This past Saturday, the day before Easter, I rose at 6 a.m. to get to work by 7. With only four or five hours of sleep in my system, I braced myself for a long day. It being a holiday weekend with perfectly beautiful weather, I also expected a lot of crazy to come through the door.
As the end of the day neared, things were looking surprisingly good. People weren’t as crazy as I thought they would be, and I luckily had the chance to work with some genuinely pleasant customers.
I was standing at the door during the last hour of my shift when a beautiful Black woman came up to me. I say this because she just had a sweet aura and demeanor about her. I instantly liked her. (I remember totally loving her lip gloss. POPPIN’.) Very calmly and politely, she explained to me that she was having troubles with one of our products. (I’m not supposed to blog about my work, so you can go ahead and guess where I’m at four to five days out of every week.) She had seen tech support before in LA, but the problems persisted. And so she landed at our doorstep.
I gave her the disclaimer of the weekend, that our tech bar was swamped with weekenders and holiday visitors, and that I didn’t think I’d have anything available until Monday. How long would she be in town?
“Well, I have to be at Yoshi’s by 8,” she said.
“Ahh,” I reasoned. “So if you’re going to get anything done here, you’ll probably want to leave by 7, right?”
“Well, I have to be on stage at Yoshi’s by 8.”
“Oh!” I have a soft spot for performing artists. Maybe she came straight from tech rehearsal just to get to the store or maybe she has to deal with crazy diva bandmates or maybe her “get in the zone” playlist is on her MP3 player and she needs it… Or maybe I just have a soft spot for performing artists. “Hold on, let me see what I can do.”
“Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.” she said. And then she picked up one of the MP3 players on display, flipping through the demo albums. She held the screen up in front of me, “This is me!” she said. Turning to her friends, she goes, “I’m on the [Fill in the really incredibly obvious blank.]!”
Right there in front of me, the woman in sweats held up her own album cover as displayed on our floor models. Pretty sweet.
I did some background troubleshooting to expedite as much of her transaction as I could. I would have done the same for anyone else in an urgent situation. Warning her that the wait time was still something I couldn’t contend with, I was at least able to triage the issue as something doable within a reasonable amount of time.
I was on my last fifteen minutes helping another customer when the woman came back to me before she left.
“Thank you so much,” she said again.
“Oh, don’t worry about it! Break a leg. Have a great performance,” I said.
“Would you like to come to the show?”
Are you kidding? Yes.
As she left with my business card, I whispered to the old Black lady buying her first MP3 player, “She’s playing at Yoshi’s tonight.”
The old Black lady was excited for me, too. “Oh! That’s nice.”
Finally, Easter Sunday arrived! Mom, Bongo, and I caught the matinee of Wicked in SF. Great show, though I think I loved the LA cast more. After sitting through a full-on musical, though, you really have to question if you’ve got the energy for another show. Right after the Broadway production, Bongo and I ate some dinner at home and headed straight to Yoshi’s.
When we got there, things seemed unorganized. When I checked in at the box office, there were no tickets to pick up. I was just told that I (+1) was on the guestlist. When I asked the guestlist guy where I was supposed to check in, he just told me “I gotta let this line in first.” Bongo and I sat back, definitely the only non-Black people up in the club at pre-show, as a seemingly never-ending line of people snaked passed us. It’s absolutely laughable how lost we looked. But you know, at least I could cling to the one thing I had that night, “I’m on the guestlist.”
Eventually we made friends with some other guestlist attendees, and we all figured out where we were supposed to be. (At the end of the never-ending, always-snaking line.) We got to the podium, our hands were stamped with blacklight ink, and we were directed to the “first table on the left.”
And that’s how we found ourselves in the fucking best seats in the house for Lalah Hathaway. Everything leading up to sitting down was so serendipitous that I didn’t even imagine the position I’d be in once we found that first table to the left. While friends had warned me “Get there early, cause you gotta reserve your seats,” here Bongo and I were sharing a private booth with an unobstructed view of the stage and Lalah’s ensemble. I don’t know if I can ever go back to Yoshi’s for a show, because it is highly unlikely that I’ll be able to afford a private booth for a night. A couple of other friends of the band came through to share the booth with us, but our view of Lalah was so absolutely perfect and zoned in, it really did feel like she was singing just for us. It just might be the most intimate concert I have ever seen. Experiencing live music is one thing, experiencing live soul is another, and experiencing live soul without having to stretch a neck or shift a chair is indescribable.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at my twentysomething Asian face (My landlord and I had this discussion when I provided the music while he fixed my sink.), but Donny Hathaway is the stuff that I grew up on. (If there is one radio station that I think the Bay Area lacks, it is a good, solid oldies station. I miss my KFRC! 99.7! Bring it back!) I say this because Lalah is the late Donny’s daughter. But really, she stands on her own. Who would have ever thought I’d be sitting in the backseat listening to “Where is the Love?” on the radio one day, and then hearing, looking at, the grown-up child of that original singer the next? When I experience beautiful performances, I tear up. I cried twice on Sunday, first taking in some Broadway and then taking in some blues.
Suffice it to say that Lalah was beautiful. It was the smoothest performance I have ever seen, and that’s across all genres of live performance that I seek, be it drama, music, or dance. Her voice is just amazing. The calm and grace that approached me at the store flowed into a charming and alluring presence on stage. She could belt it out. She had a real, un-synthesized range. The girl could SANG! She had every right to be a diva, but you could tell she wasn’t.
She made us laugh, and then we all just melted into her music. Each of her bandmates got their own solo segment, and everybody brought the house down. My head exploded for her female backup singer’s range, and the guitarist, Errol Cooney, blew Bongo away. The audience was whoopin’ and hollerin’, jumping out of their seats and erupting in communal applause and enjoyment. I love love LOVE moments like that!
It’s really something else to be in a house full of African Americans on Easter Sunday listening to sexy baby-making music. (I can’t lie! Plenty of that evening made me wanna light a candle or somethin’.) Did I just sin? Too bad, it felt great.
To our right, in the aisle, an old Japanese lady was dancing with a scarf. One day I’m going to be like her. That old lady in the club dancing around by herself. S’gonna be awesome.
So again, Lalah Hathaway? Do you ever just want to run up and hug someone? I want to run up and hug Lalah and her voice. Hear, hear for approachable and down-to-earth artists! She is the epitome of smooth. Her songwriting wraps you in. I like soul, but I love soul performed live. For everyone who appreciates music that resonates deep within, I hope they all get a chance to see Lalah in-person. I simply can’t get over how buttery and beautiful her voice was.
If Lalah was a dance move, she would be a body wave.
My first trip to the Bay Area staple, Yoshi’s, was free, compliments of the beautiful woman gracing the stage.
My favorite Fly for a White Guy liked it, too, “Just got back from a soul concert in downtown Oakland…amazing! (And now I feel a little less Whitey McWhiterson.)”
That was probably my most favorite and memorable Easter, for always. Forever. For love.
Update: Heard back from Lalah’s management, and you know that fab dancing Japanese lady? Now I really want to be her:
BTW, that lady with the scarf was Yoshi herself! It was quite a tribute to Lalah and her music that Yoshi was compelled to show her appreciation in dance. She only does that for special people!