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Michele Rises

Technical snafus couldn't hold back the final headliner at Fridays at Sunset, Chrisette Michele.

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Update: Chrisette Michele's audio equipment was damaged during heavy afternoon storms, according to Angela Flagg, director of public and media relations for Johnson Inc., the company that puts on Fridays at Sunset. The equipment “took on a tremendous amount of water causing technical difficulties,” Flagg says.

For the past fifteen years, the people behind Fridays at Sunset have provided Richmonders a reliable and comfortable venue for urban music. As one of the few venues in town that is not afraid to book rap acts, the concert series is a proof that there is an audience for black music that knows how to enjoy it peacefully and respectfully.

Fridays at Sunset does it right -- usually.

While Friday's opening act, local R&B/hip-hop outfit The Band Belief,
seemed to be operating at full power at the start of the final concert of the summer series, there was something wrong by the time the headliner took the stage.

“We're having some technical difficulties,” Chrisette Michele said after her first song, telling the crowd to expect a set that you might see in a small jazz club, with a lot of improvisation and conversation. The diminutive singer then offered a stripped down version of “Blame it On Me,” with a power and conviction that may have led you to believe was admitting guilt for the faulty equipment, rather than saying farewell to an unworthy lover.

Most didn't seem to mind that they were witnessing an unplugged-like version of a Chrisette Michele concert. As she made her way through songs from her debut “I Am” and her sophomore release “Epiphany," she kept the crowd's attention, even if most kept their seats.
She approached the title track from her latest album with a promise to continue the troubled show.

“Even if it don't sound like the record, I'm a do it anyway,” she said.

One instrument that was fully operational for the entire night was the 26-year-old singer's voice. Michele has a vocal dexterity that belies her age and experience. In addition to her own vocal style, the singer also impersonated retro-soul diva Erykah Badu, pop pianist John Legend and R&B diva Anita Baker, with the appropriate amount of humor and reverence. She also taught a “scat session” and explained how she emulates jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald by incorporating their style into her music. Michele paid tribute to the late Michael Jackson with an a cappella version of his trite ballad “Heal the World.”

Most of the pretty faces in contemporary R&B don't belong on a stage without the proper effects and equipment. Chrisette Michele clearly isn't one of those artists. But as she belted out her last notes amid abandoned instruments, you couldn't help but think about what might have been. - Craig Belcher

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