At the Confluence of Sound:
Story: Jennifer Rolf
Photos: Sean Rider
Music at the Intersection, in its third iteration, once again welcomed the sounds of hip-hop, R&B, funk and soul, peppered with blues and rock ‘n’ roll. The Midtown summer music festival is renowned for its diverse lineup that blurs genre lines by blending music from today’s rising stars with that of legends from all over the globe.
Arrested Development’s explosion onto the music scene in the early 1990s was a welcome arrival for many who appreciated their positive approach to hip hop and their socially conscious lyrics. The Atlanta-based group’s debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of..., brought us gems like “Tennessee,” “People Everyday” and “Mr. Wendal” and helped score two Grammy awards in 1993, as well as many other accolades.
Fourteen albums, two compilations and 30+ years later, co-founder and lead vocalist Speech may be the only remaining original member, but he and the musicians who surrounded him on stage at Music at the Intersection on Saturday evening brought an immeasurable energy and a remarkable sound and live experience. In addition to the aforementioned songs, the group performed 10 more originals (including “Revolution,” “Ease My Mind” and “Mama’s Always on Stage”) and two covers (“Jump” by Kriss Kross and “Jump Around” by House of Pain) during their memorable set.
As the Saturday afternoon sun beat down on the festival, one could find respite from the heat and enjoy the smoky jazz sounds of Denise Thimes under the Big Top. Originally from St. Louis, the songstress now calls Chicago home but has not forgotten her roots, despite her worldly travels that have taken her to big cities and other countries to sing for presidents and royalty, from the Queen of England to the Queen of Thailand to the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin.
After a multi-year break, hip-hop phenoms the Earthworms reunited in 2022, bringing a renewed energy with them. With the band now being in separate places geographically, their live performances are limited for now, so you were lucky if you caught their Saturday afternoon set on the Field stage at the festival. Joined by Daemon, AddVerb Superb and T-Menace, the ’worms played a selection of mostly new jams from their latest release with Doug Surreal, Garden in the Ruins.
Perhaps the latest to adorn the list of hip-hop/rap hometown heroes to break into the national spotlight, Smino closed out the mainstage on Saturday night. Surrounded by a swarm of backup dancers on a stage book-ended with giant mushrooms, Smino’s soul-infused rap had the crowd enthralled, head-bopping and arm-waving throughout his set that was dominated by his 2022 release, Luv 4 Rent.
Displaying veteran prowess onstage, Smino bantered with the crowd while not missing a beat during 2018’s “Flea Flicka:”—“Sometimes I feel like they’re itching to throw them clamps on me, Hit ‘em with the flea flicker, not scratch on me.”
R&B outfit Root Mod helped open the festival on Sunday afternoon, bringing a jazzy vibe dipped in soul and hip-hop to the Washington Ave. stage. Fronted by the exquisite Bianca Fitzpatrick, the nine-piece ensemble drew in an audience that multiplied as festivalgoers filtered in through the front gates. Their set included Root Mod originals, “Love Language,” “Perish” and “Let Love Live.”
You can’t talk about roots rock in St. Louis without mentioning The Mighty Pines, who followed Root Mod’s Sunday set on the Washington Ave. stage. The four-piece blends elements of folk, bluegrass and Americana into a sound that has drawn a dedicated following, and their performance with lead vocalist/guitarist (and recent participant on “The Voice”) Neil Salsich at the helm energized old and new fans alike.
Samantha Fish, the Kansas City-born blues guitarist and singer-songwriter, lit up the Field stage on Sunday afternoon with her partner of late, Texas musician Jesse Dayton. The two collaborated on Death Wish Blues and have been touring together in 2023 in support of the album, making a stop at MATI along the way. Both are impressive blues musicians who complemented each other with their different styles and offered an electrifying live experience.
Native Australians The Teskey Brothers returned to North America last summer, hitting festivals and iconic venues throughout the States and Canada in support of their latest release, The Winding Way. Luckily one of those stops was MATI for a sunset performance on the Field stage on Sunday, and the band did not disappoint, showcasing their signature blues rock and Josh Teskey’s soulful vocals on songs like “Remember the Time,” “Oceans of Emotion” and “I Get Up.”
Thirty minutes after the Teskey Brothers set started, New Orleans-based Tank and the Bangas went on at the Big Top, and the energy they brought was hard to match. The highly acclaimed group blends elements of soul, hip hop, R&B, jazz and spoken word, and lead vocalist and ringleader Tarriona “Tank” Ball did her part to enliven
Jazz icons were infused throughout the three stages over the two-day festival, but none were as big as the legendary Herbie Hancock. An integral cog of the jazz landscape for over 50 years, dating back to when he was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet (which also included legends Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams), Hancock put on a masterclass of post-bop jazz with an ever-so-subtle touch of funk. Accompanying Hancock on this trailblazing journey was another world-renowned jazz instrumentalist, Terrance Blanchard. Blanchard—a legend in his own right—has written over 40 film scores, and his ties to St. Louis will forever be etched in stone, as his second opera composition, Fire Shut-Up in My Bones, made its world premiere at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2019.
“Midwest, where y’all at?!” From one legend to the next, iconic hip-hop DJ Grandmaster Flash greeted awestruck festivalgoers on Sunday. His influence is undeniable as one of the founding fathers of hip-hop. In the year of celebrating 50 years of the genre, Flash’s set felt more like a celebration of St. Louis hip-hop, with a performance that included Nelly classics “Country Grammar,” “Grillz,” “Shake Ya Tailfeather,” “Ride Wit Me” and “Hot in Herre” along with Chingy’s “Right Thurr.”
One of the last artists to perform was psychedelic bass virtuoso, Thundercat. Dropping in while on his “In Yo Girl’s City” tour, the affable former Suicidal Tendencies’ bassist could have easily taken the stage, played and left. But it’s always the banter and the bits of light shedding stories that preface a song, giving you a glimpse into the song’s existence. Take the funky, disco-yacht rock vibe “Overseas” for instance: “You ever have sex on an airplane? You should try that sometime.”
No question Thundercat’s music stands on its own, but you’d be lying to yourself if that tidbit didn’t enhance your experience. Rounding out his set were his quintessential bangers, “Funny Thing” (played twice, because…why not?) and “Them Changes.” The encore offerings were “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” and “No More Lies.”
Esteemed St. Louis-based blues musicians, the Marquise Knox Band, had the honor of closing out the festival on Sunday night on the Big Top stage. Knox has been playing his classic blues style since he was a child and performs on stages both locally and globally—he is a true St. Louis treasure. The band was joined by the Funky Butt Brass Band horn section, and together they provided the perfect ending to a weekend that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
There’s no question that the Kranzberg-produced Music at the Intersection is coming into its own, toeing the line of becoming an underrated musical festival. From 2022 to 2023, the lineup keeps expanding as the spectrum from up-and-coming to legends are well-balanced.
It’s very exciting to be able to see an emerging Australian band (The Teskey Brothers), a legend (Herbie Hancock) and a legend-in-the-making (Thundercat) in a matter of a few hours. When you stop to think about it, it’s sort of wild—you may want to re-read that last sentence. Expectations now fully part of the equation, we can’t wait for 2024’s lineup announcement.