Janelle Monae, others at Westobou bring funk back to Augusta

Augusta got funky Thursday night as the Westobou Festival rocked downtown and reminded the city of its soulful roots.


In a tribute to the late James Brown, three-time Grammy nominee Janelle Monáe headlined the second night of the arts festival.

Several hundred music lovers attended the concert at the Old Academy of Richmond County building on Telfair Street. As people danced to the music under a giant oak tree, many said funk music lives on in a new generation of musicians.

“It’s fun to dance to and gives me hope that good music is not dead,” said Jo Givens, of North Augusta. “She can actually sing and she’s backed by actual musicians.”

Earlier this year, Monáe held the top spot on the Billboard pop chart for her collaboration We Are Young with the band Fun. She was nominated for Grammy Awards in 2010 for her album The ArchAndroid.

Givens attended the concert with her brother, Charles Givens, of Augusta. The two have followed Monáe’s solo career since 2007 and waited a long time to see her perform in person.

Before Monáe opened her act with a theatrical entrance, former James Brown musicians Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley and the New JBs played funk music on trombones and saxophones.

Wesley is a trombonist, composer and band leader who gained fame playing with Brown in the 1970s. Parker also played with Brown before releasing several solo records in the 1990s.

“Give it up for James Brown,” Parker said. “You know what he did? Make it funky.”

Sam Chiles, of Atlanta, said the concert lineup mixed young musicians – such as opening act Funk You, an Augusta band – with stars from the heyday of funk music. Monáe represents a modern twist on funk music, he said.

“Funk is carrying on in young groups playing,” Chiles said. “I grew up on this kind of music – funk, soul, R&B.”

Dancing to the beat, Bill and Ann Wolf said the concert was a reminder of their all-time favorite musician, James Brown.

“His spirit’s here without a doubt,” Bill Wolf said. “Electricity – you can feel it here tonight.”