By: Zak Kolesar
When Columbus R&B artist T.Wong first took the stage at Skully’s Music Diner on May 1, it was hard to imagine what would transpire. Joining local talent—including members of MojoFlo, Mistar Anderson, Honey and Blue and more—one of the city’s brightest, most soulful delights danced across the stage as the beat to D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” built up.
“Let me tell you ‘bout this girl I know, maybe I shouldn’t,” T.Wong sensually moaned.
The audience roared, and the rest unraveled to become a part of Columbus musical history.
The musicians of The Music of D’Angelo, Columbus’ tribute to the multi-instrumentalist, consisted of the show’s producer, drummer Willie Barthel III, keyboardists Robert Mason and David Swank, guitarists Parker Louis and George Barrie, bassist Jeff Bass, a trio of Terence Farmer (saxophone), Faheem Najieb (saxophone) and Frank Walton (trumpet) and “backup singers” Kristan Sock and Adam Darling and Stephanie Amber of Honey and Blue. The crew of over a dozen began to tease the audience’s anticipation, and soon enough T.Wong appeared, flirting with the microphone stand in the most teasing, D’Angelo-way possible.
As the first smooth wail of “Brown Sugar’s” name came out of T.Wong’s mouth, it was clear that those at Skully’s were in for one of 2018’s most special showcases. A miraculous celebration of Columbus’ incredible musical talents, donning all black, took place the night of May 1, and it was in the form of a D’Angelo tribute.
The Music of D’Angelo came in many forms Tuesday night, just like the sometimes slow and sexual, other times vigorous and stimulating music of D’Angelo has throughout his illustrious, elusive career. Battling tragic occurrences such as addiction and near death, the neo-soul artist hasn’t been a consistent fixture in the music industry’s demanding release schedule; his third album, 2014’s Black Messiah, came 14 years after his second album, which was released five years after his first.
At this point you may be asking yourself, What does D’Angelo have to do with Columbus and why are its finest musicians putting on a two-hour honorary concert? The short answer is that you would be hard pressed to find a great modern musician who hasn't studied D’Angelo. The long answer is one that can only be comprehended if you were in attendance at Skully’s Music Diner on May 1.
Straight from the mastermind of Barthel, the show’s drummer and producer, one of the widest displays of local talent was curated for his first production, traversing through the vast discography of the legendary D’Angelo. The display of the diverse talent of the neo-soul R&B singer and Columbus fittingly started with 1995’s Brown Sugar, his first album.
T.Wong quickly created a party-centric atmosphere, as audience members of all ages got down to the title track and T.Wong’s energy-shifting performance of “Lady.” A song that most would regularly sit back with their boo to soon became a lively version of that and much more thanks to our aforementioned R&B treasure. As Columbus’ D’Angelo for the night skated across the stage, T.Wong’s excitement to be covering such a legend beamed through his smile and through the microphone with each exuberant breath.
While most D’Angelo songs clock in at longer than five minutes, The Music of D’Angelo stretched the limits. With hits from Voodoo on deck after navigating through Brown Sugar cuts, “Playa Playa” and “The Line” were testaments that Barthel was on a mission to show the city what Columbus musicians have got to show the world. Louis and Barrie shredded guitar solos, Farmer, Najieb and Walton each took a jazzy turn and Bass put the groove in the night that is so evident in D’Angelo songs.
Sock was up next to display her singing talent and continue the Voodoo trend, as she took a turn at “Greatdayndamornin’/Booty.” As the velvety grooves came from the backing band, Sock stepped up to the mic to deliver the incredible buildup to the aforementioned two-part song. Those vibes continued when Jared Mahone, who can be seen performing with HooDoo Soul Band every Sunday night, brought the audience up to modern speed with a Black Messiah cut. The faster pace definitely resonated with the audience, as heads bobbed and legs swung from front to back.
Honey and Blue, with both members contributing all night, took its turn at the forefront of The Music of D’Angelo with a fiery display of the Grammy-nominated “Really Love.” The crowd howled as Darling took a triumphant knee on top of a speaker and began plucking a guitar Spanish-style, signifying the sultry tune’s start. A highlight of the night, Honey and Blue backed off after the song got heated, displaying yet again the unification and respect of Columbus musicians. As the immense display of Columbus talent continued, Eric Rollin, emcee for Mistar Anderson, took a turn at the mic. Again, the audience energy intensified, signifying how almost perfectly in tune with D’Angelo’s music people were.
The creative juices were flowing, which meant it was time for T.Wong to join the stage yet again, much to the audience’s joy, and he brought Voodoo with him. From the stylized cries of “Feel Like Makin’ Love’s” chorus to its jazzy, intermittent horns, the music was still at high quality despite the two-hour extravaganza coming to a close. The togetherness of “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” dotted the “i” in “unification.” The slowly swinging funk had the audience in a trance, echoing, “How does it feel!” It was magical. It was mystical. It was moving.
The Music of D’Angelo could have been accurately summed up by the night’s encore, encouraged by T. Wong. With the funkiest D’Angelo song left out, Skully’s knew what was in store for the night but didn’t know what direction Barthel’s band would take its composition of “Sugah Daddy.” With the Black Messiah version clocking in at just over five minutes, The Music of D’Angelo stretched that to a 15-minute encore. From the epic horn slides to the choppy piano to the sometimes inaudible lyrics and colorful vocals, the band’s performance of “Sugah Daddy” was the epitome of what Columbus musicians have to offer.
The camaraderie, incredible ability to capture the music of someone once called the next Marvin Gaye and reverence paid during the intense breakdown of “Sugah Daddy” was overflowing onstage. Each of the night’s musicians took a stab at yet another solo, one not upping the other but complimenting the soulful production Barthel put together.
The aforementioned drummer’s solo capped off the song’s individual showcases, and everyone came together to break the song down, ending triumphantly on the same joyous note just after 11:30 p.m. Although Barthel mentioned the event will have a follow-up, nothing will ever be as unique as the first-ever, nearly-flawless Columbus celebration of D’Angelo’s music. A shared passion brought the city’s brightest came together, all for the sake of D’Angelo and what his music means to each individual member of The Music of D’Angelo.