Story Time: The Night I Danced With Issa Rae

Updated: Sep 9, 2019


I Do Not Own This Art

"Things pan out when it's right.

In the meantime, I'm grind."-Cudi 


I should probably feel ashamed, that I cried for almost a full year about missing Solange at Afro-Punk. But if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the story I’m about to tell.



Afro-Punk (and Essence Fest) has always been one of those events that I looked forward to on social media every year. I would stalk the hashtag, vowing to attend the following year. But wouldn't! My partner went twice and still- I never even attempted to go. That was until the Year of a Seat at the Table aka the Year of Solo. It was the summer that the world got to see what I already knew! Solange was hitting all the festivals including Afro-Punk and I just knew in my bones that this was my year. I sent my partner the link to the tickets and several reminders. Still, somehow, he didn’t get the tickets and of course, it sells out! To say I was devastated is an understatement.


Before you call me crazy. Let me fully explain: (1) I gave up going to Mo-Pop (a Detroit Festival) because I wanted my first time seeing her to be at Afro-Punk. (This was going to be a moment.) (2) I didn’t know when I would get to see her again. (She doesn’t tour often).  And finally, (3) I was sick to my stomach at all the missed opportunities. Fast forward, to a year of pouting, whining and “shoulda, coulda woulda’”.  The Afro-Punk tickets are back on sale and we get them without a second thought. Luckily, his sister and her friends were going as well, so it turned into a fun group trip.



Before I left for Detroit, I was a little on edge because (1) I’ve never traveled with this crew before and (2) we were a little low on money (a major trigger). But since, this was an experience I’ve been waiting for- I was determined to have a good time. And, I didn’t want to be that girl. So, before I got off the plane, I made a promise to myself that no matter what happened-  I would live in the moment and enjoy myself. Luckily, our group was amazing and everyone had one singular mission- have a great fucking time!



Fast forward, we get to the festival and it’s packed! Let me set the scene: We're walking around the festival grounds to find a shorter line. There are hundreds of black people everywhere. We have vendors walking food, water and “street-wine”. In the midst of everyone trying to get inside! Members of our group stop to buy “street-wine”. But I wasn’t trusting the colorful liquids. That was until someone said “Henny Punch”, it stopped me right in my tracks. Without thinking, I stopped to buy the punch. Only to look up and realize we lost half of our group. (Rookie mistake).  After trying to find them for damn near an hour in the hot sun. (Fuck you Sprint) and a full walk around the venue. We find our crew; my buzz is gone and they are hype as hell!  Trying to shake off my irritation (and sweat), I finally ask why are they so hype and it’s because they just saw Issa Rae and Dro.


It wasn’t until that moment that I even realized that I wanted to meet Issa. To me, she was this magical, rare Californian butterfly that I didn’t allow myself to think about meeting. Yet, knowing that she was literally just standing in the same spot as me, made me salty. My partner looked at me and said: “Damn you just took an L.”  Since I had just had him walk for almost an hour in the sun, I shut my mouth while the kid inside me cried. I secretly vowed that I would meet Issa Rae one day.

After that minor hiccup, the rest of the festival was magical. At first, I was sad that I didn’t take a lot of pictures, but thinking back, pictures just wouldn’t do it justice. Afro-Punk is something to be experienced because it’s a vibe! It’s a beautiful open, accepting energy that radiates in the air. Everybody is so loving and welcoming. Take for instance: this one time I was checking out the vendor’s row. This vendor had these glasses that you could choose and try on from an app. The sales guy was showing us how it worked and I leaned in towards the other couple. The Detroit-ness in me took a step back and the guy said, “Nah sis, you good. We need to be closer as a people, anyway.”


No lie, my heart skipped a beat. I forgot how amazing it feels to be around your own people with no bullshit going on! Just fun and positively.  It seriously made me miss my Hampton days. (For my PWI graduates- Afro-Punk gets you a taste of the HBCU experience.) Later that night, my partner and I are sitting on the grass, sharing a tray of truffle fries, under a full moon and this sense of joy just overwhelmed me. Like Ilegit had to stop myself from crying, I looked over at my partner and said: “This must be what freedom feels like.” The first night ended with us dancing under the moon to Kaytranada. Talk about a fucking moment.


On the second day, we start our day off with a popping brunch. Like POPPING! The drinks were flowing; the food was filling and the music was beyond on point. We head to the festival buzzing and high off life. We get to the main stage and put down our blanket, only to find that the main stage, speakers are not working. Mind you this is the same stage that Janelle AND Erykah are supposed to perform on later that night. Instead of tripping, we go explore the grounds, then end up at the Pink stage where Pusha T, KILLED Daytona live. (Everyone should see Push Live). On a high from Push, we go back over to the main stage and you still can’t hear a damn thing. I just knew that they would fix this by the time Janelle hit the stage. No! Meanwhile, Janelle comes out and is performing her ass off and we still couldn’t hear a damn thing! Now, I’m on the verge of tears, people behind us are fussing and we start to “boo”.  Well a group of us is “boo-ing” and everyone else is just looking at us like we were crazy! For a minute, it truly felt like I was in the Twilight zone.


It took a minute for me to realize that I was the one who was killing the vibe. Everyone knew the sound was bad and my booing was only making it worse. I stopped boo-ing and just watched. Now, I’m disappointed that Janelle can’t get the appreciation, she deserves. Finally, when my song comes on, I am faced with a choice. This moment taught me that it’s truly on “you” at any moment to decide if you’re going to be happy or be mad. Do I pout because I can’t hear Janelle sing or do I live in the moment and sing my song? I closed my eyes and sang “I Liked That” at the top of my lungs.



Now the sun has set. I’m still a little salty, but I’ve moved on from not being able to hear Janelle. We’re gearing up for the final performance of the weekend: THEE Erykah Badu under a Pisces Full Moon.  Of course, being the goddess that she is, the speakers come alive and I get to experience her and all her true glory. Witnessing Erykah that night, felt like a spiritual experience. The smell of sage was (literally) floating in the air, the vape pen was going and Erykah was doing what she does best- putting on a gotdamn show! At one point, I was crying and screaming MY own name at the top of my lungs towards the full moon. Then, Janelle got on stage and took us to another plane! When it was all said, and done, I walked away with a natural high and walking on air.



None of us was ready to call it a night. So, we found ourselves in some random restaurant with tiny tables and cramped seating. We hear there is a party in the basement, we go down there and it’s a completely different vibe. The music was popping, there was room to move, a bar and the cutest private enclaves. Our crew finds a vacant enclave and get drinks. We may have been there for all of fifteen minutes when we hear Issa Rae is in the building. My partner tells me to breathe and before I could think, I’m out of my seat, looking for Issa. My partner sister (Mo) and I make our way to the dance floor and sure enough, in this intimate ass basement, it’s Issa FUCKING Rae backing it up on Dro!!


She’s surrounded by security (of course) but I can see this woman with my own eyes. We’re literally in a hot basement, breathing the same recycled air. I never knew I was a groupie until that moment! It took everything in me to not just bum-rush the circle. Mo and I are trying to play it cool. But we’re both sneaking glances at Issa and trying to plot our way to her. But it feels impossible. Mo looks at me and asks do I want to go sit back down or commit. At that moment, I knew that she was a true rider, we decided to commit. We continue to dance (stalk) until Issa is finally tired and ready to make her way to the booth. Security begins to open the circle, creating a path for her to walk down (like a mini soul train). As though the Gods were on my side, the next thing I know, Issa is next to me and we’re fucking dancing TOGETHER. Shoulder to shoulder doing a body roll.




She’s Issa. I’m Molly. Or maybe I’m Issa and she’s Molly. Either way for that whole thirty seconds’ time stood still and we became best friends. The moment passes and we’re back into our enclave. Now, I’m really hype and ready to drink. My weekend had been made- I bodied rolled with ISSA RAE! We stay for a little while longer but then eventually end up calling it a night. My partner says he has to go to the bathroom and we decide to wait for him outside. We walk outside and GUESS who just standing there- yeah- you guessed right- ISSA FUCKING RAE.


This time, there is no cool. I think I may have yelp, gasped or made some other unknown sound because I just could NOT! (How could God love me so much?) Mo and I immediately walk/jog over and ask for a picture. Only to be stopped by her manager, who stated firmly she’s done taking pictures for the night. I could hear Mo talking to the manager, but I could not bring my mouth to form words, because Issa is right there. It was ISSA. First, she’s like so much taller in person. Secondly, she’s like gorgeous- like her skin is unreal! Eventually, Issa joins our circles and says she will take the picture. Now, I’m sure I have a half- drunk smile on my face and she’s looking dead at me. I was probably looking stupid, so she turns to Mo and compliments (fucks up) the slogan on her shirt. We all have a laugh but the light skin devil wouldn’t let us live. Her manager says again that Issa is done taking pictures for the night. My partner comes outside and that’s when I notice that Dro had been standing there the whole time.



When I got back home to Detroit, I laid across the bed and cried pure tears of joy. The entire trip taught me the beauty of just living in the moment.  The beauty of actually doing the things you talk/dream about. It taught me just how unexpected life can be when you let go of expectations. It wasn’t just about Issa and Afro-Punk, it was everything, the crew, the vibes, the atmosphere was just unbelievable. I couldn’t haven’t dreamed up a better weekend. Since Insecure came out, everyone- I mean everyone- tells me how much I remind them of Issa. I never saw it until that night and it had nothing to do with her looks. But everything to do with what she represents, she’s the personification of faith and hard work. Looking at Issa on that street was like looking a slimmer, taller, richer version of myself.  Looking at her represented possibility.



Issa symbolizes what I could become and because of that moment, as I laid across my bed- I vowed that no matter what I will see all my projects to completion. Even as I type this with a rejection letter from Jack Jones in my inbox and a broken heart from a failed relationship- I’m still going to stick with my plan. I will meet Issa again and tell her this story. Hella, I probably will even show her this article and hope that maybe just maybe she would remember that drunken night.  And if not, at least I will always have the memory. Unfortunately, my private cry didn’t stay private. Just as I’m trying to pull it together my partner walks out the bathroom and gives me the craziest look. Then ask what’s wrong? I couldn’t do anything but laugh and thank him for the best weekend ever!




So the next time you're thinking about going to Afro-Punk: Don't think- JUST DO THAT SHIT! 



-AM

© 2018 by Amber C. Sillmon 45601 S Interstate 94 Service DR #2762, Belleville, MI 48112