Meditations on Art of Cool Fest 2014

Recently, a fellow bar patron and photographer friend of mine said on Facebook that photographers should follow the Prime Directive– the guiding principle of Starfleet wherein one should not interfere with a developing civilization. I commented that as a writer, I’m more like Jim Kirk– I break that notion all the time. I spent much of last week in Durham, North Carolina, for the first ever Art of Cool Festival. The intention was for me to “cover” the festival, but me being me, I embedded myself into every facet of it possible, hanging with various musicians, constructing and organizing and helping out wherever I could. While I did manage to see a great many shows and review them as a legitimate music journalist typically would, there was just so much more to say about last week — the most rewarding, fulfilling week of my personal and professional life so far — than show reviews can say. What follows is a collection of random thoughts about Durham, music festivals, journalism, Art of Cool (an organization that I have quite quickly learned to love like they’re some of my best friends on earth), and any other random thoughts that have come to mind in the midst of being emotionally overwhelmed and deprived of sleep.

Mad Legit
The Electrical Code of the State of North Carolina
On My Perceived Role and My Actual Role
On Starting Out
Surprise Panel
Circles, Circumstances, and Coincidences
The Rhythm of The Hang
Sleep Deprivation and Emotional Fragility
Year 2
Thanks Yous and Shout Outs

Mad Legit
Before I knew anything, I knew this festival was mad legit.

Art of Cool Project Co-Founder and President Cicely Mitchell started needling me quite some time ago, maybe about a year ago. She loved Nextbop and she wanted me to write the blog for AoC. I liked the idea of it but I didn’t want to leave behind Nextbop. I was extremely proud of what the site was building to be under my leadership and Nextbop co-founders Sébastien Hélary & Justin Wee built. I wanted the publication to grow alongside this century-old genre. I wanted it to be a part of the narrative. I was still then (and am now) dedicated to it becoming the Pitchfork for jazz (but, as we continue to grow and as I continue to figure this whole thing out, it is very much its own animal). So when Cicely said I could keep the name, I was sold. Nextbop and Art of Cool merged and we’ve been slowly thinking about website redesigns ever since.

A little while later came the wave of blurbs. The artist write-ups that would be featured on the festival website, the official app on iPhone & Android, and the handbills were divvied up between Indy Week writer Eric Tullis and me. That’s when it sunk in that this festival was serious. For a group who had never put together a music festival before– The Clayton Brothers, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Bilal, Thundercat, Kneebody, Maceo Parker, Hubert Laws. It was startling how legitimate this festival was. When people would ask me about Art of Cool Fest or when I’d mention it over the air, I’d always describe it as “mad legit”. There was no better term for it. It was an extremely legitimate festival put together by a group of people I had met over the internet. However, while I was excited about what seemed great on paper (and paper I had written, at that), I still had a sense of detachment. It hadn’t been fully realized yet. I hadn’t gotten on a plane for the first time in five years, departed Texas at long last, if only for a while, and witness what this truly was.

The Electrical Code of the State of North Carolina
Anyone who has ever met me very quickly learns about my obsession with my phone. Yes, this makes me like any American Millennial, frequently tethered to my window to the world. I have my particular peccadillos about my phone’s requirements– a need for physical keys to facilitate a flow in typing, a dependance on the Android operating system to maintain Google’s vice-like grip on every major aspect of my life, my earbuds a constant presence in every commute. Yet the most important attribute is my constant need to keep my phone charged. Yes, they say it’s best to let a phone battery discharge naturally in order to extend the overall life of the phone, but that’s just crazy talk. At the end of the night when the shit goes down and you need a picture, when you’re lost and need to pull up a map or call for a ride, or whatever emergency that can be solved at 2am, do you want to be the one with 3% life or 80%? So as I’ve long believed, if you’re stationary, you could be charging your phone. Any place I go, I instinctively scope out the angles, determining the juxtaposition of light fixtures from wall sockets, finding where sound boards are at clubs to root out their power sources. My uncle is a master electrician and while such work may have never been my calling, I may have picked up a thing or two from him other than an intermittently stolid demeanor, the inability to sit still for long stretches of time, and a talent at compellingly telling a story replete with esoteric details.

Some may find this to be odd, yet there’s liberation in this. If my phone is charging, usually in some other part of the room I’m in, I’m not by it all the time, staring at it and disengaged from those around me. It puts the options back in the never-ending game of fighting for attention. With these devices in our pockets, so many complain quite often that we aren’t paying attention to the world around us. I say, of course– if the world around us were more interesting, we’d engage with it rather than the one we personally curate for ourselves in our rectangular prisms. I am no less obsessed with my phone than anyone else, and I feel no qualms about it; it’s why I do all I can to make sure my phone is constantly functioning. Yet the work of doing so makes for an even greater level of engagement. I must be separated from my phone, actually talking with people in bars, actually watching shows after I take those first couple Instagram pictures, actually listening to musicians in interviews instead of relying on recordings of conversations, all in order to be reunited with my phone later. It’s the best possible way to have and eat one’s cake simultaneously.

This was my typical thinking when I arrived in Durham, only to be surprised when I sat down at Fishmonger’s restaurant with Cicely Mitchell for dinner to discover almost immediately that the electrical sockets were all near the ceiling. This seemed odd, but perhaps that was just a quirk of the building. Yet location after location that I encountered, in bars and restaurants alike, the electrical sockets were frequently positioned inches shy of the ceiling. At Motorco, the second largest venue of the festival and home base of each night’s closing shows, my phone found a roost perched atop a panel jutted from the wall stage right directly next to the green room exit. I had my first run in with the Brothers Bruner of the evening by the mere happenstance that I was checking my phone as they emerged to take the stage, giving them fair warning that I’d have some inane conversation with them later.

Yet I still couldn’t quite figure out why all the sockets were placed where they were. This wasn’t always the case. The plugs were by the floor in my hotel room where they should be. In the AoC office, nothing was out of sort. Residences still looked and acted like residences. Yet whenever I was in a bar or restaurant, I had a new challenge to surmount. If it were just one or two places, it’d be a curiosity of that establishment, but just as any two points make a straight line and three data points establish a pattern, I had to take this as some sort of odd quirk of the electrical code of the State of North Carolina. Maybe the state is deterring moochers like me from stealing electricity? Maybe it’s part of Durham’s infrastructure to stop chargers from jutting out of walls willy-nilly. Nevertheless, it was a quirk I found noteworthy (a note worth 800 words at that).

On My Perceived Role and My Actual Role
It didn’t take long after my arrival in Durham for me to set to work. My role as Nextbop @ Art of Cool editor was to cover the festival. I would wander about seeing shows, talking with people, gather the feel of Durham and ultimately describing what I encountered. However, this is me we’re talking about. If I stay in one place for more than half an hour, especially when people are giving me things like festival wristbands and hotels rooms and complete affirmation of years of toiling in the blog mines, I’ll eventually set to work on something. My perceived role while attending this festival was to be a storyteller, but I just don’t know how to simply do that. When vocalist Nnenna Freelon needed bar stools for a performance on Wednesday night, I spent an hour putting them together.1 When we added additional sponsors at the last minute to the festival, I stepped up immediately to edit the scripts for the individual venues’ hosts. When a festival calamity befell on Friday night, as all festivals tend to have at least one calamity that needs immediate solving if you’re behind the scenes and know how these things go, there I was lending support. When it was 8am the following morning and I had only two hours of sleep after a night of helping with the aforementioned calamity and getting caught up in “the hang” (I’ll get to this later), there I was in Diamond View Park setting up tents and tables. Even on Wednesday night while at the Nasher Museum of Art on the campus of Duke University for a VIP event, I was off in a classroom speaking on a panel about new jazz blogs for the Jazz Journalists Association2 and still, not-at-all subtly telling people to keep buying tickets for the weekend (even as security was throwing me out of the room at the tail end of the talk). My running joke was that if I stayed in one place for even half an hour, I’d eventually be put to work.

So as I wandered throughout this festival and met a great many people, I introduced myself as “the blogger for the festival”, but in doing so, I also became as invested in this festival’s success as anyone else.3 There’s a mindset I try to take on with music festivals that I don’t honestly take up enough in life– always say yes… within reason (I do try to always be reasonable). It allows for the adventures for stories to tell. It makes for truly surreal moments. It is a part of being a writer– I must always make new stories. There may have been times in the past when I’ve slid down the escalator at Atlanta’s Peachtree Center MARTA station in my freshman year of Morehouse, or that time Bill Cosby tried to rescue a joke I made, or that SXSW where I wandered into a standup comedy show and called out something mildly racist and disappeared into the night, or that time Ethan Iverson wore my hat where I wonder what else can I possibly get into? How can I even try to make more stories than this? How will I even tire of telling them? (Seriously, ask me to tell you the escalator story if we ever meet in person, dear reader.) And then occasions like these come up where just by being around and trying to be helpful whenever possible, interesting things can happen.

My role in this was to be the writer for this festival, and that may very well have entailed all of this. Maybe I was to be a special kind of writer to embed myself so deeply into its inner workings, but maybe this was a special kind of festival.

On Starting Out
I spent Thursday evening with the young band Zoocrü, a quartet of North Carolina Central University students who played the volunteer party at ReverbNation (which is an actual place located in Durham, which you don’t always think about when you see that player pop up on Facebook). As I watched their set, I admired them for their potential, their general presence, and their taste in covers even though half their set were Michael Jackson songs.4

Yet as I was hanging out with them, I could see into their future. I could see the struggles they’d have to face as they grow as musicians as they enter into this business called show. They’d have to learn not only their own craft but other parts of the job, too. They’ll need to make a website with enough information for writers and fans to learn about them, record some songs so they can truly exist on the internet, find someone to coordinate their efforts like booking gigs and other managerial duties. The craft of making music is one thing but the work of making a living off that music in the 21st century involves so many other skill sets they’re just beginning to encounter. Not only that but they’d have to learn more and more how to work together as a band. It’s an undertaking I can’t even understand fully myself. What is it truly like to make something as a group in the moment? To adapt to one’s surroundings with three other people in sync? And then to figure out how to get paid when the whole music part of it is all over? It’s a daunting but exhilarating adventure they’d be quite good at, though they’re just beginning to embark. It’s a long road to walk, but so many others like them have walked this road before. It’ll be exciting to see where they’ll go. Hanging with them that Thursday night was just the beginning of a great narrative. The future is only ahead of them.

Surprise Panel
At some point on Thursday, Cicely asked me if there were some other task I’d be willing to take up. I, of course, obliged. On Friday, we were having a panel at Letters Bookstore that we needed someone within AoC to just oversee to make sure everyone had what they needed. I wasn’t really told what the panel was about or who was on it. Nevertheless, I knew the time and place and that there’d be free wine, so at around 1pm that day, I made my way to Letters on Main St. as the clouds grew greyer and more ominous overhead, moving a chair or two and essentially doing what I could though there wasn’t too much needed.

Not long after was I greeted by WCLK Atlanta’s famed DJ Jamal Ahmad, a true inspiration to me back in my Morehouse days when I felt like everything would be alright that I left San Antonio and its jazz radio station’s more straight-ahead jazz format (where I eventually did end up DJing when I came back home) for Atlanta and its more smooth tinge in programming. He would be moderating the panel, which was really more of a conversation with Jason Orr of FunkJazz Kafé. Not long after Ahmad & Orr arrived were they joined by the ever enchanting Meghan Stabile of Revive Music, the newly minted JJA Jazz Hero and a constant inspiration to all those in the jazz scene. She makes the impossible possible; she is the essence of dopeness. The three of them spoke on jazz today and presenting it to an audience, on how such a task is a different sort of ordeal today, but how things are getting better. I butted in whenever I could without being too obtrusive but it was inspiring just to be tangentially a part of such brilliance. Seeing these three discuss the work they’ve done could only concrete just how far I have to go to be that productive. That panel was made of superstars and I could only hope to be one of their orbiting planets.

Circles, Circumstances, and Coincidences
As the panel wore on, the clouds overhead fulfilled their promise and the rain came down over Durham. Friday afternoon’s festival kickoff at Durham Central Park was cancelled and suddenly hours of time opened up on everyone’s schedule. After the panel ended, I went back to my hotel, the same hotel where all the artists were staying, with the notion that if I lingered in the lobby long enough, I’d run into one of the musicians as they arrived. No sooner did I think this did a black car pull up and out emerged Nextbop’s patron saint Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his lovely wife Isadora Mendez-Scott. Way back when in Nextbop’s founding, Christian was a friend of the site. Seb designed an earlier version of his website. On our long discontinued sole t-shirt is graced by Christian’s visage. He’s given us exclusive video interviews and song streams. He’s believed in all that we’ve done and we’ve been ever grateful for his support. He’s also a guy, much like so many others affiliated with this website, that I only knew over the internet.

There exists in social science a concept called parasocial interaction wherein one party will typically know more about another party which is typically oblivious. It’s how we ingest media from from artists at the other ends of screens who don’t know the inner workings of those consuming the work. This would seem fairly obvious but that’s how the social sciences and much of academia works– fancy people describing things we already inherently know and explaining them better than we could have ever truly thought. It would seem obvious that Matthew Weiner has no idea who I am, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to know everything about Mad Men and the universe he creates. Thus, while Christian Scott and I are peripherally aware of each other and have been for the last five years and while he clearly knows how my voice sounds because of how I talk on the radio and I definitely know about his body of work, his world travels, and thoughts about the US criminal justice system, this does not deny the fact that to a large extent our interactions until this point were very much one sided.

So upon introducing myself to him, we hugged immediately. This was a moment that finally happened, and also it was a moment that truly cemented the merger between Nextbop and Art of Cool. Our biggest, most beloved musician supporter is playing a festival put together by an organization that grafted in the blog that’s been following him all along. It didn’t take long for our rhythms to sync up. When I saw him perform Saturday night, it felt like the culmination of all that I had worked for over the years. We were no longer just collaborators over the internet. There was a connection there. Our works had gone full circle.

There came a moment later when I gained access to a place where I needed to be trusted and he vouched for me. Yes, he said “I only met him a few hours ago, but he seems cool”, and yes, a run-in twelve hours doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but that didn’t matter. We both knew what was up and that rang through. When we spoke the next day and as that eventually turned into a hang unto itself, we were already telling stories and speaking with a wavelength so close and effortless, it seemed clear why he’s been with us so long. I’m as honored to call him friend after just that as I’m certain Seb is.

The Rhythm of The Hang
At the end of the first night, Thundercat’s show at Motorco was the place to be. The whole evening seemed to work quite perfectly, with many attendees seeing Alice Smith & Bilal at the Hayti and taking the shuttle over at the end of those sets directly to Motorco. The whole festival seemed to filter down to this spot for the near midnight set. It was a social engineering marvel. Yet what was most insane about that set was how so many of the artists were intent to see it and how many all lingered after. “The hang” had commenced.

It’s not a thing I’ve had the opportunity to see often. This is what my usual problem is about New York— a culture is developed in a hub and gathers particular attributes there. As social networking (and my own increased attention, I must admit I’m skewing the sample I’m witnessing by… being a music journalist) spreads this culture throughout the world, these concepts float about but you don’t really witness them.5 I’ve seen a band hang out, but never before had I witnessed the hang.

You could see it gathering just before the show started. Christian & Isadora Scott posting up on a back wall, Gerald Clayton making his way through the door, the dudes of Butcher Brown are milling about. If, as I’ve said before, SXSW is the music blogs of the internet taking form and walking among us, Friday at midnight, Motorco in Durham was every jazz blog packed in a room. As the magnitude of the multitude became apparent after the show, people gathered for selfies, then massive photos. Myriad group pictures commenced with Ronald Bruner leaping in front, actin’ a fool.6 But as the house lights went up for the end of the night, the hang just extended outdoors. Conversations continued, new ones started. Rotations commenced. Intimate moments were curiously shared publicly. Plans for where to eat next, where the afterparty would be, what hotel room to drop by– all these things were the things that people do in any context, but the notion that these are people who are friends and colleagues once thought to be on some gilded tower to those on the outside, to those not in the New York or Los Angeles hubs, had changed. They’re famous (well #jazzfamous as Vijay Iyer would say), but they’re still people.

However, what the hang solidified was how these musicians are themselves in every possible way. Watching Ronald leap in the front of photos or bellow in a conversation is so akin to how he dominates a drum kit. Kris Funn stays perfectly in the pocket in conversation and it makes sense that he does so with the bass on stage. One can hear the same tripping rhythm in Igmar Thomas’ trumpet playing as in his tone of voice.

There were a few moments in the evening when I found myself adrift, trying to find where my rhythm would fit in the hang. I wasn’t a musician, but I was still, in essence, an artist (writing is an art, criticism is an art). I was here for a purpose, to tell a story and to do so kindly but accurately. Someone asked of me, half-jokingly but with a slight guardedness, “Who are you? Why are you here?” Yet my answer was still met with some sense of guardedness. I am still a guy that people have only met on the internet. That pesky, parasocial interaction rears its head once again. I found myself in a moment of deep histories and familiar rhythms, rhythms I had not yet learned. This ain’t the dinner table of Chivers Hall at Morehouse College, but the pattern looks familiar. This was still musicians at play, but it’s still dudes hanging out. Everybody poops. I had to prove I could be in the room. I had to take whatever they dished out. I had to jump in when I saw a moment. It was theory meeting practice time– that moment in Chappelle’s Block Party about how the similarity between comedians & musicians is the dependence on timing, Duke Ellington‘s thoughts on the instrument being an extension of self, the usual rhetorical double dutch. I might have held my own a little better as chops were busted and lines were crossed and crossed back, but it was 4am and I was already quite faded in multiple regards to have my full wits about me.7 Moments like these would happen all through Saturday. I finally got what the jazz internet was talking about. I finally got the concept.

Sleep Deprivation and Emotional Fragility
Festival life is a wonderful life but festival life is unsustainable. I figured myself to be a pro at this. I’ve gone to four South by SouthWests, I thought. Three Fun Fun Fun Fests. I’ve been doing music journalism for five years now. These Durhamites will have to learn how to navigate a music festival and all its trappings but I’ve got this handled. This is beside the fact that I’m my own editor and make my own deadlines I don’t have to have show write-ups finished for each day by the next day. I can give things time, finish by Tuesday back in San Antonio when normalcy and rhythms come back. However, in all my joking about being a cold, emotionless robot, I didn’t realize that this was in part because I had rarely encountered such a complete shift in approach to my role as a music journalist but also how I broke a cardinal rule that I’ve held almost all my life– I don’t mess with my sleep.

In college, if I procrastinated on a reading or didn’t write a paper, I still knew myself enough to know that I’m most productive in the morning. I’d go to sleep at a rational time and wake up a couple hours earlier. I’d still get the work done in time. I’m a morning person. I’ve always been a morning person. My body has been trained since probably birth to not be asleep past 8am. As a baby, I didn’t cry in the mornings when my diaper was full so as not to disturb my mother who has always enjoyed her sleep. Nevertheless, I get six hours. I rarely need more than six hours. If I’m on four, I’m cool with it. Yet, I highly underestimated how much festival life messes with sleep.

After Friday, I got maybe two hours of sleep. I awoke at 7am, knowing my body would let me sleep no more if it even thinks there’s a sun in the sky. (Yes, the curtains are closed. No, it doesn’t matter.) I wandered throughout town looking for Red Bull; coffee just wouldn’t suffice in these circumstances. It also doesn’t help that this is Durham, North Carolina, and not San Antonio, Texas, where the answer to everything is “get a taco” and that answer is actually correct. I spent all of Saturday bouncing from iced coffee drink to iced coffee drink, much like my effort to keep my phone battery charged all day. Yet at the end of the night, from the first notes Christian played on his horn at Motorco, I teared up. I felt a moment. I was spiritually baptised in hearing the gospel of music. Something broke in me and I cried a few more times that night, a night that wore on to 5am where I packed, showered, and slept for maybe half an hour before calling Cicely to give me a ride to the airport.

She was the most energetic zombie I had ever seen (they’re just doing anything with this genre nowadays, huh). She had just as little sleep as I did over the week, if not less over longer. She was dead tired, but triumphant. Relieved and still, somehow, excited about what was to come.

I cried again as my plane landed at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. I cried again on the Megabus heading to San Antonio. I cried again on the VIA Bus heading home.

When I slept Sunday night in my own bed before my life went back to normal on Monday morning, I slept more that night than in the previous three nights combined. I didn’t need to cry any more after that.

And I couldn’t help but wonder how much of that was because I could see where Nextbop and Art of Cool was going and what I saw happening in my life through God’s hand. How much of that was me feeling truly overwhelmed by what was happening in my life just then and realizing that this direction might just work out for me. And how much of that was my mind, weakened by sleeplessness, no longer able to hold up its protective walls. I’m only anhedonic when I get a good night’s sleep. Is this, maybe, what I needed to put myself in the human realm? Less REM? I’ve seen the results and I don’t much care for it. I’ll keep shooting for my six hours when I can. But when a festival’s calling…

Year 2
As I very quickly embedded myself into the inner workings of the festival and found the AoC staff to be like a little family to me, there were a few particular inside jokes that spread like wildfire. My favorite of these is “year 2”. This, as has been well noted, is the first music festival Durham has ever experienced, let alone it being a particularly different kind of jazz festival for its format. Yet in all that we have accomplished well, there is still so much to learn and to do better in the next year. When there’s a musician who we’re thinking about trying to get next year, the logical response around the staff is “Year 2”. When there’s someone we’re thinking of not booking, “Year 2”. When will the City of Durham learn that venues are prone to hit capacity during music festivals which is why there’s always at least two other acts performing at another venue usually within walking distance? Year 2. Aw, damn, I didn’t get a chance to go to Dame’s Chicken and Waffles the whole week. Year 2.

“Year 2” became AoC’s c’est la vie or “Who is John Galt?”– it was our battle cry for moving forward constantly like a shark, not just out of the need to survive in the immediate but with the confidence and assurance that this will happen again and we’re bound to do it even better next time. There was a constant sense, even as Cicely concerned herself to exhaustion over ticket sales and ensuring everything runs smoothly and everyone’s needs are met, that this was going well and that we’d have the opportunity to do this again. “Year 2” may have been remarked flippantly, maybe even somewhat hollowly early in the week, but it gained in intensity and encouragement as the weekend pressed on, as every encouraging word from an attendee came up, in every tweet and Facebook message buzzing all our phones, in every artist saying we need three more festivals like this a year and how this one is more like a family reunion. Yes, the festival was indeed gaining its own legend and we were all on staff quite busy working to pull it off. This was very much a labor of love and we all knew in time that this would happen again. Of all the knowing looks (through tired eyes) and all the jokes only we in the inside knew, “Year 2” had to be my favorite Shibboleth of all of them.

It’ll happen again and I’ll definitely be there. I’m already looking forward to it.

Thank Yous and Shout Outs
Thanks to Cicely Mitchell– You really did coordinate what feels like the fulfilment of everything I’ve spent the last five years working towards. I’m so honored you tracked me down and stayed on me to be a part of this.

Thanks to Kristi Boykin– You’re amazing in every possible way. You get shit done. I hold you in the highest esteem.

Thanks to everyone at Art of Cool– So glad to finally meet y’all, put names to faces, and feel like I’m a part of something.

Thanks and a shout out to Bar Lusconi– This bar is unabashedly choice with beer and wine that makes me want to step my life up. Chilling here Wednesday night was perfect.

Thanks to Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah– Sooo glad we finally met. Also, thanks for vouching for me after only twelve hours of ever meeting me. Let me know the next time you end up in a YouTube Nardwuar the Human Serviette spiral.
Shout out to Isadora– It was so great meeting you, too! You really do need a set of your own next year.

Thanks to Igmar Thomas– For being cool under pressure and for sticking with us, and for putting on a dope show the next day, too.

Thanks to James Williams– For letting me in on that. Props on the set that afternoon.

Thanks to the Brothers Bruner–
Ronald, hanging with you definitely makes up for you not walking out after your show with Stanley Clarke in San Antonio a couple years back.
Thundercat, I did tell you that we’d be having an inane conversation.
Also, I don’t play about my knowledge of Pootie Tang and Bob Costas’ connection to that film.

Thanks to Zoocrü– For the hang Thursday night. Get all your ducks in a row and things can happen.

Thanks to Pierce Freelon and the family– For your hospitality. Also, Pierce, that project I was telling you about? Steps are being put in order and this idea sounds amazing. I’ll hit you up soon.
Ms. Nnenna, I swear there would have been two stools if I had a hammer.

Thanks to Wyldeflower– For starting a trend.

Shout out to Bilal– For being so cool and for singing the most beautiful version of “Round Midnight” I’ve ever heard.

Shout out to Gerald Clayton– Nice running into you again. I should have stopped at that barbecue place.

Shout out to Corey Fonville & Butcher Brown– So glad we finally met.Y’all deserve all the praise.

Shout out to Meghan Stabile– You are made of dopeness and light.

Shout out to Jamal Ahmad– It’s a real honor to meet you. It was surreal to discover you were on that panel. Everything about that afternoon, even the rain, was a pleasant surprise.

Shout out to Larry Reni Thomas– It was very cool meeting you. I’ll keep an eye out.

Shout out to Vinson Muhammad– It was great running into you again.

Thanks to everybody at Breeze House– For letting me stay there yet again before flying out, and thanks to Scott’s girlfriend for the ride to the airport.

Thanks to Demetrius– For the ride from the Megabus and for hanging out. We definitely need to hang again, I’ll give more notice next time.

Thanks to the City of Durham– For supporting this festival. It’s only going to keep getting better.

1. Really I worked on putting together two stools, but one was constructed poorly and I couldn’t put both together without knocking a peg into place with a hammer or rock or something that I didn’t have, so like the master jazz musician that she is, Mrs. Freelon improvised like a champ.
2. There really was nothing I could do about this instance. The talk was supposed to have occurred about a month earlier but I had dropped my laptop, thus damaging the sound card and rendering the internal microphone or any audio output inoperable. Also, Clear Wireless is steadily becoming a terrible internet service. There can not be a cloud in the sky and yet somehow I’ll have no internet. Thus, the talk was pushed back to smack dab in the center of this particular week and our dear Cicely, one of many heroines of this story, made arrangements with the lovely ladies of the Nasher to accommodate me in the aforementioned classroom (although I’m not certain they informed security of this change in plans).
3. Okay, maybe not the three years of planning, connection-making, funding searching, and absolute labor that Cicely and Art of Cool co-founder Al Strong did, or in the months of preparation from the rest of the staff. But I put in a really serious week, yo. That stool was more complicated to put together than it looks and I swear there would have been a second stool on that stage if I had a hammer.
4. “If you play one MJ song, that’s cool. If you play two MJ songs, that’s cool. You play three MJ songs and you’re a Michael Jackson cover band,” I told them. Like I said, they’re young. They got to hang around a music journalist. I was showing off and I dropped the real on them.
5. It’s sort of like how I’m not yet tired of Pharrell’s “Happy” because I’m oddly detached enough from pop culture to the point that I’m peripherally aware of figures’ existences but not yet inundated with their presences. Yes, “Happy” is still catchy to me, but I also haven’t been listening to it every day since November 2013 (and I still haven’t even seen Despicable Me 2). I didn’t know the rest of the world is now mouth-foamingly irate at it whenever it plays. There was a moment in this weekend when some musicians were speaking derisively of that song and I truly had no idea that we as a culture were that done with that song by now. This “always seeking out The New” thing is a lonely marathon.
6. As usual, my insistence on owning smartphones with physical keys resulted in every picture I took being particularly fuzzy and grainy. However, I learned my phone is not solely to blame for the terrible pictures I take. Many instances in which I took pictures using other people’s phones for them also resulted in fuzzy or off-center photos. At one point of the night, I dropped a woman’s camera (it was thankfully undamaged). Immediately thereafter, I took two pictures of AoC staffer Kristi Boykin & Thundercat (with her phone) that were so bad, Thundercat took the phone from me and took a selfie with her for her. That’s it, folks. I’m calling it. I’m bad at taking pictures. It’s just not something in my bag of tricks.
7. Besides, it’s hard to say as the night wears on to tell musicians in fragile contexts that you can be trusted when wearing a bright blue sticker that says “MEDIA” on your cardigan, but I’m not that kind of storyteller.