to start all over,” Grae said as she walked off. Seconds later, she popped back on stage to a high energy crowd that didn’t weaken for the rest of the night.
To take a break from the more aggressive, fast-paced part of the show, Grae looked to her DJ and asked him to play some “popular love songs” from today’s hip hop. Jokingly, he played K Camp’s “Cut Her Off” before playing a few hip-hop classics. She then performed a couple of her own love songs, including the break-up song “So Glad It’s Over” off her latest EP “jeannie.”
Before going into “U & Me & Everyone We Know,” Grae picked four people out of the crowd to come on stage and be her two-stepping background dancers. She was about to boot one of the dancers off stage for not being able to keep up with the others when the young woman, Faith, said she had recently been in a wheelchair due to a struggle with CNS Lupus. Admiring her for her strength, Grae hugged her while calling the audience “assholes” for nearly booing Faith off stage prior to the knowledge of her condition.
Grae had Faith stand by her side throughout the entire song, holding her hand and helping her two-step along the way. It was a touching sight, but Faith’s moment on stage would only become more inspiring.
Before the dancers left the stage, Grae thanked them and turned to Faith. Unprompted, Faith took control of the mic and gave the crowd a short, motivational message, encouraging people to chase their dreams and be all they can be. The audience cheered her on in what was a rare occurrence of vulnerable emotion at a hip-hop show.
A misty-eyed Grae joked, “there’s no tears in rap, Faith! You’re f****** up my street cred.”
After Faith’s influential moment, Grae prepped the crowd for the finale: a Soul Train line. She split the audience straight down the middle and the DJ played “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz. Then the magic happened.
The rest can’t be explained, it can only be experienced.
The purpose of the Weird City Fest was to celebrate an under-appreciated and undervalued culture that has had a significant impact on society: hip hop.
Hip hop is based on aspects of real life: love, unity, emotion, struggle, empowerment, expression. Hip hop is an art. Grae embodied every bit of hip hop during her set at the inaugural Weird City Festival.
The show flowed so naturally and comfortably that it seemed flawless. Grae’s crowd control and audience interaction was effortless. She kept the room’s attention throughout the show, which felt more like a kickback at a friend’s house. People were dancing, laughing and having a good time. It was a beautiful experience, and a great way to help close out the festival. Thank you, Jean Grae, for an extremely dope show.