W atching Sharon Jones shimmy and shake across the Imperial stage Saturday night didn't feel much like a homecoming. Sure, the righteous Ms. Jones acknowledged her Augusta roots and even confirmed the facts in the Don Rhodes story last week, which reported that, after decades away, she is moving home. Homecoming doesn't seem strong enough, doesn't seem to fully describe the sense of excitement and anticipation Jones and her Dap-Kings brought to the Imperial. It wasn't a homecoming. It was a rebirth.
When James Brown died, Augusta lost its Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk. The embassy was closed and the mission to bring music that was dangerous and infectious, soulful and perhaps a little dirty, abandoned. Augusta, if we're being completely honest, was a Soul City in name only. We weren't living up to the hype.
But somewhere between those first big blasts of woodwind and brass and the too-fitting James Brown finalé, Jones found the key to the Ministry and, taking up the Godfather's mantle, announced that Augusta was a Soul City once again.
Playing with a sense of purpose and abandon that seemed impossible to sustain and impossibly pure, she proved, without question, that she drinks from the same spring as the soul and funk legend she clearly admires.
There's a lot of James Brown, sure, but there's also a healthy helping of Aretha and Miavis Staples, of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. Her performances with the Dap-Kings are clearly tributes to soul's pioneers, but the band remains original and innovative enough to avoid becoming a tribute act. It's an incredible feat that requires being both carefully rehearsed and constantly ready to go off the book.
What makes Jones' walking our streets as well as playing our stages so spectacular is that she's not the only artist looking to tap into the heritage, history and musical magic of Augusta. Recently, jazz great Wycliffe Gordon returned to town with his wife, the supremely talented Niki Haris, bringing their own version of the New New to town.
It wasn't that long ago that the world looked to Augusta for two things -- gold and the Godfather. Sadly, the Godfather is gone and his absence is still sharply felt. It always will be. He is irreplaceable, a potent force that can't be duplicated, only appreciated.
But with Sharon Jones and Wycliffe Gordon and Niki Haris in town, carrying on that mission of making Augusta a true Soul City, the legacy he left us can continue to be built on.
And that feels good.