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Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson and More @ The Dell.

August 1, 2014

7.24.14_JUMP_PeaboBryson_DarraghDandurand_04Text and images by Darragh Dandurand.

It was hot and sticky last week when people waited on their Ridge Avenue stoops to try to here Roberta Flack’s voice pouring out of the Dell Music Center. Scalpers stood near the road, working to convince anyone who walked by that their less-than-cheap tickets were a good bargain.

Inside the Dell, the arena-like venue slopes down next to Laurel Hill Cemertery but is shaded by large oaks and poplar trees. Huge stage lights rigged high above bounced off of the stadium seats and the shiny equipment was still being set up as the crowd charged in from the gate. Middle-aged women fanned themselves and their middle aged husbands sweated profusely next to them. The sickly sweet smell of carnival snacks, like toxic-colored water ice, mixed in the air with perspiration, anticipation and the humidity that no one could hide from.

Brotherly Love, a clean-cut, God-loving, five-man doo-wop revival boy band paraded around stage in matching white collared shirts, vests and suede shoes. They harmonized like it was their day job, not a side act that they are trying to start from the ground up. They crooned old hits and new jams, serenading aging women in the front row and praising the Lord before filing backstage in perfect unison.

Up next came New Birth, dressed in all white. They looked like ghosts as they sang about soul, snapping to keep in time with the rhythm of the funk band backing them up. In between face-wide grins and the occasional hand waving above their heads, the group got the audience clapping and hollering as they descended the stage steps to greet fans up and down the aisles.

Bloodstone, jazzy in all white tuxedos and red bowties, did an extensive amount of finger pointing, which was their chosen dance move. Their voices blended together like melting chocolate, heavy and rich and those packed into the stadium seating were overwhelmed by the sound. As the sun set, their spotless tuxedos drew in all the light, reflecting back every camera flash and spotlight, making the band glow on stage.

By the time Bloodstone exited and songbird, Peabo Bryson (above), took over the mic, the audience was in a tizzy. Women flocked to the front as Bryson approached the audience with open arms from atop the stage. His very presence drew sighs and shouts from his adoring female fan base, some of whom took his outstretched hand in theirs to kiss and caress or to pass on roses and other flowers. Like a gentleman, he accepted all the laurels and cheers while he retreated back to his limelight. Bryson sang with sincerity and there was a kindness to his showmanship. As he crossed the stage in long strides, he made dramatic gestures with his arms and flashed big, cheesy winks.

And finally, after a surprisingly quick set change, an almost ten-piece band emerged from the darkness of backstage and starting bumping bass lines and piano riffs into the night. The audience settled, ready to spring yet again, for this time they knew Roberta Flack was going to appear. With a plastic-like, painted-on smile and she slowly crossed the front of the stage with the help of a backup musician. Barely acknowledging the crowd, whose whoops started to sound a little flat in response to Flack’s hollow appearance, the iconic diva barely sung into the mic as she opened with a piano duet of “Killing Me Softly.”

Early into Flack’s set, the Dell Music Center began to empty out, leaving her melodies to be carried by the wind to those who would listen.

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