Calling all Super Freaks to Funk Fest 2017

Aug 25, 2017

They'll be bringing in the funk and bringing in the noise on Jefferson Avenue Friday and in LaSalle Park all day Saturday, as Funk Fest 2017 celebrates the music and its master, Buffalo-born Rick James.

"My funk will transform the material into the eternal, the conventional into the cosmic. The planets will resonate with these rhythms coming outta me. The universe will bounce to the beats of my Stone City Band." - Rick James, Facebook

Funk Fest has been around for a while, celebrating Buffalo's #1 native of funk music, Rick James. However, this year, the festival is deliberately increasing its visibility with Friday night's block party between East Utica and Glenwood.

Sponsors, including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, were out in front of the Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center on East Utica Thursday to make sure everyone knew what was going on, just around the corner. Event Coordinator Marnetta Malcolm said this year's lead group is Blue Magic.

"It was important that this year that we engage the community, that we got on Jefferson Avenue and had this block party and that we honored Rick in a different way, because he was in the community and we also thought that the people that were performing this year, the legendary Blue Magic, who's going to be featured on this year's ensemble, it was important that they be featured as well," said Malcolm.

Blue Magic leader Vernon Sawyer said it is going to be a great party.

"They come out to support Blue Magic and this is our second time doing the Rick James' Funk Fest," Sawyer said. "It's an honor and a pleasure. Anything we can do for Mayor Brown and the City of Buffalo, we're here to honor them and we're here for them and it's a pleasure to be here."

Rick James' brother, LeRoi Johnson (front) recalls his family's roots on Jefferson Avenue.
Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

That is generous for Sawyer since, back in the day, James stole key musicians from Blue Magic for his own band.

While James is legendary to funk and local music, Funk Fest is being expanded this year by JoJo McDuffie-Funderburg coming in for the show. Another local native, she was lead singer for James' Mary Jane Girls.

James' brother, LeRoi Johnson, said Friday's block party is important for several reasons.

"We grew up on Jefferson Avenue, at both ends. We grew up in the Willert Park Projects and then take it a little further down to the Perry and then Ferry and Jefferson," Johnson said. "So it's a very special event for us and it's very special that they have been involved for over 13 years and I hope to have another 13 years."