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.

5 comments for “Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: a review from the 2011 Savannah Music Festival

  1. Joni
    March 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    There is no question that Sharon Jones and the band are phenomenal, I loved them, and would love to see them again, but in a smaller setting maybe. One thing the SMF should think about though, for those not able to stand for more than 2 hours and who paid a lot for seats down front, is that it made a lot of people really miffed that all they could see were the backsides of the many bad dancers up front (not you, of course!) . Saw a lot of people leaving, including one very important SMF board member. Too many really bad dancers onstage too, distracted from the brilliance of the band. We, and a good number of others left early.

    • bill dawers
      March 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      I think it goes back to Savannah’s various venue issues/limitations. Clearly, Jones’ live show is all about audience interaction, so there were going to be people in front of the stage no matter what. I would probably have sat down occasionally in my front row seat, but there was no way I could have seen anything.

      A smaller venue would be amazing, but that one sold out. (Probably the best seats for watching the show were those in the balcony where it would be easy to see over the heads of the crowd.) A smaller venue and suddenly there would have been all sorts of $$ issues.

      We need a venue of that size that was not originally designed as a mid-century movie theater with a subtle grade — more of a stadium style venue but with plenty of room in front of the stage. But that’s just not something we have.

    • Anonymous
      March 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm

      I’d imagine it’s easy to call people bad dancers (twice, no less in the same comment!) when you are sitting down comfortably next to other pretentious Savannah Music Festival patrons.

      Similar to last year’s Wilco show, the ticket holders of the SMF at times work against building a positive reputation for the Savannah music scene, during those shows where fans in other cities would otherwise stand and return the energy that talented bands have worked hard to send to us as an audience.

      ‘Fans’ are treated to discouragement and disdain from ‘patrons’ who don’t know or care about the more progressive acts of the festival, the latter folks instead more worried about what the important board members and ‘bad’ dancers are doing instead of standing up and enjoying the experience as the band asked you to do.

  2. Renee
    March 26, 2011 at 12:48 am

    We were in the (almost) nosebleed section of the balcony for the show and since there are not really any bad seats in the theatre, we had a great view of the stage and lots of leg room after most of our section migrated downstairs to boogie. The energy was phenomenal, but I thought that the lighting and the sound were not quite up to par. I could not understand most of the lyrics or the stories. I look forward to popping in the CD to be able to hear the best balance of music and lyrics. Despite those drawbacks, I found the show to be very enjoyable and I’d go see her again in a heartbeat.

  3. Kayne
    April 1, 2011 at 11:46 am

    As one of those ‘bad dancers’ up front, and someone who has been lucky enough to see Sharon Jones numerous times, I can only say what an incredible performance she put on for SMF- the energy, passion, personal touches and audience involvement are what make people go back to her shows over and over again and why it’s in the band’s contract that venues can not force people to sit down!

    Stand up people- move, dance, feel what it is that makes music one our greatest human experiences- otherwise, stay home and let someone else have your ticket.

Comments are closed.