Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: a review from the 2011 Savannah Music Festival

I was among the first ticket buyers for last night’s electric performance by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at Trustees Theater on Broughton Street, so we were seated in the front row.

Well, for a minute anyway.

In a rarity for SMF shows in the larger venues, audience members were encouraged early on to crowd around the stage, to dance, to reach out to Ms. Jones, who was in perpetual motion — if she wasn’t stomping and shaking like her fellow Augusta native James Brown, she was lifting her eyebrows, smiling, and focusing her eyes on individual audience members, more than a dozen of whom ended dancing on stage with her at various points in the sold-out show.

So that meant I was up standing just shortly after Jones took the stage, following a great number by the Dap-Kings (two drummers, three horns, two guitars, and great bass work by Bosco Mann, who produced the group’s most recent album I Learned the Hard Way, which was recorded on an old 8-track machine), and then solo songs by each of the Dapettes: Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan. And I was still standing almost 2 1/2 hours later.

Standing so close to the action, I could see the sweat and love and determination and sheer joy that Jones and her band share on stage — with each other and with the audience too.

“We got some Augusta, Georgia in the house tonight,” SMF director Rob Gibson told the crowd — to wild applause — as he introduced the show.

And then it was pretty much nonstop energy from there on out. The 55-year old Jones doesn’t just check in like some established stars do; after that exhausting show (for me at least — she looked fine) Jones mingled with fans for a long time in front of the theater while giving autographs and posing for photos.

I’d love to see another show by Jones on this same tour to get a sense of how much she repeats of the stories about her mother, how much of her audience interactions are adlibbed. No matter the uniqueness of each show, there’s a spontaneity in the performance that makes the audience feel like there’s no place Jones would rather be than right there, singing and dancing just for you.

There were any number of highlights: the ten diverse women — a fascinating collection of Savannah womanhood — from the audience that she called on stage to get down with her during “How Do I Let a Good Man Down?”, not to mention the stirring versions of songs like “Window Shopping,” “100 Days, 100 Nights,” “Mama Don’t Like My Man,” “Better Things” with an ecstatic young man that was hoisted on stage to shimmy, right up to the final encore of “It’s a Man’s Man’s World,” which routinely closes Jones’ shows.

Despite — or maybe because of — the manic energy from the stage, Jones has the ability to suddenly bring the crowd to a hush, to isolate attention on a single moment, a single gesture. It’s a remarkable skill, one she has obviously honed over decades of performing. In retrospect, maybe the show would be even better with a few more slower moments, before the unleashing of so much energy.

Jones and the Dap-Kings played just last week in her native Augusta. In the Augusta Chronicle, columnist Steven Uhles described the show — and Jones’ recently announced plans to move back home — this way: “Homecoming doesn’t seem strong enough, doesn’t seem to fully describe the sense of excitement and anticipation Jones and her Dap-Kings brought to the Imperial. It wasn’t a homecoming. It was a rebirth.”

With Jones maybe living just up the road, maybe we’ll see her in Savannah again.

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