Art Reigns

All the right notes, despite the weather

Pop music



First it sweltered, then it poured, but the weather seemed hardly to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds that descended on Artscape, Baltimore's 25th annual outdoor festival of the arts.

From funnel cakes to evening concerts there was much that was familiar along the Mount Royal Avenue corridor and elsewhere around the city - but there also were new touches including the 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel in front of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the fireworks on Friday's opening night.

We sent a team of arts writers - pop music critic Rashod Ollison, theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck, classical music critic Tim Smith, restaurant critic Elizabeth Large and art critic Glenn McNatt - to survey the scene. Here's what they thought.

About 15 minutes before funk-pop legend Teena Marie hit Artscape's main stage Friday night, a tall, husky guy climbed into a short tree, obstructing the view of some in the crowd. Several barked out orders for him to come down, but he waved them off and reclined on one of the tree's thick branches. The complaints and teases were all done in fun, for Artscape feels like one big family affair. And at such a gathering, you have eccentric characters and, of course, good music.

In its 25-year history, Artscape's organizers generally succeed at offering a nice mix of music, including what was perhaps this year's biggest draw, Chicago rapper Common. And Marie was a fine choice as well. Recently, the former Rick James protege has enjoyed a resurgence, releasing two well-received albums on the Cash Money Classics/Universal label: La Dona (2004) and Sapphire, released in May. R&B lovers over 35 would remember her '80s classics -- "Square Biz," "I Need Your Lovin'," "Portuguese Love." But young hip-hop heads probably know her music, too, because modern producers have sampled or interpolated so much of it.

Although the pacing of Marie's show lulled here and there, the self-proclaimed "ivory queen of soul" was in stellar voice throughout.

Where Friday night's hot, sultry weather was a perfect match for Marie's music, Saturday's rainstorm was an ill fit for the sunny music of Goapele. At dusk, sheets of rain fell during her energetic show. The dreadlocked urban singer-songwriter and her jazzy five-piece band performed cuts from her two Skyblaze/Sony CDs: Even Closer (2002) and Change It All, released in December. Although her songs started to blend after a while, Goapele's earthy amalgamation of '70s soul, jazz and hip-hop feels intoxicating most of the time.

She even sang one of acid jazz king Roy Ayers' numbers, "Everybody Loves the Sunshine." Ironically, toward the end of the song, the rain rushed down and sent folks running, including Goapele. But that didn't stop rapper Common, who's latest album, Be, was produced by Kanye West, from performing after the heavy rains slowed. In no time, and despite a drizzle, audience members were dancing again to his heady mix of progressive street poetry and soul-based music.

With a kind sun and occasional breezes, Sunday's weather was appropriate for the optimistic rock-reggae of Michael Franti and Spearhead, the last act on the main stage. Franti performed cuts from his new album, Yell Fire!, in stores tomorrow.

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