November 30, 2001
I was an incidental Ray Charles fan. His classics were and are such a part of the culture that I had heard "Georgia on My Mind" and "What I'd Say" without seeking them out. I liked those songs, but the fact that he was a legend was a large part of why I went to see him at Jazzfest in 2002. I wanted to see the roots, the real deal. I wanted to see him because I thought I might not get to see him again. Unfortunately, I was right.
As you'd imagine, the Sprint Stage was packed for Charles. I was resigned to sitting down next to the fence near the marsh. I could see the big screen, and I needed it to catch Ray's facial expressions and such.
I wasn't surprised I didn't know many of the songs Charles played, but I didn't think I'd feel so out of the loop. I should have listened to some of his stuff before I went. I could have enjoyed the concert more if I knew a larger amount of his material. Anyway, the songs were enjoyable. The Gospel stuff he did was somethin' else. With his background singers, Charles created a happy-go-lucky vibe.
"Georgia on My Mind" was like history on a stick. It was awesome, transcendent, and surreal to hear that song live. Like when I saw Eric Clapton perform "Layla." I had a smile painted on my face for four minutes. At any other points in my life, I would have looked like a goober, but these moments weren't about appearance. Since "Georgia on my Mind" was such a large part of America's identity, when I heard the song live I felt like I was reaching and absorbing a piece of the country I couldn't have gotten to any other way.
"What I'd Say" was a rave-up, as expected. The crowd did their best Gospel clapping. That song was long, and it could have gone on longer. There's something elemental about it.
Charles got animated during "What I'd Say," but for most of the set he was reserved yet with it. I was waiting for probably my favorite dance song--"Shake Your Tailfeather"--but it didn't come. That's alright. There's always heaven.