When the 2013 Regina Folk Festival ended on Sunday night, I had a few tears still left on my face, covered in Charles Bradley’s sweat and grinning as wide as I could.
Columnist Austin M. Davis is rarely photographed smiling. Here he is on Sunday with the Screaming Eagle of Soul.
I was exhausted – emotionally and physically.
I was a volunteer host on the Scarth Street workshop stage on Saturday and Sunday. Talking into a microphone a few times each hour isn’t particularly draining, but the heat on Sunday and trying to keep musicians on schedule left me with nothing more in the tank.
I was beat even before Bradley dramatically walked onstage in a beautiful white jacket.
Then I watched the 65-year-old Screaming Eagle of Soul give the folk festival his entire heart.
As his nickname suggests, Bradley screamed and wailed into the microphone. Very controlled at first and then, later in the set, just pure emotion.
When he first walked onstage after letting the band play without him for the first five minutes, I was sitting closer to the back of Victoria Park than I was to the stage.
After a song, I announced aloud that I could no longer enjoy the performance while sitting down.
I had to get closer.
This was the performance I was most excited for. I had seen Bradley perform last year at the Calgary Folk Music Festival but didn’t know his story then.
His story adds context to a performer so full of love and so willing to selflessly hand it out to his audience.
The Regina Public Library showed the documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America before the festival.
Bradley was a James Brown impersonator and hadn’t had success in his own right. He was at a Grade One reading level during the filming of the documentary. His mother in Brooklyn, New York is sick and he takes care of her. Bradley’s brother was killed by gun violence.
He didn’t release a record under his own name until he was 62.
Few stories about a “rise to fame” are as compelling as Bradley’s.
He has been through hell and has preserved, but it wouldn’t mean anything if Bradley wasn’t so determined to keep giving what he has.
He is a soul singer. He screams his soul onstage and each member of the audience feels their heart expand.
On Sunday afternoon, I briefly introduced myself to Bradley and told him the documentary was very powerful. He whispered – to save his voice for the evening – that he hadn’t seen it yet. He hinted it might be too emotional for him.
Watching him crawl to the front of the stage, body and face drenched in sweat, arms open as if he could embrace the whole audience altogether, I forgot Bradley’s age and his pain.
He didn’t leave the stage through the side steps; instead he jumped down and hugged everyone near the front of the stage he could reach. It took about 10 minutes.
By that time, I was backstage, standing as close to the front as I could without getting in trouble.
Next to me was a festival acquaintance who was adamant he would not get hugged. I assured him he would get hugged and he would enjoy it.
Of course, Bradley made his way down the line of people and gave – let’s call him Ryan – gave Ryan a big hug that lasted at least 30 seconds. When Ryan turned to face me, I saw that he had tears in his eyes.
I had tears in my eyes too.
I told Bradley how phenomenal it was, as we hugged for the third time that day.
I didn’t even mind that he gave a rose to my girlfriend. He also gave roses to 23 other women.
The Regina Folk Festival is always special and so little of it has to do with the music. It is a community celebration.
Through Charles Bradley, the 2013 festival was love incarnate.
Austin M. Davis can be reached at 306 691-1258 or follow him on Twitter @theaustinx