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Volume 15, Issue 37 ~ September 13 - September 19, 2007

Bustin’ Rhymes and Breaking Barriers

Flawless Music Festival returns to Annapolis

by Rob Goszkowski

Beneath its popped-collar sailing-town rep, Annapolis has city soul. Musician and promoter Marcus Hayes seeks to unite the two aspects.

His fourth annual Flawless Music Festival September 15 features an urban lineup of locally and imported hip-hop, R&B, rock, even go-go music.

Hayes hopes both sides of Annapolis will come together to hear and enjoy it.

“We want to make things happen here to draw attention from the surrounding cities and the whole country really, to show what we’re accomplishing musically,” says Hayes, a lyricist in the local hip-hop group Flawless, for which the festival is named.

From the first festival in 2004, Hayes has had a vision.

“I wanted to make it a tradition,” he says, “a unity- and nonviolence-themed event that would reach out to the young people in town and make an impact on all this crazy criminal activity going on.”

That message has turned heads perplexed with city crime. Mayor Ellen Moyer is a special guest this year, opening the day with a short speech at noon.

To build on last year’s success — doubled attendance from 2005 — Hayes has called upon some attention-grabbing musicians.

Bustin’ Loose

D.C. legend Chuck Brown, known as the godfather of go-go, is headlining. Scratching your head? Go-go is a genre of infectious dance music that blends funk and distinctive percussion.

“That funky beat behind the Go-Go sound was a church beat from years back when I was a kid,” says Brown. “I remembered that beat and my mother, who sang in the church, used to say, Start off with that beat and I thought it just might work. By 1976 it was catching on.”

Brown’s funked-up go-go versions of Top 40 tunes were eventually overshadowed by his own material. His reputation grew. Twenty years later, go-go is the signature sound of DC.

“Bustin’ Loose” is Brown’s most recognizable song, If you don’t recognize it, he has this to say: “You can expect to get on the dance floor and just keep goin’, and goin’ and goin’. That’s why they call it Go-Go.”

photo © James Hilsdon, Hilsdon Photography, LLC

Godfather of go-go music Chuck Brown plays this year’s Flawless Festival.

Breaking Barriers

Hip-hop has a heavy presence in the festival again this year, lead by Annapolis’ own Flawless. For this gig, they’ll perform with a live band to back up their skilled lyricism, soulful choruses and positive message. Folks with a headline-hewn understanding of hip-hop will see the diversity of a genre that conjures up misogynistic, money-hungry or violent stereotypes.

“There’s a problem with this preconception that hip-hop focuses on negative imagery,” admits Damani McMillan, a Flawless singer. “But we’re making music and doing this festival for Annapolis while trying to break some barriers. We’re positive people trying to do positive things through hip-hop.”

The group has good intentions as well as versatility.

McMillan comes from a rich tradition in music; his father toured with The Delphonics, Funkadelic and Kool and the Gang. As the group’s lone singer, he brings a soulful side to the table.

Rappers Mike Griffin and brothers Marcus and Alonzo Hayes rhyme about topics ranging from growing up in Annapolis, to social issues to partying and good times.

“We’re not always serious and world-weary; we talk about having some fun, too,” says promoter Hayes. Yes, some lyrics will make a conservative cringe — if listeners take it all seriously. “You don’t,” he asks rhetorically, “go out and try to steal a tank after watching a 007 film, do you?”

In addition to Flawless, you’ll hear other hip-hoppers. J Optimo, Raheem and Planet SB are fellow artists from Awnpoynt Productions’ local hip-hop collection M.E.C.C.A.: Mid-East Coalition Compilation Album. Each artist has been building recognition through performances in Annapolis, D.C. and Baltimore.

R&B also has a presence with Smuv and Ashley Alexander, who’ll sing the old familiar themes of love and heartbreak.

Beyond that, keep an ear out for The Grilled Lincolns, a rock band with a funky flavor. A set list reveals a range of influences, and their versatility enables them to blend in with this hip-hop heavy showcase. New to their roster is singer-pianist Jeremy Ragsdale, a Berklee School of Music grad and Towson music professor.

“It’s kinda like that movie Rock Star where Mark Wahlberg’s character watches this band all the time and there’s an opening and they ask him to join,” laughs Ragsdale. “But overall I feel like for the first time I’ve got this fun factor and academic balance now. Serious musician is an oxymoron in my opinion. What’s the point of making music if you’re not having fun?”

Grandmaster Flash Would Approve

Every artist is on board with the greater purpose of the festival: its message of nonviolence.

“Back in the day — I’m an ex-boxer — we used to fight with our hands if it came to that,” says Brown. “Now it don’t happen that way. So I just pray to God that these young people can come around, come together and cut back this violence.”

Ragsdale and his bandmates hale from Baltimore, a more troubled city than Annapolis. “We’ve been touched by violence in our community, be it a mugging, assault, or anything,” says Ragsdale. “These things can be squashed by a positive outreach like this.”

Hayes also knows what it means to feel violence. Eighteen-year-old Andre Johnson, murdered in early September, was a friend’s cousin. Hayes has used the death as motivation to work harder.

“I’ve always agreed with the sentiment that music is a universal language,” Hayes says. “In terms of this festival, I believe that if the music is done right and you get the word out, you can bring everybody together. Then hopefully there’s some understanding there. That’s always been my vision.”

Flawless Music Festival: noon-6pm Sat., Sept. 15 @ Truxtun Park, 273 Hilltop Lane, Annapolis. (Private security plus the Annapolis Police Department.) $20 at and Ticketmaster outlets; day of concert tickets at The Salvation Army next to Truxtun Park:

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