There is no greater testament to the unparalleled excellence of the New York City area than this simple fact: In the course of two evenings, I saw 16-time Grammy winner Jimmy Sturr and the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra and MC Hammer (and the Hammertime Dancers). And both shows were free. I defy you to find an area of the world that gives you that kind of opportunity.
I will start with the second show first, because it was the less enjoyable of the two. Sorry, Hammer. It wasn't entirely your fault. I'll take some of the blame, for once I saw the line that wrapped around the block to get into Brooklyn's Wingate Field, I should have realized that there was no show that would be worth waiting in that line for. But I'm stupid. So I expelled a great deal of sweat in the 90-minute wait to get into the 7:30 concert, which was to feature MC Hammer, Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh, and MC Lyte. And when I finally got in at a little after 8:15, the show hadn't even started yet. Sweet.
After a lot of stalling from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner and the Black National Anthem, and a short set from Def Jam's Jason Fox, it was, quite unexpectedly, Hammer Time. He had been advertised as the headliner, so I was expecting a long, hot wait if I wanted to see him. But I suppose the change was made on purpose, because no one really seemed to care about Hammer at all. Or maybe everyone was too hot and bothered to care. In any case, Hammer tried real hard, doing most of the hits ("Pumps and a Bump," "Pray," "Turn This Mutha Out," "Too Legit to Quit," and, of course, "U Can't Touch This), but nothing seemed to be making a dent--at least with the people not directly in front of the stage. Maybe it was crazy for the people who I assume lined up at 4 p.m. to get into the show. But I have my doubts.
After Hammer wrapped up to general indifference, Markowitz came out and hinted that there would be a decent wait before MC Lyte took the stage. It was 9:40. So that was my cue to leave. As I left, Markowitz, desperately trying to hold the audience's attention, brought subway hero Wesley Autrey on stage. So I saw MC Hammer and Wesley Autrey after a 90-minute wait. Was it worth it? Maybe.
OK, probably not.
But I can cross MC Hammer off the list of people I've never seen in concert. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Slick Rick, MC Lyte, and Doug E. Fresh.
There will be no pictures. Aside from the fact that several thousand people blocked my way to the front of the stage, I got a staredown from a security guy after I tried to take a picture from half a football field away (cameras were prohibited). And I wasn't about to get thrown out. So just picture it in your head. Or go to YouTube, where you'll find that Hammer did much better with the emo kids at the Great Bamboozle in New Jersey this spring.
I had a slightly shorter wait for Jimmy Sturr and the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra to take the stage at Jersey City's Liberty State Park, but there was a better reason. Seems that the Liberty House restaurant, which was directly in front of the lawn where the band was to play, also was hosting a wedding that day. So, as I walked up to the area where I assumed the concert would be, I found the wedding just breaking up and the subsequent reception just starting. And as that happened, Jimmy Sturr and the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra were setting up about 20 feet away. And, for the record, they don't rely on roadies. DIY operation. Sixteen-time Grammy winner getting his hands dirty. Take some lessons, spoiled rock stars.
Anyway, the wedding guests mingled on the grounds with the roughly 75 senior citizens lounging on lawn chairs who were anxiously waiting for the show to start while desperately trying to avoid any ray of sun. There's nothing quite like going to an outdoor show where the temperature and the average audience member age is roughly the same. I kid the seniors. Mainly because I could probably outlast the majority of them in a fight.
After an announcement was made that the show would be starting late to accommodate the wedding, everyone calmed down. And before you knew it, the Orchestra launched into the opening medley and it was off to the races. I think I know the opening medley by heart by now, but I won't ruin the surprise for you when you decide to attend your first Jimmy Sturr show. Suffice it to say, it smokes.
With a new CD to promote, Sturr added a few new tunes to the show, including a killer "Under the Double Eagle" featuring Keith Slattery. Alas, there was no "Devil Went Down to Georgia" from Fiddlin' Frankie Urbanovitch. Kind of a drag. But there were plenty of good times to go around. And then toward the end of the show, Jimmy Sturr started to cry talking about the soldiers. Dancing, laughing, crying--you get it all at a Jimmy Sturr show.
You oughta go. Check out the tour schedule and pick a show (next up for me: 8/11, Hunter, NY). He's better than Hammer. Doesn't dance as well, though.
And, lucky for you, cameras were very much allowed.