DIARY: That Art & Soul Festival In Oakland, California


The last time I was in the Bay Area, I did not pay much attention to the goings on, particularly Oakland from around which I hadn't been anywhere in the city for quite some time. It had been in and out, business as usual, so, not much to talk about in that regard. But this time around, a whole lot turned out differently. I wasn't aware of the turn around of things in downtown Oakland and for not to have checked in for a while, I was impressed. The city changed, indeed!

The raggedy, skid row, home of the Black Panthers and the classless sleep on your door step, ghetto-crawling neigborhood is no longer what it used to be. Oakland is totally transformed, and thanks to Jerry Brown who as Mayor of Oakland saw the necessary steps required to making things happen for folks long abandoned. The story of Oakland and its overnight transformation is overwhelming.

As it happened, the 9th Annual Arts & Soul Festival in Oakland had to be my calling since I have not seen the city in many years, and besides, each time I pop up in the Bay Area, Oakland never crossed my mind for I had thought of where it's jamming -- San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, Saratoga, Stockton, Santa Rosa, the farming-vineyards of Sonoma County coupled with other big recreational neigborhoods in the Bay Area, of the Woodstock and Coachella type -- for the groove and all that stuff.

But nevertheless, this time around, there was an event and I had to be focused to see how it unfolds. Quite fascinating.

August 14: I arrived Oakland and checked into the Ambassador Hotel on the corner of Franklin and 13th Street. A little bit tired, I made some calls to see who is around town. Not much, though, and for Friday night, I couldn't figure out what's it I was going to do before the festival kicks out the next day. I decided to go to bed and get some rest. No, I did not go to bed immediately; I popped up the news networks to see what's happening in my neck of the woods and what the Republican airheads are talking about.

However, it turned out to be the same old song -- the mud-slinging so-called conservatives who only think for themselves and how to protect their ill-gotten wealth negating the fact that under any circumstances in a democratic fabric, that there are people, underprivileged, who will always need help of some sort to overcome their predicament. It is natural and the Republicans and the newly coined Blue Dog Democrats, whatever that is, don't seem to realize and unfortunately they are not getting it. I still don't get it myself and I am not going to be part of a debate that does not make sense at all in a situation a desperately dying fellow should be allowed to die on the grounds of having no medical coverage.

What are we talking about here?

An organized society?

Well, since politics, they say, makes strange bed-fellows, let's believe in the rule of law, upholding and respecting democracy; and hopefully the Republican airheads would come to terms with reality and do the right thing. Cable News Network and all that news-related channels, including Fox, had become a bore.

August 15: I got up fresh and ready like Freddy for the festival. There wasn't much happening on the streets of the high-towered downtown Oakland when I peeped through the window of my hotel room.

At 10:45 AM, I was already on Broadway and 14th Street checking out the vendors, the area's local press and patrons who had showed up with delight for the festival's 9th year anniversary. The streets and sidewalks had already been flooded with the four stages ready to explode with performances of the day. On the stage at 12th and Clay, Loquet, BoDeans and Grammy Award winning artist, Shawn Colvin, were scheduled to perform. The stage in front of Oakland City Hall scheduled Abby and the Pipsqueaks, Jump Street and some local voices. The stage on 12th and Broadway had a Gospel showcase presented by Edwin Hawkins and the Community of Unity featuring Bishop Walter L. Hawkins of the Love Center Choir, Terrence Kelly and the Oakland Interfaith Choir,Sharon Wynn Davison, Sunny Hawkins and the Music Department, Men of Edurance, Derrick Hall and Company, while on 12th and Jefferson it was an all out jazz enssemble. The crowd was awesome and with summer almost winding down the vendors and organizers did the best they could to go with the flow especially in a 'slowmo' economy.

I walked around the four points of the festival and bumped into an artist whose booth had displayed all her finest works with the husband setting up the gallery. We chatted for a moment before the festival rose for the day. She was optimistic the festival "will eventually" be one of the big shows to be talked about in the near future despite its 9th-year of existence. I strolled down to the Oakland Convention Center on Broadway and 14th Street which is about 12 minutes away from the Oakland International Airport. Going inside the Convention Center sits Oakland China Town, The Preservation Park and some shopping complexes. A few short blocks took me to the Waterfront, Jack London Square and the Paramount Theatre which also is blocks away from my hotel room.

At about 7:45 PM, I checked back to my room for some rest before my buddy, South African-born, Berkeley-based sports freak, Johnson Boipelo Andile, comes around for some crazy sports talk and all that follows in a night of showdowns and pub-crawling. Andile had arrived late and we still hanged out anyway, talking about boxing which turned out to be his favorite sports, and he is really crazy about it going back to the heydays when boxing was real and very entertaining.

He talked about how boxing "is" no longer what it used to be and that all the fuss about Dominican Republic born undefeated Fernando Guerrero who now fights out of Salisbury, Maryland, is being overrated towards his upcoming fight August 29, when he meets Louis Turner in the middleweight division at Fitzgerald's Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. I'm not sure if I have been following up nowadays in what's been going on in boxing ever since it was commercialized nobody takes the sport seriously anymore. I had no idea who Gurrero was until he popped it up and on a critical note, he agreed with me "boxing ain't longer what it used to be."

We had talked extensively about the good-old days of boxing when all division were powerhouses. The days of Jeff Chandler, Azumah Nelson, Roberto Duran, Mustafa Hamsho, Salvador Sanchez, Eddie Mustapha Muhammad, Mathew Saad Muhammad, Dwight Braxton, Cornelius Boza Edwards, Michael Spinks, Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas "Hitman" Hearns' "The Showdown," Marvellous Marvin Hagle-John "The Beast" Mugabi duel, Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney race war, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Ernie Shavers and numerous other superb pugilists of the day.

After all these talks on boxing greats over some drinks at the hotel lobby, we drove out on San Pablo running through University Avenue where it meets Oxford at UC Bekeley. We found a spot, a bar and hangout, kind of, continuing our discourses on boxing retrieving "The Spinks Jinx," "Thriller in Manila," "Rumble in the Jungle," "Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello 1 & 2," and things like that related to boxing of the profound era when boxing had class.

August 16: It's been fun all over the previous day and I'm already up to deal with the happenings around downtown Oakland. The show continued with style and the performances were all great. Smooth jazz artist Bobby Caldwell had played and the crowd he had pulled was unbelievable. A night of jazz. The two day festival reached its climax.

August 17: I had traveled to Concord meeting Emmanuel Onyeador at his friend's ranch and vineyard. We talked more over some fine wine. David Iphie who lives in Pittsburg had stopped by to join us. Iphie picked Onyeador and myself and we drove to his house in the embrace of his wife and uncle, UC Davis trained agronomist, Humphrey Ezuma, who was visiting the shores of this land for a moment. The usual local politics popped up which I will be writing about in a different essay, while Iphie's wife prepared a delicious ofe olugbo, bitter leaf soup with varieties of meat and dried fish. We talked more and I enjoyed the company.

August 18: Back to the crazy-dubby Los Angeles-Hollywood where every 'damn' soul is really freaking out, and business as usual, I guess. It was indeed a trip to remember, and Oakland, for your excellence in the arts, I think I would like to visit again.


Brown did a good job restoring downtown Oakland
Loko said…
I went to the arts and soul festival because I wanted to experience the cultural landscape of Oakland.
Janay said…
I have lived on the other side of the bridge for nearly eight years and attending the festival for the second time I was really impressed. Lots of parking and good people.
Niki said…
Ambrose thanks for sharing. The organizers pulled this one out. The gospel singers inspired and humbled me. Terrific.

Oakland, CA
Anonymous said…
Living in Alameda California Oakland do have taste. Lots of food and free parking.
Ebere said…
Omo na you biko. After u na road block.
Johnson said…

Thanks so much. It was a pleasure and I hope to see you again.
Ambrose said…
Thanks everybody as summer winds down.
Anonymous said…
Ride on! You're simply the best.