SHORT STORY: The Oakland Jazz Festival

Vickie Williams is an aspiring writer from Monroe, Louisiana who migrated out West from the South as a teenager. Her spirit of adventure is reflected in the following story.


I was twenty years old, had completed my second year in college, and flirted with adventure. It was the early seventies.

Hitch hiking was common. The hippies were anti-war advocating love and peace. The Black Panthers were rising up and had a ten-point program, and I was styling and profiling a big afro.

I was moving and grooving to the tune of “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t cool.

I was bell bottom chic, colorful to say the least. Minnie skirts, jumpsuits, go-go boots, platform shoes, plaids and pen stripes were in vogue.

I was so happy to retire my snow boots, sweat shirts, and turtle necks during the summer. How sweet it was to be in sunny California!

When I arrived home from Central College in Pella, Iowa, I was ready to shake loose the corn huskers dust off my feet and take a break from milk white Iowa.

I had lived in cultural shock and was hungry for some soul food, flavor and familiar culture. It was only 42 blacks from the east coast and west coast, the south, and Midwest on a campus of 4,000 students.

I was an affirmative action recipient. Without it, I doubt I would have gone to Iowa for college.

My sister Peggy and her husband, Lorise (who we called Bud) hosted family gatherings regularly on the weekends during the summer. Friends were also invited.

We ate barbeque hot off the grill and golden fried chicken right out of the skillet with all the trimmings: potato salad, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, string beans, 7-Up cake, and occasionally homemade ice cream.

We played Bid Wiz, checkers, dominoes, listened to jazz and Motown jams, and entertained a lot of trash talking. Hot fun, family, friends, love and happiness were what we were all about.

My brother-in-law owned a motorcycle and loved biking. I overheard him talking to his friend, Marshall, he had invited to a Sunday barbeque about planning a biking trip to the Oakland Jazz Festival.

Marvin Gaye was the main attraction. I had never seen him perform live. My heart almost leaped out of my chest.

He was my idol: tall, handsome, gifted, sexy, a musical genius, songwriter, producer, played keyboards, drums and synthesizer and could croon with the best.

He made women drool over his sexy moves and could sing in any genre. I leaped at the opportunity to invite myself to go with them.

His album “What’s Going On” released in 1971 was not just music. His lyrics were conscientious, compassionate, and laced with concerns about the environment and war like.

His beautiful lyrics, “Mother, mother there’s too many of your crying, bother brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying, you know we’ve got to find a way to bring some lovin’ here today,.” rocked my world and stirred my soul.

With dogged determination, I convinced my brother-in and his friend Marshall to let me hitch a ride with them up to the Bay Area for the concert. It was to be held at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum.

“It’s going to be a long ride. I don’t know if you can handle it, but if you want to go it’s okay.”

“Really, are you sure? I can’t believe you said yes.” I was grateful for Bud’s approval.

My sister Peggy frowned on the idea. “You must be crazy. Better you than me. You’re out of your mind to ride that far.”

I ignored my sister’s comments. When Bud said okay, I had won half of the battle. I had a suspicion he thought I would back out at the last minute.

I got my mother’s approval also: “Child, a hard head makes a soft behind. You got to experience life for yourself. So, go ahead. Enjoy yourself. Be safe. I ‘ll just keep praying for you”.

I grabbed mother around the neck while she was sitting on the sofa watching her favorite soap opera in her paper thin, cotton duster and gave her a big kiss on her cheek. We both grinned at each other.

The concert was circa 1973, after Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On album had been released. The exact month or year it was, I don’t remember.


The Adventure

We left early morning, before the sun came up. I had packed all the essentials including my light green bell bottom slacks with a plaid, multicolored blouse that tied in the front to wear to the concert.

I wore my suede rust colored high-top boots, Levi jeans, a long sleeve pull over cotton top, and wrapped a wind breaker and thick sweatshirt around my waist.

I borrowed my sister’s white helmet and jumped on the back of a two-seater 750 Honda with Bud as the navigator.

The silver chrome, sleek, slender handle bars and pipes, the shining dark, metallic brown body contrasted with green and golden streaks gave the bike an aesthetic elegance.

Bud had recently purchased it. When he revved it up to get started, it roared like a lion. It purred gently as a kitten on the highway.

Bud and Marshall were serious, safe bikers. They loved taking long trips. Both were trustworthy, fun loving, Vietnam veterans, and good Louisiana down home guys.

I had taken short trips before, but never a round trip nearly 800 miles. They wore black leather gloves, helmets, and short leather jackets with black leather boots, Levi jeans, and short sleeve V neck tee shirts.

We took I-5 out of L.A. heading north. Early on, adventure was sweet as honey. We were zinging in the wind. The ride was long, but sitting for hours was arduous.

The early morning breeze made the trip tolerable, especially when we cropped between the mountains. When we hit the valley, the stench of some dead carcass along with the sound of locust and crickets was eerie and nauseating.

Navigating pass 18-wheel rigs and racing among the shadows of danger were daunting. We darted ahead with precision. There were rough and smooth, cooler and hotter spots along the journey.

The seat I rode on was elevated, a firm hump of leather. I kept my legs snugged comfortably with my feet resting on the foot rest.

I could hear the crashing, squashing sounds of insects on my helmet. We ran into swarms of them, but championed ahead.

We had few pitstops, only to relieve ourselves when nature called, to refuel, or stop for a snack and water. Our pace was on schedule.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on a Friday afternoon was the greatest challenge. The wind was so cold it felt like a million-darts stinging me.

I broke out in goosebumps, although I was layered with my windbreaker and sweat shirt. My nose turned as red as a beet and felt as frozen as a Popsicle.

I shivered out of control. My resolve weakened. My legs ached with pangs of pins and needles. I held on with adrenaline arching through my veins.

I could hear my heart pumping, racing in my ears. “Lord, help me get through this,” I prayed.

I held on to Bud for dear life. The wind was so strong no one could hear me, even if I screamed. There was so much traffic and cars zooming at such high speeds.

I closed my eyes. I’m sure I had a death grip on Bud, but it didn’t seem to faze him.


Our Arrival

We arrived at Geneva Towers where my sisters Jo and Mae lived in Daly City. It was good to be on solid ground safe among family.

When I got off the bike, I felt I had been riding bare back on a horse for a month. I walked as bad as John Wayne in a cowboy flick.

My behind felt like raw hide. “Dang”, I said to myself, “I’ve got to ride back home.” I acted cool with a grin masking my tears and pain.

My sisters greeted us with smiles, hugs, and open arms. We unpacked our things and I welcomed the warm, Epsom salt bath before we broke bread.

Jo provided us with a spread of her homemade Fettuccini seafood pasta, creamy coleslaw, steamed broccoli, and garlic bread. She said to me, “Girrl you got guts, more than I will ever have. Will I ride on a bike?”

With some attitude, her lips curled, one hand waving in the air and the other on her hip she said, “Hell to the no! We may be sisters, but I don’t have your guts.” We all laughed.

I braided my afro before sleep, so it would be big and puffy. I had a good night’s rest in a firm bed with fresh linen and slept like a baby.

The concert was Saturday night, the day after our arrival. I couldn’t wait. We left early to beat the traffic and arrived safely. The crowd overflowed into the stadium.

I was mesmerized. Marvin Gaye swooned and grooved with gritty, grinding, sexy moves. The crowd went wild when he sang, “Let’s Get It on.”

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Heads bobbed. Shoulders swayed. Hands clapped. I dreamed. His falsetto was dynamite. There was not a dull moment.

The quality of his voice was great. For sure, it was top-notch entertainment. It was worth a sore butt. The swell of the crowd ballooned even more when he sang “What’s Going On.”

Nancy Wilson also performed. She sounded like a songbird. Her voice was light, soft, and jazzy. She was fantastic.

An all-time great made a guest appearance. Ella Fitzgerald claimed the stage. Her voice was powerful, sharp, sassy, and classy.

Her performance was breathtaking. She pinned our ears to the stars, scatted up to heaven, owned the mic, and stole the crowd.

I will never forget those legendary greats and neither will I forget how badly my butt ached after returning home on that 750 Honda. One hell of a ride.