Jon Batiste Rocks Spoleto Festival USA

Jon Batiste and The Dap-Kings in performance at Spoleto Festival USA on Saturday, May 26, 2018. Photo: Hakim Abdul-Ali

By Hakim Abdul-Ali

This year’s Spoleto Festival USA’s outstanding array of musical and theatrical performances began on May 25, 2018 and will run until June 10, 2018. The Wells Fargo Jazz Series’ segment of the festival couldn’t have selected a more enticing set of performers to begin this year’s jazz program with than the selections of pianist Jon Batiste, accompanied by the legendary Dap-Kings.

To say that they entertained the audience would be a terrible injustice. You see, they did a little bit more than that because they literally rocked the house, in the parlance of saying that they were that tremendous.

The filled to capacity audience at the College of Charleston’s Cistern listened to and reveled at this musical explosion on Saturday, May 26, 2018, which was an interesting blend of rhythm and blues, spiritual messages and old school traditional soul music precisely delivered by Mr. Batiste, nationally known as the fascinating bandleader for the popular television program, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”.

This thirty-one-year-old multi-talented instrumentalist and singer swept the Spoleto audience away with a superbly crafted musical set. His evening’s musical landscape covered a total of about eighteen uniquely styled tunes and songs, all of which clearly pleased the audience.

Backed by the soulful Dap-Kings, Mr. Batiste, a native of Kenner, Louisiana, put on a stellar performance that showcased his wizardry on the piano and the harmonaboard, and the audience grooved with all of the performers’ collective offerings with delight. The Dap-Kings are the Grammy-nominated highflier group who musically backed the late legendary soulful queen of funk, vocalist Sharon Jones, who died in November 2016.

Starting with tunes “Java”, “Yes We Can”, “Light Shines Brightest”, “Cornbread” and followed by a scintillating piano solo by Mr. Batiste, before segueing into “Time Has A Way”, the gifted composer and educator let his music reflect on why he was here in the Lowcountry in the first place. He said he came to Charleston to entertain and he certainly did that, even going into the audience at times and engaging the throng to enjoy themselves with his ecstatic musical rhythms and comedic vocal overtures.

The best way I, as a cultural critic, could describe Mr. Batiste’s musical impact upon the audience that night was that it was enthusiastically uplifting throughout. With the playing of infectious songs like “Hallelujah”, “Glow” and “It’s Alright (Why You Gotta)” from his 2013 album, “Social Music”, this crowd favorite forever encouraged the audience to stand up, dance and have a good time, a request which they gladly fulfilled.

I, especially enjoyed the tunes “Beating Like A Tom Tom”, ” Thank The Lord”  and “Just Give Me Your Time”. Jon Batiste, for all of his youthful exuberance, is very much a consummate professional at what he does because his music is what I label “earthy, raw soul”. His voice, surprising to me at first, has a soulful down home, airy resonate sound to it that commanded that I (and the audience) listened to his distinctive lyrical phraseology.

When listening to “Just Give Me Your Time”, “7 Days”, “Ain’t That A Shame” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” you could see and tell, as I did, that this young master musician has a particular vocal tonality which he uses to deliver the heartfelt messages that his musical compositions impart to all listening ears. Mr. Batiste concluded the almost two-hours long concert with an encore piece, “Tell The Truth”, a tune that left the audience still wanting more.

L-R: Marilyn Cohn, Derek Cohn, Gordon A. “Flash” Rhue-Smalls, Cheryl Cohn and Jay Cohn (seated) pose for a photo after the Jon Batiste Conlon May 26, 2018. Photo: Hakim Abdul-Ali.

The Saturday night show I reviewed was the last of two Mr. Batiste was scheduled to perform at Spoleto. The first performance, minus the Dap-Kings, was held on Friday evening, May 25, and, from what I hear, it was more  jazz oriented than the one I witnessed, but just as dynamically grand.

In closing, there were many audience members who I spoke to after the show and they were elated by Mr. Batiste’s and the Dap-Kings’ rousing performances. One individual who I spoke to was the City’s mayor, John J. Tecklenburg, an accomplished pianist in his own right, who said of Mr. Batiste: “His performance is palpable, (with) amazing sense of positivity. And his original songs and lyrics reflected a political and spiritual way beyond what you normally encounter. You can directly sense that this man gives God the glory.

“And his performance with Dap-Kings, deeply rooted in R&B and also in the tradition of players like Fats Domino and Ray Charles, brought a smile to my face almost as big as Batiste’s own luminous smile, and that’s saying something!” The mayor paraphrased the entire evening event by exclaiming, “It was an awesome performance.”

Come to think of it, that was and is an apt way to describe the musical genius of Jon Batiste and the Dap-Kings at Spoleto Festival USA. They were simply awesome.


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