Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings perform Saturday at the Silopanna… (Jacob Blickenstaff, Handout…)
Note: Due to weather, this year's Silopanna Music Festival has been canceled.
Judging by the charts in recent years, it seems as though America has rediscovered soul and funk.
Cee Lo Green, Janelle Monae, Bruno Mars — even Grace Potter and Fitz and the Tantrums — have found mainstream success with music inspired, occasionally lifted from and mostly in debt to the sounds that dominated the '60s and early '70s.
To Sharon Jones, the indefatigable lead singer of the Dap-Kings, it just seems like the world has caught up with her and her band. This is the music she's been practicing, living and making a living from for nearly two decades.
Since their 2007 independently released album, "100 Days, 100 Nights," Jones and her band have been on a tear. Last year's "I Learned the Hard Way" reached No. 15 on the Billboard 200, more than 100 slots above the peak ranking of "100 Days."
And though she and the band have toured the world, the album's success has taken them to increasingly larger stages. In the past year, they've performed alongside Stevie Wonder and Prince. And on Saturday, she'll headline the new Silopanna Music Festival in Annapolis, where Fitz and the Tantrums, Trombone Shorty and punk duo Matt & Kim, among others, will perform.
"We know we started something 16 years ago, and now it's a trend and now we're getting our recognition," she said. "Not fast enough, but it's happening."
Jones, 55, has been working for years. In 1996, she was singing backup for soul legend Lee Fields. When she and the Dap-Kings landed a summer residency at a Barcelona club in 2001, "there were maybe two or three groups doing soul music, imitating that sound," she said.
A few years later, Amy Winehouse's producer, Mark Ronson, was looking for that sound for the singer's album "Back to Black" but couldn't find it. Jones said, "He had to come to our studio to get it. He knew our band understood it."
The Dap-Kings were eventually featured on six of the album's tracks, and its worldwide success helped set the stage for major labels to pick up on soul and funk again.
Jones and the Dap-Kings didn't capitalize immediately on the renewed interest. They wanted to release all their albums independently, which meant their rise has been a slow one. But going it alone is just how Jones likes it.
Most record companies "don't know a damn thing about soul music," she said. "I don't think I could do what I'm doing with a major label. They have a tendency to want to do what they think is right."
The Dap-Kings' albums have a familiar sound to them, like they've been rescued from some dusty basement at Motown Records. But they're no novelty acts. The urgency of the songs is an affirmation of the timelessness of funk and soul. Jones' voice, in particular, is arresting, imbued with overpowering strength of character. She sings the way she talks: fast and loose.
"I'm not trying to be a pop singer," she said. "I think it comes naturally. I just open my mouth, and it comes out. When people tell me, 'You're retro,' I'm like, 'Huh?' There's nothing retro about me. I just feel it. That's what soul music is. It's all about feeling."
Where Jones and the Dap-Kings have made their biggest mark is on the stage, where the singer has all the brio and drama of a preacher.
That energy has brought them their highest-profile gigs. Prince recruited them to open for him in January.
"He was walking in Austin and he saw us perform, and he told me, "'Girl, you took me to church.'" According to his purple majesty, Jones' "When I Come Home" is "the funkiest blues song."
"That was my first 'I don't know what to do with myself' moment," Jones recalled.
In July, she had another one when she performed with Stevie Wonder at the Hollywood Bowl.
"We sang 'Mercy Mercy Me' and 'What's Going On.' Stevie took a bar, took a bar," she said. "It was one of the greatest nights."
Since the release of "100 Days," Jones said the longest break they've taken was one month in 2008.
"I don't even count anymore. I remember one year we did 200 something gigs. And that was a few years ago," she said.
After she performs in Annapolis — a show she said will be about two hours, with a mix of old and newer material — Jones said they'll go into the studio in September to record a new album for an early 2012 release. Then it's back on the road.
She doesn't know if she'll be able to keep up with this pace in 10 years — "I'm 55. … I get off the stage, and there's this stiffness," she said — but touring is essential right now.
"That's our income," she said. "The more jobs you do, the better. Sure, we have royalties, but we're an indie label. There are no millions."
If you go
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings perform at 9:30 p.m. Saturday on the main stage of the Silopanna Music Festival at Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, 1450 Generals Highway, Crownsville. Tickets are $39.50. Call 410-244-1131 or go to silopannafest.com. For a full lineup, go to baltimoresun.com/midnightsun.