Not liking funk is akin to not liking sex. To many, this statement seems obvious, but one guy who heard me voice this observation vehemently disagreed with it, emphasizing hispoint with a punch to my scrotum. I could tell by the strong force of the blow that deep down he knew I was right.
Funk is the Viagra of musical genres. It is the libido liberator par excellence, the music that gets those primal juices flowing with unparalleled vitality. (The same can be said about its aural cousin, soul, which goes together with funk like cock in condom—or like spirituality and sex, if you want to take a more expansive, Prince-ly perspective.)
Need proof? Have you seen those episodes of Soul Train on the YouTube? Have you listened to any of the world's 19 million funk compilations detailing the funkateering—mostly during the reign of Richard M. Nixon—of countless artists, from James Brown to Iron Knowledge? There is ample evidence to back up my grandiose claim, for those with the ears and 'nads to hear and feel it. Ask the tens of thousands of hiphop producers who have sampled this fertile shit. There's an irrefutable reason for hiphop's popularity and durability, besides the rapping: It's built upon the utterly solid foundation of funk and soul (and, of course, to a lesser degree, jazz and rock).
So it brings me significant joy to note the abundance of funk and soul at this year's Bumbershoot. The lineup includes old-school masters like Booker T., Solomon Burke, Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, and the 30-plus-strong Seattle collective that is playing under the guise of Wheedle's Groove (parts of the Jennifer Maas–directed documentary of the same name will also be shown at the fest); earnest, righteous disciples like Milwaukee's Kings Go Forth, Seattle's Eldridge Gravy and the Court Supreme, and L.A.'s Georgia Anne Muldrow and Declaime; and parameter-stretchers like Jamie Lidell, the Budos Band, and Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra.
As these musicians prove, funk and soul age better than just about any other musical styles. These genres' ability to bring happiness to both body and mind remains relatively undimmed since the forms emerged in the '60s and '70s. Such are their salubrious powers that even modern artists who slavishly replicate funk and soul's original mannerisms and production techniques somehow avoid the irksome cloyingness that accompanies many other retro gestures. (Remember this the next time you hear the nth iteration of the Grateful Dead, Black Sabbath, or Bobs Dylan and Marley.)
Bumbershoot programming director Chris Porter (aka DJ Chrispo, a serious record collector who co-runs the Studio 66 and Moe Mod events) says, "There are a large number of people in the Seattle area who are very much into soul and funk, as am I. If there's a time when there's a good amount of available bands like that and they have some new releases out and I think they're good and special enough to be in the festival, then we'll see if we can get them in there. I suspect some years it's been the same [amount of funk and soul bands], some years it's been a little bit more."
Porter notes that the Fisher Green Stage has become Bumbershoot's locus of funk and soul. "That stage is all about upbeat music, dance," he says. "It encompasses everything from world music to soul to funk to hiphop and anything else that would be complementary to all of those.
"The thing about Bumbershoot is to do a good mix on these stages," Porter continues. "We want to make sure there's some good world music represented on that stage, hence Balkan Beat Box and Ozomatli are also playing on it. It's all vibrant music, and artists that I think are timely to book."
Bumbershoot's bookings result from a combination of using Porter's well-honed aesthetics to sift through the bands that send him music, artists' availability, and a dream list he compiles while out catching performances at music festivals and concerts.
"Some bands have been on my radar the past couple of years, and the timing just works out," Porter says. "Going to South by Southwest this year, I caught Kings Go Forth, and they blew me away. They were such an entertaining, fun band, I thought, 'Oh, god, we gotta find a way to get them here.'"
Porter succeeded on that score—and then some. May the funk (and soul) be with you—and don't forget the prophylactics.