"Funk Fest 2010 is a mixed event for a mature crowd, but we try to pull from different genres, from the old school to the new school," says Leo Bennett, president of Variety Entertainment Inc. "Even the new school cats like Jaheim have some old school styles in their music. We try to bring the old and the young together in that way."
Based in Charlotte, Bennett started organizing concerts and special music events in the mid-'90s. He and his team first assembled Funk Fest as a single concert in 2001. They partnered with radio stations in nearby markets and gradually expanded the event to other cities around the Southeast, including Jacksonville, Mobile, Baton Rouge, West Palm Beach, and the Greenville area.
Last year, the series debuted in the Charleston market with a concert at the Family Circle Stadium. Presented by local station Star 99.7 FM, the concert included sets from Maze (led by lead vocalist Frankie Beverly), Doug E. Fresh, Deborah Cox, Al B. Sure, K'Jon, Slique, and Bobby Brown.
Bennett was quite pleased with the turnout and the level of enthusiasm from the Charleston audience.
"To have the turnout that we did last year — and the great response from the community — I think we have the energy to really keep this thing going in Charleston," Bennett says.
In its second year, the traveling gallery of funk and soul will bring performances by veteran singer Charlie Wilson (of the Gap Band), Jaheim, Keith Sweat, Bell Biv DeVoe, Heavy D, Urban Mystic, and Joy Dennis.
Variety Entertainment defines Funk Fest as "a celebration of human expression ... that promotes social consciousness, positive entertainment, and personal fulfillment." Within the optimism and positivity lies a deeply-rooted, genuinely soulful funk foundation — a base that connects strongly with the vintage soul and funk pioneers of the 1960s and '70s.
"We have the old R&B, the new R&B, the old-school hip-hop, and the contemporary styles of music," Bennett says. "It's been working for us pretty well over the last few years."
Inevitably, some music fans can't help but debate which acts at each Funk Fest event actually qualify as genuine funk music. To Bennett and his team, it's not so much about specific categorization; it's more about the wide-reaching influence of vintage funk.
"Over the years, at different events, we've had people commenting on certain acts," Bennett says. "Some have argued whether one act or another was really funk or not. At these shows, everybody doesn't necessarily have to be a funk band like George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic. However, everything here came out of funk.
"We want to bring a variety of different music that still preserves the name 'funk music,'" he adds. "We could argue back and forth, but it all originated from that style of music."
Funk Fest kicks off promptly at 3 p.m. with two Florida-based R&B acts. Jacksonville vocalist Joy Dennis and her group perform the opening set, followed by Fort Lauderdale's Urban Mystic.
Hip-hop artist Heavy D — due on stage at 5 p.m. — hit the scene in the late '80s as the leader of Heavy D & The Boyz, releasing a string of top-selling albums. Over the years, he's worked as a rapper, producer, actor, and record label executive. He's back with a fresh new set of reggae-tinged tunes from his recent discs Vibes and Uptown Heavy Ranking.
One of the more polished and dance-pop oriented acts on the bill is Bell Biv DeVoe (on stage at 6 p.m.). Comprised of Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, and Ronnie DeVoe (all previously of New Edition), the trio is best known for their new jack swing chart-toppers "Poison," "Do Me!," and "B.B.D. (I Thought it Was Me)." All three have continued to perform together through the 2000s, and they've participated in several New Edition reunions.
Harlem-born singer/songwriter Keith Sweat and his band perform at 7 p.m. behind his latest, Ridin' Solo. Sweat first made a splash during the "new jack" era of urban music with his 1987 debut album, Make It Last Forever. The album sold more than three million copies and spawned the smooth and sexy hits "I Want Her" and "Something Just Ain't Right."
At 8 p.m., contemporary soul/R&B crooner Jaheim (based in New Brunswick, N.J.) hits the stage with a set of sultry originals and renditions. Jaheim signed with the Devine Mill label in 2000 and released three albums over five years. In 2007, he hooked up with Atlantic Records and put The Makings of a Man, a more romantic departure from the edgier earlier LPs. His new one is titled Another Round.
Closing Funk Fest 2010 with a set at 9:30 p.m. is vocalist Charlie Wilson, a dapper, groovy veteran entertainer who came up in the 1970s playing with the Gap Band. The group's most popular early-'80s party jams include "You Dropped A Bomb on Me," "Early in the Morning," and "Party Train." These days, Wilson performs as an R&B solo artist. His new collection on Jive Records is called Uncle Charlie.
"A lot of old-school hip-hop artists have been gravitating toward the live band setting, as well as working from tracks," says Bennett. "It sounds great, especially live. It's a different kind of sound. It'll all be there in Charleston this week."