If you think the '70s sounds of Sinbad's funky music festival appeal mainly to folks in their 40s who came of age, like him, in the original era, all you had to do was be there for concert No. 2 on Saturday night to be enlightened.
No better example could be found than the Larry Benjamins, Sr. and Jr., and their ladies, who stood side by side on the grass through the final bows by the S.O.S. Band a little after 11:30 p.m. Well, stood is hardly the word. The 30-ish son and the 60-something parents were grooving —- the decades' difference in age counting for not a moment in musical time.
The senior Benjamins' obvious enjoyment of the music also points up the universality of soul music's -— and Sinbad's —- appeal. Larry and Linda both have Ph.D.'s in education. Larry's training as a classical musician included singing in New York's Metropolitan Opera chorus, and he was for many years, until his recent retirement, the conductor of the territory's popular Army National Guard Army Band, the 666th "Governor's Own."
But there's no denying the influence of funk, and that's why thousands of mainland African-Americans paid their way to St. Thomas this week, most of them visiting the island for the first time and many saying they'd love to come back.
Although festival manager Mark Adkins had predicted a bigger turnout for Saturday than the record crowd he pegged at 9,500 for the opening main stage concert the night before, the gathering for the second show was nowhere near that number. But it was people a-plenty to fill the newly sodded Lionel Roberts Stadium field, with maybe a thousand more opting to sit in the bleachers that afforded a bird's eye view for those who didn't think to bring binoculars.
Sinbad, who came onstage before, between and after the three headliner acts, delighted in sharing his newly acquired local knowledge in addressing the mainlanders who made up most of the audience. His new-found appreciation of funk, he said, was learning that people on St. Thomas rely on collected rainwater for bathing, and when the cistern runs dry, "you call the water truck," and when the truck doesn't make it up the road to where you live, "you funky."
Of the night's three acts —- vintage vibes player Roy Ayers, DeBarge with guest El DeBarge and the S.O.S. Band —- it was DeBarge by far that exhibited the most energy and energized the audience in turn. Of course, even though El made a point of saying this was the first time in 15 years that he had appeared onstage with his brother James, the foursome was by far the youngest of the featured artists.
As the brothers, backed by a six-piece band, opened with "Rhythm of the Night," a tech director spoke into his NASA-style microphone that he was about to "cue the helicopter." Sure enough, moments later a royal blue whirlybird arrived overhead to circle the stadium for its camera crew aboard, the sound barely noticed above the stage amplification.
The fact that the whole format of the show was geared to the needs of major sponsor Pay-Per-View seemed to matter little to those in the audience, who complied repeatedly with requests to clap, wave, hoot and holler for the cameras during commercial presentations as well as performances. The video special on the festival is to air on Aug. 20.
The hundreds of locals in attendance found a definite St. Thomas flavor in the upgraded stadium ambience, from the carnival village-like lineup of local food vendors to the stage design incorporating colorful conceptual wooden cottages, stately palms and a backdrop looking a lot like the view from Magens Bay to the surrounding green hills sprinkled with light-colored homes.
"Ain't no party like a Sinbad party, 'cause a Sinbad party don't stop!" So Sinbad says, and so his Soul Music Festival 1999 people know.
The party concludes Sunday —- with Magens beach blast No. 2 until 3 p.m. and concert No. 3 starting "promptly at 7 p.m."
Admission to the beach is the usual $1 for adults and cars and 50 cents for kids. Five local bands are to provide music. Traffic will be tight, so be prepared to walk a ways.
The night's headliners are Smokey Robinson and the Gap Band. Also featured will be El DeBarge on his own; gospel/r&b singer Deniece Williams; young up-and-comers Kenny Lattimore, Joe, Jon B. and Eric Benet; and "Soul Man" Sam Moore of the Sam & Dave '60s duo that inspired Dan Ackroyd and the late John Belushi to create The Blues Brothers on "Saturday Night Live."
Those who don't have tickets can still get them ($60 a pop) at either Kmart.

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