Tony! Toni! Tone!, All Grown Up, Look Forward To Playing The City's Afram Festival

July 02, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,

Lineups have changed, musical tastes have changed. But Tony! Toni! Tone! has turned 21, and founding member D'wayne Wiggins thinks that's pretty cool -- and maybe a little amazing.

"Toby! Toni! Tone! is legal, 21 years old," Wiggins says with a laugh over the phone from Oakland, Calif., where he, a brother and a cousin founded the R&B trio in 1988. "We are like the soul version of the Rolling Stones."

This weekend, the Tonys, as Wiggins refers to the group in shorthand, will be playing at Baltimore's eighth annual African-American Heritage Festival, part of a steady stream of musical talent that will also include Anita Baker, Teena Marie, En Vogue, Raheem DeVaughn, Terence Blanchard, Eric Roberson, Fertile Ground and Laura Izabor.

The three-day AFRAM Festival, which will include food, booths, and rides in addition to entertainment, begins at 4 p.m. Friday in lots B and C of the Camden Yards-M&T Bank Stadium Complex. Tony! Toni! Tone! is scheduled to take to the stage at 6:50 p.m. Saturday.

Wiggins, whose guitar and vocals have been key to the group's sound since the beginning, says fans will hear all the group's hits, most from their heyday in the early 1990s, as well as a few things they might not have heard before.

"We're going to give them a full taste of where we come from and where we're going," he promises. Doubtless, that will include such staples as 1990's seductive "It Never Rains in Southern California" and "Feels Good," as well as 1993's "If I Had No Loot." Fans might also hear snippets from the upcoming Tonys and Friends album, which Wiggins says could be out around Thanksgiving, featuring assists from such artists as Keyshia Cole, Slick Rick, Beyonce and Jamie Foxx.

True, original frontman Raphael Saddiq, Wiggins' brother, won't be there. But founding drummer Timothy Christian Riley, Wiggins' cousin, will. And while Saadiq left behind some pretty big shoes to fill, another Wiggins cousin, Amar Khalil, who joined the group in 1997, fits in just fine.

"We're all family," Wiggins says, with justifiable pride. "People, when they see us, they're like, 'Hey, is that Raphael?' And Amar, when he gets off and starts dancing, you'd think he's a little Michael Jackson."

This weekend, Wiggins notes, that family feeling should extend well beyond the stage. The Tonys love playing Baltimore, he says, because the city sends out the same sort of vibe they get when playing their hometown.

"I connect with Baltimore like it's Oakland," Wiggins says. "I look forward to playing there like you wouldn't understand. I just love the area. ... It's not so New York-y, you've got real folks out there."

While admitting it's something of a hoot thinking of the Tonys as elder statesmen, Wiggins insists there's nothing stodgy about their music. He says he continues to see its influence, and is especially pleased when a few notes or a couple of riffs from their catalog pop up in someone else's work.

"I think the hip-hop audience has been a major force to sustaining what the Tonys are," he says. "They are the reason a lot of our music is still reaching a young audience. I like to hear my beats under that rap stuff."

Which helps explain, Wiggins believes, why Tony! Toni! Tone! concerts always turn into a good time for everyone.

"You get people 17 to 60 years old," he says, "partying with us. It becomes like a little house party, it really does. Sometimes, you catch young kids who know these songs."

If you go

* 8th annual African-American Heritage Festival

* July 3-5 (Friday-Sunday) at lots B and C of the Camden Yards M&T Bank Stadium Complex.

* Hours: Friday, 4 p.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9 p.m.

* General admission is $5, free for kids 12 and under; preferred seating for the musical acts is available for $40-$80

* Information, including a full schedule of performances: 410-235-4427, ext. 211, or

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