Wayne Brown channeled a very sweet rendition of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 anti-urban violence anthem “What’s Going On?” Then he provided an answer.
Well, maybe a route to the answer.
OK, maybe just a great song to sing on the way to the answer.
It all happened in historic Trowbridge Square Park, where Brown’s group Organic Soul was the musical centerpiece of “Art in the Square,” the Winchester Revitalization Arts Project (WRAP)‘s inaugural concert and arts program in the Trowbridge Square section of the Hill neighborhood.
For three seasons now WRAP’s concerts on an empty lot on Winchester in the Dixwell neighborhood have helped to use the arts to stir up community feeling and pride.
On Saturday Wayne Brown’s Organic Soul, spoken word artist Leviticus, and others descended on Trowbridge Square Park between Carlisle and Cedar Streets to inaugurate what city arts chief Vivian Nabetta hopes will be a new tradition.
The area, home to a 19th-century experiment in racially integrated affordable housing and early African-American schools, has been struggling to come back from the devastation of the crack epidemic and real estate boom/busts of the 1990s.
“I do believe music is what we need,” said Brown, the keyboard player and mellow vocalist who has been with Organic Soul for two years now.
“Without music there’s no healing.”
Brown ought to know. The other hat he wears is as the music teacher at the adult ed-focused Riverside Academy and Domus Academy, a middle school for kids who are have adjustment and behavior problems in mainstream schools.
As he resumed a set and the music flowed over the wrought-iron fences and graceful period lamp posts out onto the neighboring porches on Carlisle, Cedar, and Salem Streets, people trickled in to take a seat on the benches and to listen.
Among them was Diane Smith, who works in the laundromat facing the park on the corner of Cedar and Carlisle.
After a few minutes she got the spirit of Organic Soul, stood up, and started dancing. She was joined by Frank Stebbins. Together they cut quite a rug, if they could be said to do that on the the still green grass of the park near the kids’ playing apparatus.
“I love dancing. [With] all the negative things you see in the park, this is positive,” she said.
Other people listened from the porches; a few parents and grandparents came over with their kids. Elaysia Moore got face-painted by Sara Scranton.
Elaysia, who is 9 years old, chose to be a butterfly because she had done a project on them at Ross/Woodward School.
Meanwhile, one of WRAP’s founders, sculptor Gerald Moore, played chess with12-year-old Talayah Livingston, daughter of Organic Soul bass player Walter Livingston.
Talayah had never played before. Moore got her in “fools’ mate,” a checkmate in three moves. They were now engaged in a second game. “She found a way to stop” the fools’ mate this time, Moore reported with the pride of a teacher.
Several people took the mic as Brown accompanied them, coaxing and coaching until gradually the singers gathered more confidence.
Between volunteer singers, the group played on and more people listened. A tall man who preferred to call himself just “Slim” pedaled up on a cool Beach Cruiser bicycle that was tricked up with a radio in a pouch on the handlebars surrounded by hand-made jewelry that might or might not have been for sale.
He took a seat and listened too. He frequently rides through the park with a buddy, he said. His friend was sick today and could not come. As to the music, especially the volunteer singers and dancers, he gave it all a thumbs up. “It’s always good to hear someone playing who is not professional,” he said.
Slim said he liked the park at all times, even without the tunes. “I like the park because it’s quiet,” he said.
Even a musical mayoral candidate showed up, as Justin Elicker took the mic and a turn with Marvin Gaye’s lyrics: “We’ve got to find a way to bring some lovin’ here today.”
Not being able to find all the lyrics on his iPhone, which he checked while crooning, Elicker winged it. Although he struggled in the higher registers, he appeared to surprise the small crowd with how much soul he put into a brief performance.
Then he went off to his next campaign stop.
Wayne Brown and Organic Soul played on. “No one knows the answer,” said. “That’s why we’re here. Music heals the soul. If we keep at it, the answer will reveal itself.”