Charles Bradley Doles Out Hugs, Inspiration at the Great GoogaMooga

Charles Bradley at GoogaMooga
Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires perform at the Great Googa Mooga 2012 at Prospect Park on May 20, 2012. (Source: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images North America)

In a two-day smorgasbord that saw thousands upon thousands of people from Brooklyn and beyond waiting in hour-long lines to shove lobster rolls, crack pies (the Momofuku kind, people) and Magic Hat (or maybe that was just me…) down our throats, the music of one man left an impression that will linger a whole lot longer than any foie gras doughnut. I didn’t know much about Charles Bradley when he kicked off his 12:30 p.m. set on Sunday at The Great GoogaMooga; I had listened to the album in passing and liked his sound and was equally impressed by his Googa set. His energy compelled the whole audience to get on their feet, dance, and inwardly plead for him to do another split. That’s right — a 63-year-old … doing splits … that I will never – be – able – to – do.

But it was when Bradley began tearing into his last song, a slower ballad than his usual upbeat James Brown-esque soul, called “Why Is It So Hard,” that the earnestness of his lyrics and the grit with which he sang cut right to the bone and tore at heartstrings. He ended the set by jumping down from the stage and into the crowd mid-song, promising to give everyone and anyone who wanted one a hug. I’ll admit it – I welled up. I was even more intrigued once I pieced together a bit of his personal backstory. The singer’s life has been more than rough-and-tumble, to say the least — he went from growing up as a homeless kid in New York City, to enduring the ups and downs of being a hitchiking cook on the nation’s West Coast. Then finally years later he returned to his family in Bushwick, Brooklyn only to wake up one morning soon after to find that his brother had been shot and killed.

Still, despite setback after setback, Bradley’s passion for music sustained him, and now at a time that would usually find a person gearing up for retirement and readying to hang up his hat, Bradley fulfilled his life’s dream at the age of 62 — releasing a record. And it’s an amazing record, at that.

Bradley and his Extraordinaires will be bringing their unique soul to Newport Folk Festival in July, and I can’t wait to see him do what he does once again. Below is the trailer for a documentary on Bradley’s life, rightfully called “Charles Bradley: Soul of America.” His music may not be the typical grass clippings Americana feature, but I think you’ll agree that if his isn’t the music of America, I’m not sure what is.

Watch the trailer and try to catch Bradley at one of his tour stops in a city near you.