Last year, women across the country convened for the 3rd annual REVIVAL, a salon styled tour of queer artists and allies. With dynamic performances from poets and musicians alike, THE REVIVAL weaves a salon styled night of artistry, libations and genuine fellowship. In this four-part series, one of the dope performers, B.Steady, gives ELIXHER readers a behind-the-scenes look into her experience. Next up, Women and the Word: THE REVIVAL Documentary Film, which chronicles the creation of the international tour led and supported by women. Contribute to their Kickstarter today.
Three a.m. Brooklyn, street. It is dark. Corner store fluorescent and street lamps color the curb orange. Only two hours of sleep. Eli hops on top of the car, loading the car top carrier. She moves with purpose. Like she just does this. At 3 a.m. Everyday. We scoop T’ai and Charla (thin videographer with a shaved head in allblackeverything). And we are off to Toronto! I read my book until I fall asleep. In upstate New York, the road looks like a blue dream. Now, the sun seeps into a cloudy grey sky. I look out the window in that nostalgic way you look out the window on a road trip. Movement makes me happy.
We stop for gas and I take the keys from Jade. As the van gains speed, my grip on the wheel tightens. Last time I drove a car on a road trip, the engine caught on fire at 90mph… I am not a confident driver on the highway. It makes me a bit nervous, but the trees are redorangegreenyellow and the sky is warm grey now and a light rain taps on the window. It’s beautiful this morning. I hook up my musics. Foreign Exchange’s allroads, Ellington’s little brown book, Sara Tavares‘ ponto de luz, nina simone’s he was too good to me, bilal’s when will you call, and so on. I relax into the seat and cruise for a few hours.
Buffalo. Now everyone is awake. T’ai pulls out her phone.
Let’s get wings. Well, sure. Quick trip to the family dollar. Buy a pack of AAs for my loop pedal and a watch for my comrade Taylor. NEXT. The ANCHOR BAR (“home of the original buffalo chicken wings”). Jade nonchalantly orders fifty wings for the five of us, half sweet bbq, half hot. Now I’m licking blue cheese and barbeque honey from my fingers. We talk astrology. Solsis and i are leos. T’ai is an aries. Aries are confident, and creative…cocky. Aries are like leos, but not as cool. Charla is a taurus. Aww! I say and pat her back affectionately. All my first loves are tauruses. They’re sweet. loyal. verystubborn. Jealous. Jade and Eli are virgos. I sigh a heavy sigh. I know about virgos. Virgos are nuts. Cagey. Hellof charming though.
T’ai spits some philosophy. I have a theory about chicken wings. T’ai is straight faced serious when she says this. T’ai’s chicken wing wisdom. You know the flat part of the wing? Yea… And the drumstick-looking part? Yea. There are two different kinds of people: flat part people and drum stick people. Apparently, the drumstick people want their chicken now. They want life quick and easy. The flat part people like a challenge. Like the work.
I’m a flat part person. Full of chicken, we hit the road again.
The border appears. Drive through Toronto.
It doesn’t look different here. But it is. The car gets quiet. I am getting nervous. Pull into a spot across from a studio. The studio is lovely. It looks like a gallery and a cafe and a home all at once. Walls littered with color and paint. A dozen empty chairs face a small stage. I am nervous again. Try to breathe slow. Paint a heavy black line on my eyelids. Then blue. I scratch at my hair, squint into the bathroom mirror. Uuuuh the shaved parts are already getting too long.
People are filing in. People smile. Sort of. Apparently, they call Toronto the “scewface capital.” They make a screwface when they see you. Make sure you know they’re not feeling you. Maybe that’s just honesty.
I hate that time before a show. My skin buzzes and my throat tightens up. I’m not nice.
Solsis frollics to the stage, smiling like the dandy fairy she is. She is warm. The audience is cold. Intimidating. Screwface. I take the stage. The sounds is nice. I don’t talk much. I don’t know much about toronto. I’m too nervous for small talk. So i sing. The audience stares like they do. I try not to look at them. I haven’t mastered that skill just yet. It’s like a stranger watching you cry. Strangers watching you laugh. Strangers watching you come. It’s exciting and terrifying and strange.
It’s the last song. Blind. I start singing too fast. I am calm at the end of the set, even when I fuck up. I have to start over. I’m sorry. Everyone in the audience is made of marble. The song is over. Pull on my leather jacket and rush into the cold air. A cigarette. A conversation. Two studs lean against the wall. Pass a joint. A tall brown skin Nigerian and a skinny Ethiopian with long hair.
We talk about queerness and Blackness. About not coming out. Sacrifices they’ve made for family. The Ethiopian boy spits a verse. Her voice sounds like air and sugar. You have a beautiful voice. I walk back inside and the whole room balances on a tightrope. The thread of T’ai’s voice pulls at every pair of eyes. Now mine are fixed too. When her last word falls, we are all a bit softer. Less screwfaced.
I grab a beer and chat. The music starts so I dance. I find Charla and she dances too. We look at each other and laugh. We are both far too tired to stand, but somehow we are riding the bassline, heads bobbing like puppets on strings. I don’t last long. I sneak off into dark room. Climb over clothes and things and fall into a tiny bed. The music and yelling keeps my mind going, but my body is motionless. Jade stumbles in sometime after me and we spoon into sleep.
We leave at 6 a.m. Not nearly enough sleep. again. Charla’s seat is now occupied by a beautiful curly haired, dimpled videographer. Andrea. She is beautiful, and unfortunately under the impression that she’s straight… Detroit emerges in a wide, gray sky. It’s cold today. It’s 11am. Pull up to a bar called Liv. We’re scheduled to feature at brunch. Never played a show at brunch, but for some reason I feel unusually calm. Set up the loop pedal with the DJ. Now the caterers are setting up. Smells like eggs and potatoes and fried chicken. I sit on the stage to sing. I feel a bit detached. It doesn’t look like anyone wants to hear live music at 12 p.m. in the afternoon. Is it too early for a sad song on a Sunday? I sing anyways. Singing to a straight crowd is another strange experience. Do they get it? Are they confused? Maybe they’re not, but it feels like something is lost in translation. Applause! Done. Still a bit sleepy, the cluster of us hops back into the black van. No time for celebration. We have another show tonight in Ohio.
The first time I drove to Obelrin, I was eighteen years old. I’ve visited the place a number of times since graduation, but I still get those same nervous moths dancing around in my gut. Andrea turns her camera my way. Are you excited to see Taylor? Yes. What will you do when you see her? I don’t know. Kiss her on the lips? I pretend to read. Look out the window. Cows and cornfields. We are in Ohio!
We arrive and I kiss Taylor on the lips. Cramps. PMSing for what feels like weeks. Breathe and breathe. Think about the show. Oberlin. Should be like coming home. It is I guess. But coming home can feel heavy and make your heart beat too fast. It can be something you look forward to and dread at the same time.
I spent four years at Oberlin. I learned a lot here. I took the best classes with the best professors in Black studies and African diasporic arts: Black feminist thought, the blues aesthetic, Katrina and the Black freedom struggle. At Oberlin, my academic work and theory was more dynamic than it will ever be. But. In four years, I only wrote two songs. Why? Maybe because Oberlin and it’s world famous music conservatory breeds a world famous snobbery. BayAreaNewYorkHipster composers and sunglasswearing hungovernaysayers with their noses too high in the air to say hello in the street. This is the side of Oberlin College that kept me from writing music, this is what makes me nervous every time I come back to perform. Takes me to that place. Then. I was not good enough to be a musician. I did not know enough to be an artist.
I walk into the venue. Take the stage. I know this place too well. It’s harder to let go. Sing For Sethe. The song for my mothers, my ancestors. One last song. Then step off the stage. Jade is back on the mic. We are here. Now Jade is oracle. She’s got Lucille in her eyes.
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
The show is over. People chatting. Hugs for Caitlin, Chinwe, Warren, Daisy. The few folks I still know. Thank Jade for tonight. She won’t know what she’s done for me, but thank her anyway. Solsis humors giddy admirers. Eli packs up the merch. Walk to the car alone. Pack the mics neatly in when I see her from the trunk. T’ai? She looks different. On stage, she looks so brave. A new set every night. Every word is a risk she takes. Are you ok? Yes. She’s not. Her locks fall into her face. You want to talk about it? She is quiet. I walk around and slide the door open. Nothing scares me more than this. A poet at a loss for words. Then she talks, a little. About how she gives. How she can’t tell if they hear her. If they care. I see her every night. She rolls up her ironed sleeves, revealing old scars to the audience like they’re old friends. Like it’s easy. It isn’t. Try to tell her how much her work means. I am just a kid to her. I am a pop songwriter, not a poet. But. I try to tell her.
Back at Taylor’s apartment. Take a shower. Finally. Solsis and Eli stop by for herbal tea and agave. Goodnight, Oberlin. You fucked up silly town, you.
– Be Steadwell
B.Steady is a songstress flimmaker, inventing her own form of pop arts for queer people of color and folks with silenced struggles.