Stern Grove Festival – Stern Grove Festival
Over the course of two memorable evenings in June 2018, legendary soul-funk-R&B outfit Tower of Power returned to Oakland, the city that started it all, to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary with a few thousand friends, family and fans. The window-rattling grooves and raucous party spirit of ToP has been a balm for the soul throughout the band’s half-century existence, but the release of 50 Years of Funk & Soul: Live at the Fox Theater – Oakland, CA – June 2018 couldn’t have come at a better time.
Released on March 26, 2021 from Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group, the high-spirited live album and video offers a reminder of the communal joys of the live music experience, something that’s been sorely missed over this staggering pandemic year. Released as a 3-LP set, a 2-CD/DVD combo, a standalone DVD, as well as digitally, 50 Years of Funk & Soul is the next best thing to hearing these brilliant musicians in person. Fittingly for such a special occasion, Tower of Power went all out for these hometown shows, supplementing the core 10-piece band and its iconic horn section with additional horns and a string section.
Bandleader and saxophonist Emilio Castillo also invited back a few elite ToP alumni, including saxophonist Lenny Pickett (musical director of the Saturday Night Live band); keyboardist Chester Thompson (Santana); guitarist Bruce Conte and former vocalist Ray Greene, who shows off his trombone prowess. They join the renowned modern line-up of the band, featuring co-founder Stephen “Doc” Kupka on baritone sax, longtime drummer David Garibaldi, and lead vocalist Marcus Scott. Adding a bittersweet tinge is the presence of founding bassist Francis “Rocco” Prestia, who passed away in September 2020.
“People come up to me all the time and say, ‘Wow man, 50 years! We can’t believe it,’” laughs Castillo. “You can’t believe it? I’m the one that can’t believe it. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and learned a lot along the way. We’ve affected a lot of people’s lives and done a lot of work that we’re very proud of. The band has a real family atmosphere. It’s been very rewarding.”
Todd Anthony Shaw, better known by the stage name Too Short (stylized as Too $hort), is an American rapper and record producer. Too Short became famous in the West Coast hip hop scene in the late 80s, with lyrics often based on pimping and promiscuity, and drug culture and street survival. The latter, in songs such as “The Ghetto” and the former, in songs such as “Blow the Whistle.”
A pioneer of West Coast rap, he began recording in 1983, drew renown on Oakland’s underground rap scene, and signed a major deal in 1987 with Jive Records, which released his album Born to Mack. In 1989, his second album, Life Is…Too Short, drew wide notice, and he continues to record, collaborate, and perform.