The red outline of a neon cross from the nearby Korean Community Christian Church church emanated above 1-O.A.K.’s head like an electric halo, as the Oakland singer stood at the Telegraph and 24th St. Peace Stage, wearing a greenRespectOurCity t-shirt and performing a cover of William DeVaughn’s R&B classic, “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got.”

The lyrics—you may not have a car at all, but remember, brothers and sisters, you can still stand tall—seemed thoroughly appropriate, considering the circumstances: Following the prior month’s First Friday celebration, gunfire erupted, leaving 18 year-old Kiante Campbell dead and several wounded, and causing event organizers (myself included), concerned stakeholders, and city officials, to rethink the future of the event, and institute numerous changes, the most salient of which was tightly-curated antiviolence messaging throughout the entire FF footprint.

***

Just moments earlier, District 3 City Councilperson Lynette Gibson-McElhaney led the Peace Stage crowd, which conservatively looked to number upwards of a thousand people, in observing a moment of silence in honor of Campbell, and other victims of gun violence in Oakland. Gibson-McElhaney called for everyone in the crowd to raise the peace sign in the air; a sea of hands followed suit. The hands remained held high for what seemed like an eternity, but was in actuality just a couple of minutes.

No one said a word.

“When that happened, I could feel, this city is still–from [24th st.] to [14th],” said Amber McZeal, a member of the FF organizing group. “It was a change… I didn’t recognize how many people were in the audience [because] all I could feel was stillness.”

The moment of silence was followed by an invocation led by Hub Oakland’s Ashara Ekundayo, who poured several libations into a large bowl, held by McZeal. The peace vibe had been set earlier in the day—aided by the widespread presence of ROC shirts, worn by community members, artists, DJs, event organizers, and Mayor Quan’s volunteer monitors—and was maintained throughout the night, which ended quietly and without incident, around 9 pm. (disclosure: I’m one of the ROC organizers as well.)

***

Even with the new guidelines and thematic programming, First Fridays was still a celebration of Oakland artists and homegrown culture, a point brought home by 1-O.A.K., and all the other inspired Peace Stage performers: Jennifer Johns, The Kev Choice Ensemble, Los Rakas, The Seshen, Chinaka Hodge, DNas, Do D.A.T., Chris Riggins, DJ Aebl Dee, DJ Tap-10, La Gente, and Candelaria. The music was a diverse mix of conscious hip-hop, reggaeton, jazz, funk, electronic, cumbia and R&B.

March 1’s event had less music programming overall; only two amplified sound areas were permitted by the city, the other one being the “Heal the Hood” stage curated by original First Fridays vendor Needa Bee, which featured DJs ((Local 1200)), Ras Ceylon, and numerous spoken word artists, poets, and youth organizers.

There was still lots of art on display, including the interactive paint wall at “the Art Zone,” along with local artisans and vendors. I did see less public drinking, though I wouldn’t say there was 100% compliance with zero tolerance. Overall, the event seemed less chaotic than in previous months, and the reduced number of sound systems resulted in less aural bombardment from every direction.

If heads can remain cool and calm, First Fridays might have a future after all.

***

With the early FF closure, there was plenty of evening left to experience, so I headed down to Berkeley, for one of the final installments of the legendary and infamous Birdland Jazzista Social Club parties thrown by Michael “Birdman” Parayno.

Quick recap: Parayno, a teacher, birdhouse maker, and jazz aficionado—who also happens to be a close friend—has been hosting live music performances in his garage, renamed “Birdland,” for three years. Over that time, Birdland has been embraced by the musician community—who dig its authentic speakeasy vibe and excellent acoustics—engendered a community of music fans with a wide age range from 16 to 76, and been (briefly) shut down by the city of Berkeley, despite being about the only consistently happening event in that nightlife-deprived, once-storied town.

Parayno moves to the Philippines, perhaps for good, in a few weeks, so there may not be very many more chances to experience Birdland. Upon entering the venue, shielded from the outside world by a gate and a large velvet curtain, I heard the most culturally-authentic, down-home, sho-nuff funky blues to tickle my ears in quite some time, coming from the Purple Smoke Blues Band. We’re talking a jazzy, gritty version of the Ohio Players’ “Skin Tight,” as well as more straight-up 12-bar progressions which seemed closer to the South side of Chicago or East St. Louis than Northwest Berkeley.

I elbowed my way past a sardine-packed crowd just as the band was ending. Snagging a seat during the changeover, I sat down, as the vibe changed from bluesy to Brazilian. Lau Paiva proceeded to sing some classic bossa nova, including “Mais Que Nada” –a song associated with both Jorge Ben and Sergio Mendes.

If this was Birdland’s last bossa in Berkeley, it went out exactly how the Birdman would have wanted it—loud, fun, friendly, and full of great music.

***

Friday night still wasn’t over, however. At the New Parish, party-rocking mash-up master Z-Trip delivered a ridiculously awesome set to another packed house. David Bowie’s “DJ,” Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” (the “most b-boy shit ever,” Z declared), snippets of Wu-Tang, rock, and drum and bass, Bay Area slaps from Souls of Mischief and the Luniz, and seemingly just about every other record ever made got played, reworked, refreaked, and remixed live. There were beat-juggles, scratches, and Ableton Live loopmania galore. DJ Golden Chyld joined Z onstage and faithfully recreated Mad Mike’s scratch solo from Paris’ “Break the Grip of Shame.” Lateef the Truthspeaker, fresh from rocking the Fillmore with Galactic, joined Z for a run-through of the Latyrx classic “Lady Don’t Tek No,” then busted some freestyles. What an end to a truly epic night on many levels.

***

The following night, it was over to San Francisco for what turned out to be one of the Coup’s best live shows ever. Held at Broadway Studios—which once upon a time was the punk palace Mabuhay Gardens—it was worth navigating the limited North Beach parking options and strip club barkers to get inside the doors. The venue had been decorated with an art installation by Jon-Paul Bail, and in addition to the band, which included Kev Choice on keys—my third time seeming the prolific pianist in three days (!)—B’nai Rebelfront on guitar, and vocalist Silk-E, special guests ranged from the Jazz Mafia horns to singer Bhi Bhiman.

Coup frontman Boots Riley seemed dressed in the guise of his infamous character, Jesus the Pimp, with a black topcoat, white vest, and black fedora, angled sideburns appropriately menacing. He—and the rest of the band—were on fire, running through a long set of classic faves like “Gunsmoke,” “We Are the Ones,” and “My Favorite Mutiny,” as well as numerous songs from the new album “Sorry to Bother You,” including “Gods of Science,” “The Magic Clap,” and “Guillotine,” which was received with full anthem status by the engaged, somewhat intoxicated crowd. Besides Bail’s streetscape-y backdrops, other special touches included the JM horns emerging from an upstairs balcony to serenade the audience, and kazoos which were handed out for “Your Parents’ Cocaine.”

The kazoos didn’t work so well, but that was about the only thing worth complaining about. It was hella cool to see the band do an extended show, given that their last local appearance, on NYE with Erkyah Badu at the Fox, seemed unfortunately truncated. Saturday’s show more than made up for that, as Riley’s dope lyrics and artful delivery combined with plenty of gusto from everyone onstage.

***

I kind of ran out of room to talk about anything other than this past weekend’s events, but there’s a bunch of great cultural stuff happening this week you don’t want to miss, some of which I’ll report on next time.

Here are this week’s picks:
Neo-Soul Live featuring the C.M.E. Neo after Dark with Brian Collier & the Live Experience, Thursday 3/7, 10 pm-1am, free, Liege Spirits Lounge 481 9th

#WaterWrites: from Cali 2 Colombia 2 South Africa, Thursday 3/7, 6:30pm-9:30pm, free, Bissap Baobab, 2323 Mission St., SF

Robert Glasper Experiment, Thursday 3/7 (with Adam Theis and the Last Band) and Friday 3/8 (with the Kev Choice Ensemble), 9pm, $30-$35, the New Parish, 579 18th.

East Bay Bike Party Green Ride, Friday 3/8, 7:30pm-11pm, free, West Oakland BART Station

Movement w/Emancipation, Santero, J-Boogie, Aima the Dreamer+Nina Sol, Friday 3/8, 9pm-2am, free, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph

Jose James Presents “No Beginning No End,” Saturday 3/8, 8pm, $17-$20, the New Parish, 579 18th
This is the 8th Oakulture column–follow others here and send tips to eric@oaklandlocal.com

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