Over the weekend, I had the treat of heading over to Nassau, Bahamas to cover the Millennium Countdown 8, a mammoth three day concert broken up by genre.
The line-up for the first evening, somewhat strangely tagged "International Night" was stacked with stellar acts like Morgan Heritage, Etana, Sanchez, and Keyshia Cole. It's initially jarring to see Keyshia Cole's name on a show like that because her brand of R&B is way more BET than Tempo. But these four acts delivered a hell of a concert that went into the wee hours of the morning (something that Keyshia Cole is definitely not used to) and she especially left everyone who stuck around to enjoy her set thoroughly impressed.
The first artist to hit the stage was Etana, a local girl who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, and then burst onto the reggae scene in a major way. I've written about her in depth before, but I never had a chance to see her perform until this weekend and let me tell you: her voice is amazing live.
I first got a taste of that voice during soundcheck when I was standing next to Jamaican photographer Peter Rickard of popular website Afflictedyard.com. He was shooting, I was taking notes, and Etana was hitting notes so effortlessly that Peter and I were both looking at each like, "damnnn!"
That was at 8:30 p.m., and unfortunately, the concert was still hours away from starting. Shows in the Caribbean often start late, which is cool, but on this night, I'm sure it was a bit taxing for the crowd. For starters, attendance wasn't as high as it has been previously. To make a long story short, back in September, Lil Wayne was supposed to perform in Nassau but he didn't show up. Folks paid a lot of money to see Lil Wayne and Bahamians aren't the richest of people. Anyway, nobody got a refund, on tickets that were going for $100 a pop or more, so folks are very weary of concerts in Nassau right now.
Around 1:30 a.m., Etana took to the stage backed by a full band and captured the hearts of a crowd that didn't know her material that well, but felt her spirit all the way. She's definitely more focused on the roots rock side of reggae, and as she tore into songs like, "Don't Forget" and "I am not Afraid" the consciousness in her lyrics matched with her soulful, free-spirited style made for a great opening set.
Etana rocked for around 45 minutes or so, and left the stage with plenty of new fans from what I could tell. After her, big-bellied Jamaican DJ legend Sky Juice hit the stage with his silly toasting antics. He definitely warmed up the crowd, rolling his belly all over the place and cracking jokes galore.
After Sky Juice bounced off the stage despite the crowd insisting that he stayed, lover's rock legend Sanchez came up next and the whole dance went mad.
Starting out with songs like, "I Can't Wait" and "Missing You" he laid his claim for being one of the best lover's rock singers of all time. By the time he jumped into "Stuck on You" everyone was feeling the vibe and a lot of guys were hugged up on their significant others. Sanchez kept things contemporary and secular for awhile but he's also got a big gospel catalog too. The crowd seemed to like his Christian music too, but his older material got the most forwards of the night.
After Sanchez left, Morgan Heritage came out and rocked out hardcore with their blend of Brooklyn funk and Jamaican ragga. Their hit song, "Brooklyn & Jamaica" had everyone hype and most of the songs they sang, were off their latest album, Mission in Progress. They did hit some older songs like, "Don't Haffi Dread," "Tell Me How Come" and the scandalous "Your Best Friend" which all kept the crowd well entertained.
Now, at this point, it's about a quarter to 5 a.m. and I'm sitting there with friends thinking, there's no way Keisha Cole is going to perform tonight. I knew she definitely didn't want to do it. But at 5 am exactly, Keisha Cole hit the stage to an audience that couldn't have had more than 150 people. She immediately came out as energetic as ever and yelled, "Good Morning Bahamas" which jarred people awake almost instantly.
The reality is, that was the smallest crowd Keyshia Cole has performed in front of in years. The next day, I ran into her mom who said it was Keyshia's smallest show ever, and while there must have been a show before she was famous that flopped, it's entirely possible. She's used to playing sold out arenas, and this show was going to be a challenge. I immediately made up in my mind that if Keyshia didn't ego trip and went out there sang her heart out, then she'd earn my respect. And that's exactly what she did. She sang her new hit, "Heaven Sent" and all the ladies in the audience swooned. It was a good moment as most folks who had never seen her perform realized that she was actually live in front of them and not on BET.
From there she asked the audience what they wanted to hear (very cool) and everyone shouted, "I Remember." Half the crowd was singing it word for word and a woman behind me had tears streaming down her face.
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At one point, Keyshia brought her mom out on stage--and addressed the fact that two have notoriously had problems, but that they're still hanging in there working it all out. Keyshia's mom started crying right up there on stage and it wasn't until the band started playing, "Let it Go" that her tears appropriately stopped. It was a heck of a night, and she closed the show with "Shoulda Let You Go," one of her earlier songs that helped make her famous and fans really appreciated it. She even apologized for Lil Wayne not showing up and is probably the first big performer to acknowledge the impact his no-show had on the island. All of that should help make Keyshia very popular with Bahamians for years to come.
I chatted with her after the set and asked her what she thought of playing a show of that size so early in the morning. "It's definitely not my normal thing, at all, but I know the people needed me to perform this morning so I just went out there and had a good time," Keyshia said. "It's all about giving the people everything that you've got and that's what we did."
After that, she plugged her new album, which drops Dec 16 and bolted. But she did what she had to do.