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Published: 2016/02/28
by Jordan Smith

Charles Bradley, Changeville Festival, Gainesville, FL- 2/25

It’s been almost 60 years since Charles Bradley moved to Brooklyn from Gainesville, FL. He played his first ever hometown show last night at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza in the heart of downtown. Gainesville, a small southern city known mostly for the University of Florida, is filled with natural beauty and brilliant people who bring it to life. Some great musicians have been bred here, Bradley and last night’s stage namesake, Bo Diddley, included.

There was a buzz in the air before Bradley took the stage. Two local bands, the Savants of Soul and Little Jake and the Soul Searchers, crushed their opening sets and got the crowd moving. While Gainesville is a college town, more than just young adults turned out to witness the Screaming Eagle of Soul. The audience was about as diverse as it gets, which is a testament to the town’s unique culture. Food trucks lined the streets and local craft beer was served out of tents. There was a very festive atmosphere in this space which has actually been closed for the past year, undergoing renovations.

The multi-instrumentalist Extraordinaires band took the stage and Bradley came out with a big smile, rocking a fire engine red suit, and used both hands to hold up a heart sign above his head before launching right into “Heartaches and Pain”, a quintessential soul song about the harsh realities of life. He led right into “The World”. “The world is burning up in flames and nobody wanna take the blame”, Bradley belted to the welcoming crowd. The 67 year old man was electrifying, baring his soul, and sharing his truth.

He took a breath and announced, “I’m home”.

The red and yellow stage lights shined on his funky suit and band as they whipped the crowd into a frenzy through “You Put the Flame on It”. Bradley busted out some seriously groovy dance moves and swung his mic stand with the energy of a man half his age. He took a short break while the Extraordinaires let loose. Bradley returned looking even more alive and wild, wearing a black and gold studded suit, with a pharaoh sarcophagus on the back. It’s hard to believe this man’s first album was just released in 2011. He has to be one of the most passionate performers touring right now, and he poured his heart out last night in his first hometown show. He was born for this.

The second half of the set was upbeat with tracks like “Ain’t it a Sin” and “Lovin’ You, Baby”. Bradley growled through his poetic lyrics and was full of emotion.

“All I can say is, I love you,” Bradley beamed at the crowd.

He brought chills through the plaza with his version of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”. Bradley worked as a James Brown impersonator for years, and the Godfather of Soul’s influence is clearly in the veins of this new beacon of the genre. Bradley stated, “I got the soul in me too. I’m from Gainesville.” That much is clear. He was gyrating and rolling his eyes like a madman and the crowd roared their approval.

He took a few minutes to preach about seeing righteous talents in the world. “Don’t hurt no other man,” and “do it good” he said. “Make sure your goal is right and honest and show the world that.” Bradley’s words were inspiring. He introduced his next song by saying he wrote it about his hometown and places he has gone in the world.

“Why is It So Hard”, a track from Bradley’s debut album, “No Time for Dreaming”, questions the societal system that has been perpetuated in America, routinely holding its citizens back from achieving their true potential. It is a testament to hard work and perseverance that someone like him was able to break out of the cycle late in life and have the opportunity to share his message of love and hope with the rest of the world. His raspy pleading words made grown men cry last night.

After the band left the stage for a break, the crowd chanted “Welcome Home” and brought a triumphant Bradley back out for one more song. He prefaced with a short speech about the creation of roses: white roses, red roses, yellow roses, all three beautiful. He said there is one that is often forgotten – the black rose. “We need to make a bouquet”, he said, reminding everyone of the importance of kindness in the modern world.

Bradley left his hometown audience with the title track off his next album, to be released in April. A gut wrenching rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Changes”, he performs this introspective song in memory of his late mother. There was a true, deep magic in the air as Mr. Charles Bradley crooned the last notes to the city from which he came.

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