Lauryn Hill's "Train Wreck" Concert at Paramount Theatre UPDATE
UPDATE: Join the discussion below. Is it a venue or promoter's responsibility when an artist performs badly? Horribly? Ridiculously? Weigh in.
To give credit where it's due, we read it first here, where Jim Harrington, who seems to only blog about Lauryn Hill concerts, caused a stir and pointed out that, last night, she "sounded like she’s out of shape, huffing and puffing like a weekend warrior after only a few songs," Fair enough. But then we got a letter, which we'll post in full, that sheds a little more light on the subject -- unedited, right from the e-mailbox of one very, very pissed fan. Here goes:
I Use to Love Her, But Now I Don’t:
The Bay Area’s Falling Out with Lauryn Hill
By K.R. Fardy
“It's funny how money change a situation
Miscommunication leads to complication
My emancipation don't fit your equation
I was on the humble, you - on every station
Some wan' play young Lauryn like she dumb
But remember not a game new under the sun
Everything you did has already been done
I know all the tricks from Bricks to Kingston
My ting done made your kingdom wan' run
Now understand L. Boogie's non violent
But if a thing test me, run for mi gun…”
--"Lost Ones," from The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
Because the way we got played last night
Make all the Paramount patrons look dumb.
You best believe I’m going to pop off with lyrical criticism when recalling the disaster they sold to the Bay Area last night under the alias of Lauryn Hill. Seriously, who was that disheveled, Macy Gray sounding, homeless-looking woman that stumbled out onto the Paramount Theatre stage last night, and walked away with $200 of my hard earned money? Naw, that couldn’t have been the Lauryn Hill...
A recap of the night - my wife and I arrived at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, each holding a $100 ticket, for the illustrious Lauryn Hill concert. The show began at 7:30pm, with some not-even-close to a name opening band. At approximately 8:30pm, the band left the stage for the sound and set-up crew to prepare for Ms. Hill. Thirty minutes passed, with an eager crowd, cheering, singing, and talking with an air of unforgettable excitement. Forty-five minutes passed, with a crowd whose cheers rose in excitement with hopes of drawing the beloved star out of her back-stage, to grace us with her presence. An hour passed, and cheers began to subside, as looks of confusion and disappointment began to fill the faces of Lauryn Hill’s supporters and fans. An hour and fifteen minutes passed, as disappointment began to transform into booing and criticism. An hour and thirty minutes passed, and finally, amongst a near riot crowd, the band, including a drummer who looked like husband Rohan Marley, made their entrance.
Truth – the band was jamming with a capital J, and brought the excitement back into the arena, appropriately pumping up the crowd for what we paid for, and what we had been waiting for – Ms. Lauryn Hill; but after playing a hot musical opener, there still was no Hill on stage. So they played their opener again, and still no Lauryn Hill, and again, and again, and again, and again, until finally a woman wearing large, black, Nicole Richey sunglasses, a multi-color yellow and green wool coat, over what looked like one or two layers of an oversized black dress, with a fried, dyed and unpicked afro stumbled onto the stage. At first the arena was filled with exultant voices, raised to the occasion of such a monumental moment as witnessing the Lauryn Hill, live, in person, performing what many hoped would be new tracks off her rumored new CD.
The voices of joy quickly turned over to thunderous hissing, and shrill comments, as who we thought was Lauryn Hill, moved across the stage like a sac-religious mixture of a James Brown impersonation, and your local borderline drunk. What came out of her mouth was even more offensive. Especially, to the fans whom have adorned and supported her since her 1993 album debut with the Tranzlator Crew. At that very moment, I swore, I must have been “blunted on reality”, because I didn’t think it was possible for this, as another critique wrote it, “Courtney Love performance” to be for-real.
The first six songs were almost completely inaudible. I’m pretty sure I heard three Bob Marley songs, “Final Hour”, “Cry, Cry”, and a Phoebe Snow song, but I’m not quite sure. The band was playing so loud, I swear it was a Battle of the Bands contest, Lauryn Hill’s mic was generating so much feedback, I felt like I was stuck in a middle school auditorium listening to an ear-splitting talent show, and “Ms. Diva Hill” was so twisted, that through the music and mic catastrophe, I’m not even sure if she was speaking a language native to any country on this planet.
Then, as an angry crowd expressed their disappointment, people began to get up and walk out of the arena. The breaking point for my wife and I, was Lauryn Hill’s sixth song of the night, which I believe was a Phoebe Snow cover. I was so disturbed by the sad image of Lauryn Hill on stage singing this Phoebe Snow cover that I too had to join the crowd that was walking out on her and demanding their money back. All I have to say is, if that was Rohan on the hand drums, where were you dude?
I truly thought the worst part was turning my back on an artist who had really touched me with her Jah-given talents. She has spoken so much truth on the topics of love, life, and politics. But I guess, when it rains it pours. In the lobby there was a growing crowd of angry patrons. I passed a lawyer who was collecting names for a petition, and saw a line of security guards backed up against the doors that led to the box office with a crowd of people waiting. Soon thereafter, the police showed up. A fight broke out in the balcony, someone threw up, and a middle-aged woman came limping out of the arena with no shoes on.
I walked to the front of the crowd at the box office, and spoke to Valery Laxamana, the Event Manager, and head security person for the event. First I was told that there was nothing we could do. Then I was told that we had to leave and call TicketMaster for a refund. Next I was told that there was a group of people already behind the doors getting refunds, and that once they cleared out we would get ours. They went on to say there was no Manager on the premise, other than Valery Laxamana to explain the situation. Finally I was told there was a promoter outside talking to patrons about refunds. My lovely wife decided to go outside, and I stayed inside. Once she was out, she was out. There was no coming back in.
The promoters had put a young man out there to deal with the angry mob. He began giving out his phone number, and by my wife’s description, looked as if he was about to cry. Inside was no better. Even the security guards began saying how they agreed with the patrons and understand their anger. They weren’t even given walkie-talkies to be able to have contact with one another. I guess only “upper-management” had that priviledge. Finally security opened the doors to the box office, and to my non-surprise, the box office was closed, as seemed the case for our refunds; but we weren’t going out without a fight. See, “I know all the tricks from Bricks to Kingston/ My ting done made your kingdom wan' run/ Now understand L. Boogie's non violent/ But if a thing test me, run for mi gun…” I stayed posted, and unfortunately, the group thinned down throughout the night until it was just me standing in the Paramount Theatre lobby with the over-worked (and I’m sure underpaid) security.
I noticed an older, middle-aged man in a black suit rushing around with a walky-talky. Someone I had not seen throughout this entire ordeal. I asked him if he was the manager and he said yes… how convenient. His name is Jeffrey Ewald, and he is the Operations Manger for the Paramount Theatre. When I told him I wanted a refund he said he would not give me one, and that if I didn’t leave I’d be escorted by the police, and that I would have to contact someone tomorrow. Not only was he sarcastic, condescending, and rude, but I knew he was making more money off of all these Oakland patrons, than most anyone else in the building. I also knew, a phone call tomorrow, would be a lost cause. I told him I would not be leaving until I either received my money back, or a signed slip guaranteeing my immediate refund. He refused. Finally, the clock struck 12:00am, the Paramount was cleared, and all that was left was me, security, and Jeffrey Ewald. I truly felt bad for security, because most of them had to jump on BART, and go home; but at the same time, I was mad, and if I learned anything from the writings of Lauryn Hill, it was to not allow anyone to exploit you. How ironic that I was being exploited at her concert.
When the clock struck approximately 12:15am, the police were brought in as a scare tactic. I did not budge. Jeffrey Ewald threatened that the police were going to arrest me and force me out of the Paramount. I looked directly at the officers and asked them what they were going to do, and one of them told me he was just here to monitor a civil dispute between us. I turned right back around, and repeated to Jeffrey Ewald what the officer had said, and again told him I wanted a refund. He refused. I asked for his card, and when he gave it to me. He passed it to me upside-down. Before I had a chance to realize it, he made a rude comment, almost alluding to the idea that I couldn’t read… oh, how wrong Jeffrey Ewald is. Not only can I read Jeffrey, but I can write, and I plan on writing to every person I know, so that the Bay Area is conscious of how this older, white man "promoting", and making money off of black performers, and a largely black-american and people of color audience, not only treated me, a young, black woman like an ignorant inhumane being, but treated all of the patrons who demanded and rightfully deserved refunds, the same way.
One older woman had said earlier, amongst the protest, that had this been a mostly white event gone array, demands for refunds would have been responded to immediately, with no run-around. In fact, a second woman piggy-backed on her comment, and said she had been to a prior event that was mostly white, and had demanded a refund, which was given to her with an apology for her dissatisfaction. Although it is sad to say, I feel deep in my heart that this racism in service provided to patrons of color still exists with a fury; and, although I know racism is an uncomfortable topic to talk about, especially in the Bay Area, it is alive, and it is something that needs to be considered and examined more closely.
Finally, I was “kindly” escorted out by security, and the police. As I left, I was heated to the max. I couldn’t believe this was how my first (and last) Lauryn Hill concert turned out. As I cursed all of the employee’s, and more importantly the employer, the officers began telling me that I was threatening them, and not to hit anyone. “Now understand this one’s non violent/ But if a thing test me, run for mi gun…” I looked up at the officer and told him this was a free country, and I had the freedom to speak as I deemed fit. What was fitting for that night, was a big F YOU, to everyone who got paid off of the backs of hard working patrons, like myself, who just came to watch one of the most talented woman perform in our town of Oakland. Unfortunately, I guess no one’s perfect. Even more unfortunate, her imperfection, and the imperfection of a lot of other people still got paid.
So what I’m doing is writing down my perspective and experience from last night's Lauryn Hill concert at Oakland's Paramount Theatre located at 2025 Broadway in Oakland, CA 94612. I met a lot of people who were outraged at the treatment and disappointment. I ask that this experience be put on blast to the media and local congressional heads. This is unfair and unjust. Patrons who left the show early, deserve compensation. As for Lauryn Hill, I truly hope that whatever she has going on, gets better. Unfotunately, as long as she's leaving town with my money, I have to say, "I use to love you, but now I don’t". PEACE.
Related: Here's a review from last year.