The world-famous Ailey II dance company graced the stage of the Capitol Theatre in downtown Columbus on Oct. 30. As 2011 draws to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of the entertainment events that happened in Columbus over the past year.
By CHRIS BOURNEA
COLUMBUS OHIO -- As 2011 draws to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of the entertainment events that happened in Columbus over the past year.
The year started out on a high note when “DRUMLine Live” played the Palace Theatre on Feb. 1. The show is based on the Historically Black College and University marching band tradition.
“DRUMLine Live” is structured like one of those classic R&B revues that would play the Apollo Theatre back in the day, with a variety of talented acts sharing the same bill. The show combines performances by college marching bands with vocalists doing impersonations of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and James Brown.
Even on a frigid winter’s night when Columbus was hit by an ice storm, a sizeable crowd packed the Palace to see “DRUMLine Live.”
Two of the most theatrical productions came to Columbus in 2011: Anna Deveare Smith’s “Let Me Down Easy,” which played Columbus’ historic Lincoln Theatre Feb. 22-27, and Roger Guenveur Smith’s “Juan and John,” which played the Wexner Center for the Arts April 7-9.
In “Let Me Down Easy,” Deveare Smith portrays more than 30 people whom she conducted interviews with about health challenges. Deveare Smith expertly impersonates her subjects, from celebrities like biking champion Lance Armstrong and his bout with cancer and supermodel Lauren Hutton’s near-fatal motorcycle accident to everyday people.
“Juan and John” tells the story of the complex friendship between two baseball greats: Ashland, Ohio native John Roseboro of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants, one of the first stars to emerge from the Dominican Republic.
In “Juan and John,” Guenveur Smith portrays both men, seamlessly switching back and forth between the two voices and giving a historical perspective by broadcasting archival footage from the athletes’ infamous on-field fight in 1965 at the Giants’ Candlestick Park stadium.
Both “Let Me Down Easy” and “Juan and John” entertain while educating.
The summer of 2011 was one of the hottest on record in terms of live music.
After a 10-year absence, Sade returned to the concert stage with her “Soldier of Love” tour, which played the Schotttenstein Center in Columbus on July 10. Sade took the crowd on a retrospective of her 25-year career, performing early hits such as “Your Love Is King” and “Smooth Operator” to more recent material such as the title track from 2010’s Grammy-nominated “Soldier of Love.”
Before Sade took the stage, Springfield, Ohio native John Legend warmed up the audience. Like Sade, his set also spanned hits from his debut to the present, from the moving ballad “Ordinary People” to the chart-topping dance-floor hit “Green Light.”
Generation Xers who grew up in the ‘80s took a walk down memory lane when R&B star Al B. Sure performed at the grand opening of Martha’s Soul Food Bistro and Ultra Lounge in east Columbus on Aug. 6. Exhibiting showmanship that hasn’t faded with time, Sure, 43, performed hits from his 1988 debut album “In Effect Mode,” including “Off on Your Own Girl,” “Nite and Day” and “Rescue Me.”
For blues, jazz and R&B fans, the Creekside Blues & Jazz Festival, the Jazz & Rib Fest and the King Arts Complex Heritage Concert Series are must-see events each year.
The Creekside Blues & Jazz Festival, held June 17-19 in suburban Gahanna, featured regional and national blues acts such as Watermelon Slim, Super Chikan, and Bryan Lee and the Blues Power Band. The festival also features carnival rides and a variety of family-oriented activities.
The Jazz & Rib Fest drew thousands of food and music lovers to Columbus’ downtown Arena District July 22-24 to see internationally renowned artists such as Christian Scott, Carmen Lundy and Bobby Sanabria.
The Heritage Concert Series featured local acts as well as R&B/funk legends, the Dazz Band. The group, which started in Cleveland more than 30 years ago, got the thousands who turned out for their show on their feet with hits such as “Let It Whip,” even coaxing Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman onstage to sing and dance.
And of course no summer would be complete with the Ohio State Fair. This year’s lineup included Buckeye favorites, the legendary O’Jays of Cleveland, and neo-soul stars Avant, Chrisette Michelle and Tank.
In the fall, the legendary Diana Ross performed at the Ohio Theatre on Sept. 27. Ms. Ross performed “Stop! In the Name of Love” and other classics from her days with The Supremes as well as solo hits such as “Upside Down.”
The same night that Ross was in town, the Creole Choir of Cuba graced the stage of the historic Lincoln Theatre. The choir sings in Creole, Cuba’s second language, first created by slaves by fusing words together from African languages with French, Spanish and English. The voices of the six women and 10 men who make up the choir blend seamlessly like a beautiful tapestry. As they sang, you could picture their ancestors working in sugar cane fields of Haiti and Cuba.
October was an exceptionally busy month for entertainment. African-American dance companies Ailey II and the Dance Theatre of Harlem (Ensemble both performed in central Ohio. The DTH Ensemble performed on Oct. 18 at the McCoy Center in suburban New Albany, while Ailey II glided across the stage of the Capitol Theatre in downtown Columbus on Oct. 30.
Also in October, former “Tonight Show” bandleader Kevin Eubanks sat in with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra at the Southern Theatre. In honor of Eubanks’ historic role as one of the first African-American bandleaders of a major network nighttime talk show, the jazz orchestra performed TV themes from shows like “Taxi” and “Hill Street Blues” as well as Eubanks’ original compositions.
Neo-soul star Ledisi brought her tour to the Lincoln Theater on Nov. 22. The Grammy-nominated songstress turned in a 90-minute set that showcased the budding diva’s diverse sound, which combines elements of old-school soul, contemporary R&B, blues, jazz and even rock. She treated fans to favorites such as “Simple,” “Bravo” and recent hit “Pieces of Me.”
The holiday season kicked off with the perennially popular Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour, which played the Palace on Dec. 3. The tour, which combines smooth-jazz hits with seasonal favorites, featured saxophonist Koz (who also played the Jazz & Rib Fest in July), saxophonist Candy Dulfer, trumpeter Rick Braun and guitarist Jonathan Butler.
With all that went down over the past 12 months, 2011 will certainly be a tough act to follow.