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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

September 5, 2010 at 11:40 AM

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Bumbershoot 2010 day one notable act: Wheedle's Groove

Posted by Andrew Matson

Day one of Bumbershoot 2010 is over.

The most notable act I saw was Wheedle's Groove. Also notable were Neko Case and Bob Dylan; read Misha Berson on those two performers here.

Wheedle's Groove

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Wheedle's Groove at SIFF Cinema; L-R: Jennifer Maas, Pastor Pat Wright, Robbie Hill, Robert Nesbitt and Overton Berry

At 2 p.m. at SIFF Cinema, local director Jennifer Maas screened outtakes from her internationally acclaimed "Wheedle's Groove" documentary, which chronicles Seattle's forgotten but seriously happening soul and funk scenes of the '60s and '70s.

It's about to come out on DVD, and is currently screening at the Northwest Film Forum in Capitol Hill. The final show is this Thursday, Sept. 9, and features a live epilogue by Seattle DJ Mr. Supreme and "Wheedle's" narrator Sir Mix-A-Lot (details here).

Some of Maas' cutting-room-floor footage proved as engaging as what made her final cut, particularly scenes of drummer Robbie Hill (of Robbie Hill's Family Affair) explaining how he developed a curious case of amnesia that got him out of fighting in Vietnam, and pianist Overton Berry recalling how he learned to jam on the outro to "Hey Jude" on the fly at Seattle's Doubtletree Inn in 1970:

"They told me, 'It's only got four chords, and the last is the same as the first!'"

Maas included an excised montage in which several interview subjects said they initially balked at the entire "Wheedle's" project — which includes re-released and newly recorded music on Aurora Avenue label Light in the Attic Records, run by Maas' husband Matt Sullivan — fearing exploitation of a mostly black scene by whites.

After the house lights came on, Maas stood with "Wheedle's" players Berry, Hill, Pastor Pat Wright (now of Total Experience Gospel Choir) and former KYAC DJ Robert Nesbitt to answer questions from the audience, but the face time was more an opportunity for the cast members to share memories and publicly appreciate the archaeological significance of "Wheedle's Groove" — a lot can be overlooked or forgotten in 30 years, especially in Seattle's gentrified Central District, where most of the "Wheedle's"-era action happened. Everyone seemed to agree Maas' documentary and Light in the Attic's related CD/vinyl releases were labors of love that all involved parties were proud of.

They were also eager to point out the Wheedle's Groove band — a collective featuring reconfigured bands from back in the day — would play Capitol Hill nightclub Neumos on Oct. 1, and encouraged the audience to head from SIFF Cinema outdoors to the middle of the Seattle Center lawn where the band played the Fisher Green/State Farm stage at 3:45 pm.

Wheedle's Groove played to at least a thousand people on the grass, and performances by the groups Cookin' Bag, Black on White Affair, Total Experience Gospel Choir, Robbie Hill's Family Affair, and Cold, Bold and Together (incredible band name) among others were soulful, funky and relentlessly positive.

Auxiliary players danced across the stage or moved in place — there must have been 15 people up there — and many wore suits or elements of suits. It was probably lost on the audience which band played which song, even though Robert Nesbitt MC'ed the event and communicated personnel changes as they occurred. To the uninitiated and clueless, it was still a party, horn section blaring, back-up singing emphatic and rhythmic, Sly Stone-style chants full of utopian individualism — "I just want to be like myself!" and "You be you / And let me be me!" Tight drumming worked out the Fisher Green speakers, congas popping over a steady bass pulse.

Herman Brown, leader of Cookin' Bag (and dad of famed Seattle hiphop producer/rapper Vitamin D), kept talking about how after the show, he was headed to Lopez Island, and someone else on stage talked about Lopez, too. I don't know if Wheedle's Groove had another gig booked in the San Juans after Bumbershoot, but in the moment, I imagined Lopez was Valhalla for Seattle's soul/funk gods and goddesses, a place where they all feasted on roasted wild boar.

It was an extremely "Seattle" scene, the Wheedle's story rich with local history and the music perfect for Bumbershoot, appealing to kids and parents alike and easy to dance to, a natural fit for an outdoor park jam.

Mayor Mike McGinn spoke before the music started and got serious about the fact that civil rights was more connected to music in the '60s and '70s than it is now, and said Seattle's still dealing with a lot of the same issues from back then. He urged the audience to look at "what's in the newspapers these days," hinting at several racially tinged altercations, and said, "we face challenges." He urged audience members to volunteer in their neighborhoods tomorrow. He said music is about community, our potential, and doing better, called Wheedle's Groove "an overlooked jewel in the crown of Seattle music," and proclaimed September 4th "Wheedle's Groove Day."

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The Wheedle's Groove crowd, starting to fill in

Photos from my phone

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