On the early morning of August 4th tragedy struck Dayton, OH. The Gem City had lost her shine sadly as nine people were murdered and twenty-seven others were injured. This past Sunday, Dayton resident Dave Chappelle did what he does best, he helped return the Shine to the Gem City.
Dave’s love for his hometown and his willingness to help and give back was on full display on Sunday. Chappelle recruited a few of his friends for a benefit concert where 100% of the proceeds from t-shirt and drink sales went to a charity for the victims.
The events started early on Sunday morning as Kanye West held his Sunday Service inside the pavilion at River Scape Park. Sunday Service was something Kanye started earlier this year, it’s name is exactly what it is: a Sunday Service where a choir gather and recites traditional religious songs and does takes on modern classic songs. This was particularly special because this marks only the second public event that has been held and it was a true “pop-up” fashion as the time and location wasn’t made public and the location was only generated through word of mouth. The crowd gathered early hoping to catch a glimpse of the Wests.
Before starting the service, Mr. West instructed the security to remove bike racks so people could get closer to the stage and the crowd filled in quickly. At 9:30 am, Sunday Service began and for the next 75 minutes it was a truly inspirational, once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Ultralight Beam,” off of The Life of Pablo kicked things off. The choir was scattered through the audience and with the crowd knowing every word to the song, it was the perfect way to begin. Other songs that were played inclueded, “Oh Lord, How Excellent,” and “The Family of God” before Kanye finally took the stage for “Jesus Walks,” which was the highlight of the service.
Maimouna Youssef performed a powerful acoustic song. Then Jojo, a member of the choir, delivered a freestyle that veered from the subject matter of most of the morning, it was still very good. Kanye took over the keyboard to play “Brighter Days” and briefly “Fade,” which got the crowd dancing. The choir and crowd sang along to versions of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” which was changed into “We’re Still Standing” in honor of Dayton still standing strong.
The service ended with a drum circle, leading the crowd out. It was the first performance of the day but it was the most powerful. Being under a small tent gave the feeling of togetherness and hope, people embracing each other and others crying. Dave Chappelle took the stage to thank Kanye, praised Dayton and talked about his love for the city while mentioning the terrible summer the city has had.
The Gem City Shine kept the day going, people were lined up around the streets early to get in. You could feel the excitement as you walked around and waited. I had the pleasure to speak with a few people. Each one was thankful for everything Dave Chappelle has done for the city, and everyone was friendly and eagerly listened to each other’s stories. But as the excitement of the block party was building, you could get the feeling that everyone knew why they were really there. They are ready to move on, let loose and hopefully never face such tragedy again.
The line-up of the block party had been kept secret until the event started. There where many predictions and speculation about who would show up and the rumors didn’t really pan out, but the line-up was still a stacked one. The block party started with DJ Trauma spinning from 3:30 until Chappelle came out to address the crowd. He started by bringing out mayor Nan Whaley who dedicated August 25th as “Dave Chappelle Day.”
Thundercat opened the show. For the thirty minutes he and his huge bass and band got the crowd moving and grooving. Their sound was perfect to get the evening going and they’d fit in at any R&B show or The Ledges. Before starting their second to last song “Song for the Dead,” Thundercat dedicated the song to everyone who lost their lives and told the crowd seeing their “resilience really gives me life.” Before he took the stage, Chappelle talked about choosing to stay in Ohio because “Why the fuck not?” He mentioned how Ohio was the first state to be slave free. Later in the evening Dave would tell the crowd that he loves living in Ohio, his family loves it and he feels like he can be a normal person.
Brooklyn, NY MC Talib Kweli took the stage next for a quick 15 minute set but he utilized every second of his time. Performing songs from Blackstar and his hit “Get Him High.” Talib is a classic NY MC that still brings the rugged 1990s-2000s energy and attitude to the stage.
Teyana Taylor, her band and dancers took the stage after a set change that brought Dave Chappelle back to the stage to tell some more jokes and let the crowd know that “this is the least I could do” for Dayton by putting on the block party. Ms. Taylor went through six songs, her back-up dancers where on point and her voice sounded strong, but could have been turned up higher in the mix. During the second part of her set, she played probably the most powerful tribute showing a video montage of news clips showcasing the tragedy and heroes while holding her daughter. Before “Gonna Love Me” she was visibly emotional and teary eyed. Every performer during the event was enjoying themselves but also had a somber look as they knew why they were there and what it meant.
The party continued as DJ Trauma played between each set. Before Chance The Rapper took the stage, John Stewart, another celebrity who has used his fame for good, used the stage to tell the crowd how great they are and speak highly of Dayton.
Chance The Rapper, currently one of the biggest names in hip hop hit the stage and by time he started the crowd was further then the eye could see. People were lined up and down each street. One thing of note, is that the event took place on the street where tragedy happened. The street had been “shut down” for the event but every store was opened and booming with business. Every restaurant and bar was packed. It felt special and great to see a city rebuild and move on from tragedy and get better.
Chance’s set was a tight, 35 minute take that went through part of his catalog. Chance knows how to work the crowd and he was the favorite of the younger crowd, many knew every word to every song. Even the ones from the newest album The Big Day.
Before the headliner closed out the party Dave took the stage once again to do karaoke renditions of a few songs, briefly brought out Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update host Michael Che and Fonzworth Bentley performed a skit when Chris Rock was scheduled to be the transition into Stevie Wonder.
Music legend Stevie Wonder took the stage escorted by Dave Chapelle. The crowd was a nice mix of people: old and young, but Mr. Wonder certainly struck a cord with the older crowd. Playing the classics “Love in Need of Love Tonight”, “Sign, Sealed, Delivered,” “Higher Ground” and “Superstitious.” Vocally his voice sounded strong and on point, his backing band is fantastic and spot on. He’s a legend that must be seen live.
Stevie was in a playful mood when he brought out Dave Chappelle to “celebrate him.” Dave came out and was explaining the scene to Stevie and they joke back and forth about the crowd, Stevie made jokes about not being able to see before going into “Happy Birthday” which was dedicate to Dave, who’s birthday was the day before.
The event concluded with Stevie and Dave dueting on Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” Dave closed it out by thanking the crowd, one last O-H-I-O chant and told Gem City to keep shining.
As the thousands upon thousands of thousands of people filed out of the street where three weeks earlier, the worst thing imaginable happened, everyone was still happy, dancing and embracing.
Hopefully this event paved the way to help Dayton regroup and regrow.
Shine, Gem City. Shine on.
Review by Troy Smith