At 7 PM last night at the Leo K. Theatre near Lower Queen Anne at the Bumbershoot Festival, a loud, proud, beautiful, sonorous black woman held the rain at bay and nearly burned the whole place down. Christa Bell was raised in the church and still loves Jesus, but she has learned a lot more about a lot of things, much of them herself and her "koochie."
In the tent-revival style spoken word one woman festival last night (she announced as "Sheism"), Bell raved about her vagina, ranted about shame and fear regarding it, told really funny jokes about women deserving orgasms and dancing with brothers at sweaty clubs to get them, and dove into the audience for the kind of interplay one hasn't seen at a Bumbershoot show since the days of grunge stage-diving and body-surfing. This interaction was a little less physical, but no less visceral and charging. ("Ladies, if you don't come, nobody come," the "orgasm activist" chanted and encouraged the women to. Then she recommended a 40 day reverse fast for feminine orgone energy, prescribing orgasms in daily cycles for at least a month and a half.)
I skipped a favorite poet-musician-performer of mine, Saul Williams to see Bell, even though I knew nothing about her when I checked into her work yesterday morning and made my decision to jump review subjects. I have been meaning to check out the local spoken word scene she dominates but hadn't gotten around to it yet. Fans outside told me I was in for a treat, and since those people seemed very real and genuine I had high hopes Bell didn't diminish. She sounded like an interesting, more spiritually engorged feminist doppleganger of Williams', but I was a little disappointed to not be treated to any of her recorded music during her set.
However, the ecstatic joy and appreciation shown by her dual hometown (Seattle/Brooklyn) audience made up for the lack of audio texture, and Bell was so prone to break into song at any point I usually forgot that she didn't have a band or a backing track. A gorgeously resplendent, cherubically charismatic woman who seems timeless, her energy and intelligence filled the stage, drawing all attention to the sometimes startling things she was saying about life, love, laughter, and labias. While amping racial consciousness as one might expect, there was a dual edge to many of her observations (such as women giving life to the hate-makers) that had more to do with ontology than rhetorical rabble-rousing.
It was great to see so many women excited at a performance last night in the middle of an often apolitical and sometimes seemingly male-band dominated musical event, and the fellas captivated by Bell all looked like they were having a good time too. I'm glad I made the choice to check out something new (to me) at Bumbershoot, which is always my favorite part of the diverse, messy joy in that mass of acts and people.
To check out Christa Bell, please go here.