If you are attending Okayplayer‘s annual Holiday Jam, you don’t need to arrive already feeling festive. The amazing gathering of musicians that cross the stage will provide all the dazzle you need to raise your spirits… through the roof. This year’s Jam marked the 15th year of Okayplayer and there was little advance notice as to what would go on except that the Roots would be performing as the backing band to many artists and comedian Hannibal Buress would be the master of ceremonies. But the musical guests that followed were almost too numerous to count.
But first, as the crowd filled in, they heard the sounds of the first few bands which included some Philly (the home of the Roots) natives, like Gizmo, Donn T and Mozaic Flow. The latter was a brass-driven party group that had the audience bouncing up and down with a crazy blend of musical genres. DJ J Period was keep the party going between sets from his mixers tucked away on the side of the stage.
Following the Flow, comedian / musician Reggie Watts performed a couple of his oddball pieces and Rahzel dropped some crazy phrases from his powerful voice box. After that, some members of the Roots, excluding ?uestlove and Black Thought, grabbed their instruments and became the backing band to the first act, Mr. Vegas whose persuasiveness turned Brooklyn Bowl into a dancehall. It may not have been holiday-themed, but it was energetic and exciting to see him jump around the stage. The island rhythms continued after with Christopher Ellis, Addis Pablo and Bunji Garlin though the reggae vibes did temper the energy, if not the spirit.
The next two artists were rather unexpected, Tennessee’s Valerie June performed “Working Woman Blues” from her 2013 label debut, Pushin’ Against a Stone within a quieter dynamic range. Her distinctively mature voice belies her age and she sings of troubles that echo older blues and Americana songs. Then after June, Sufjan Stevens appeared from his hoodie already on the stage — I hadn’t even noticed him till then. Many people in the crowd near me didn’t understand who he was and thought Questlove, now on stage, was rolling his eyes at Stevens, but the indie-darling had earned his place, his song “Redford” inspired The Roots’ undun. After performing “Holland”, Stevens decided to dip his toes into the seasonal music with “Holly Jolly Christmas” as The Roots backed him. It was a couple more artists before hip-hop took over. Following the song “Sirens” from Adrian Younge, the crowd cheered wildly for Bilal. He worked in a cover of Radiohead’s deep and dark grooved “Everything in its Right Place” that many in the audience took to even if it was something less understandable as a selection.
The Roots brass fired up as Big Daddy Kane took the stage to perform a few tracks including “Just Rhyming with Biz”, with Black Thought doing his best Biz Markie, and “Set It Off”. The amped crowd would have been more than okay if this had been the end of the evening but in a surprise to even the publicist, Raekwon from the Wu-Tang hopped onto the stage to close out the night. His songs included “Incarcerated Scarfaces” and “Ice Cream” with Black Thought again doing a great job pulling off the rhymes from the Wu members not present. One knew the Holiday Jam was all over when Questlove bounded from the stage, but as the rest of the band took their bows, as the tinsel decorating their stage reflected back the camera flashes. Finally, Black Thought let the audience know the party wasn’t over — the hip-hop extravaganza would continue with more DJ sets — the spirit of the season wasn’t willing to give up the many bodies it had claimed.
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Big Daddy Kane
Mr. Vegas “Heads High”
Christopher Ellis “Still In Love”
Addis Pablo “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown”
Bunji Garlin “Differentology”
Valerie June “Working Woman Blues”
Sufjan Stevens “Holland” “Holly Jolly Christmas”
Adrian Younge “Sirens”
Bilal “Sometimes” “Home” “Everything in its Right Place” (Radiohead cover)
Big Daddy Kane “Ain’t No Half Steppin” “Set It Off” “Just Rhyming with the Biz”
Raekwon “Incarcerated Scarfaces” “Ice Cream” “Guillotine (Swordz)”