T-Pain & More Celebrate Juneteenth at the Hollywood Bowl

A little over halfway through the Juneteenth celebration at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night (June 19), an emotional T-Pain thanked the audience for being there.

“We rehearsed once,” prefaced the artist, who did double duty as headline performer and the concert’s co-curator. “This is nuts that this is going so well, right? This is the dream of so many people and for y’all to make this happen … this is far beyond anything. I’ll be so pissed off if I wake up right now.”

Indeed, the evening did go well, as a very appreciative Bowl audience — in keeping with the cultural significance of the Juneteenth holiday — was treated to the many facets of Black music by both established and emerging artists. Segueing from gospel to R&B, hip-hop and points in-between, the two-and-a-half-hour show under the stars was packed with memorable moments, beginning with Mary Mary’s Tina Campbell delivering a riveting performance of the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” 

Setting the Tone: Hosting something of this magnitude isn’t for the faint of heart. But comedian Affion Crockett proved he was up to the challenge as the crowd laughed right along. Skillfully keeping things moving throughout the evening, he set the tone early on with his opening comments, humorously acknowledging the makeup of the audience. “We love the bougies; I see the tablecloths and champagne [on the tables in the Bowl’s front rows]. “And at the top,” referencing those seated way further back, “you’re the ones that matter. You’re the ones whose bosses wouldn’t give you the day off. And I didn’t know I’d see so many white people in the audience. We’ve got company — and they come in peace.”

Sisters with Voices: In addition to Campbell (who roused the audience with her latest, “Pray for Me”), Ledisi and Lalah Hathaway also showed out. Ledisi’s full-bodied voice and colorful riffs on her Grammy-winning song “Anything for You” commanded the audience’s attention. And after putting her own distinctive stamp on the Anita Baker signature song “Angel,” Hathaway and her sonorous vocals segued into father Donny’s 1973 classic anthem “Someday We’ll All Be Free” — a fitting exclamation point for the Juneteenth holiday celebration. Providing instrumental accompaniment throughout the evening was the Color of Noize Orchestra led by conductor Derrick Hodge. 

Ones to Watch: Among the rising stars and newcomers also making their presence felt was D Smoke, who fired up the audience with tracks such as “No Commas,” “Black Habits” and “Common Sense” (even subbing for his brother SIR’s part on the song). Emerging female duo Flyana Boss also left a strong impression with their spirited performance of “You Wish” as did energetic Bay Area rapper LaRussell, who had the audience up on their feet after he jumped off stage and proceeded to walk up and down several aisles to high-five fans. 

Blasts from the Past: Rounding out the evening were performances by fan faves from the ‘90s into the 2000s. David Banner, wearing shades and sporting a white goatee, rocked the venue with “Get Like Me.” Jordin Sparks stunningly reprised her hit “AIR,” while Lloyd pumped up the proceedings with his “Get It Shawty.” Then Tevin Campbell sparked a  singalong to his enduring hit “Can We Talk.”

The Man of the Hour: T-Pain made his first appearance onstage after Ledisi’s performance. Wearing a raspberry-colored suit, the Grammy winner launched into a passionate interpretation of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” After wrapping the song to vigorous applause, he said, “This evening is special for me, for all of us and the culture. We’ve got to show respect for everything that came before us.” And that’s how the rest of the evening progressed: with T-Pain striding back onstage between performances by the other acts on the bill. And each time he did, he had the audience cheering, dancing and rapping/singing along to everything from “I’m Sprung,” “Up Down” and “Freeze” to “Buy U a Drank,” his rendition of Cee-Lo’s “Crazy” and Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss” on which he was featured. 

Becoming emotional after Banner saluted him, T-Pain said in part to even more cheers, “In 2018, I decided I didn’t want a manager anymore, I didn’t want a label anymore. I’m doing everything independent. The only time I’ve seen this place [Hollywood Bowl} is in Tom & Jerry cartoons. So to be an independent artist and putting on a show like this is the wildest dream. So my No. 1 rule for everyone is believe in yourself; believe in that crazy thing. The only people that end up changing the world are the people crazy enough to think that they can.”