There's a time in my life
When it ran so cold
Can't find a friend
Anywhere at all
So my brother said to me
Charles gotta stand tall
Because life is full of sorrow
Heartaches and pain
We're heartbroken to hear about the passing of Charles Bradley. His performance at Sappyfest Six remains one of the greatest performances we've ever had the privilege to witness, here or anywhere. Powerful, intimate, generous, and deeply human. There is so much life in this music, a life and a music we will cherish and remember.
We can't tell it any better than Matt Charlton's lovely description of the show as published in the SappyForever book:
I was one of the stage managers at SappyFest Six. This meant that I spent the weekend standing next to Steve Lambke looking concerned, which actually describes a lot of my time living in Sackville.
The strongest memory I have of that year’s festival began during Bonjay’s set. If you didn’t catch them, they were amazing.
The whole time though, I couldn’t shake the fact that the performer that had to follow them could never live up to this. There was no way he could do anything but fail. Most people hadn’t heard his name before the festival and this was probably the last time anyone would after he became the wet blanket on this thundering dancehall sound.
Finally, Bonjay’s set finished and the next performer’s backing band calmly set up. I felt for them. They were professionals. They knew what they were in for. They were being sent to the gallows. And it was SappyFest’s fault. Who would put a soul band after Bonjay’s electro dance attack?
The band started playing. Just music. For a long time. Where was the singer? He must have known what was coming and fled town. It was probably the smart move.
When it seemed, even disregarding the poetic license I’m currently taking, to have been a notably long time that the band was vamping, I went to look for him.
I met an equally concerned Paul Henderson on the way. We both looked in through the window of the green room. We could only see a silhouette of a man sitting. He was just staring down, head in hands, calmly, not moving at all.
Looking back, it seems like an inspiring moment. It was the peaceful meditation of a fighter before he enters the ring, a man with his god.
At the time though, I simply thought, “Oh shit.”
Before I had a moment to voice concern, the silhouette stood and walked out the door. Without acknowledging the waves of stress emanating from us, he continued to the stage. Strongly. We walked behind him, drafting his sense of purpose.
He got to the stage, walked on and…it’s hard to really describe what happened next.
His calm poise instantly turned into an amazing hip-thrusting bird dance. Then he walked to the mic and everything changed forever. And I don’t say that lightly. Everything actually changed forever.
Charles Bradley sang the opening line of Heartaches and Pain:
“There’ve been times in my life…”
…and it was so shockingly good that the crowd shrieked. It was out of joy, but the intensity of the moment made a thousand people sound like awkward teenagers all at once. They (we) shrieked like something truly horrible had happened (watch the Youtube clip to see what I mean).
No one was ready. There was no way we could have been.
Everyone was instantly in tears and it was impossible to escape this strange but unmistakable feeling that a thousand people were exactly where they wanted to be. That’s an odd and beautiful thing. It’s something that I didn’t even know existed.
I stood next to Steve Lambke, much less concerned.
Charles Bradley is the greatest performer I have ever seen. It was a flawless set that I could have watched for the rest of the night and simultaneously didn’t need another note from. We watched a piece of history unfold, this was SappyFest. Swamp Magic.