July 04, 2013
By KENNETH MILLER
Assistant Managing Editor
By Charlene Muhammad
The energy poured through the inaugural BET Experience & Taste of Soul Community Stage at L.A. Live last weekend as thousands flooded parking lots decorated with music stages, basketball courts, beverage trucks and multi cultural food vendors, providing yet another economic boost to the renovated downtown region.
A massive collaboration of the Black community joined forces with premier network Black Entertainment Television (BET), businessman and activist Danny Bakewell Sr. (Chairman and CEO of the Bakewell Media) and entertainment conglomerate AEG to bring a world class event featuring elite entertainment from music to film, to comedy, basketball and the best cultural food experience.
Michael Roth, vice president of communications for AEG, was joined by BET Chief Operating Officer Debra Lee, Congresswoman Karen Bass, City Councilman Curren Price, Assemblyman Isadore Hall III, Compton Mayor elect Aja Brown, veteran sportscaster Jim Hill, Bakewell Sr. and a host of other elected officials and dignitaries during a ribbon cutting ceremony that kicked off the BET Experience last Friday.
“I could not be more thankful to AEG and our sponsors for making this dream a reality. It’s great to be in Los Angeles where we expect to have 50,000 join us for this inaugural BET Experience weekend,” said Lee.
For BET and AEG, the matter was not just about entertaining people before the much anticipated BET Awards show, but for many who flew in from other states and around the world it would have been enough. The ‘Taste of Soul’ and the Community State was just the icing on the cake.
“As many people who’ve been to ‘Taste of Soul’, this weekend is going to bring even more people who don’t know what ‘Taste of Soul’ is and that’s all great for everybody. You come to this once, you’re going to find ‘Taste of Soul’ wherever it pops up again later in the year, but it’s really about celebrating everything we have, the culture,” said Roth.
Bakewell, who is also publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, created the Taste of Soul Family Festival that will be held on Crenshaw Blvd. October 19 for the eighth time. ‘Taste of Soul’ has been an economic boon to local business and has also showcased local restaurants, entertainment, exhibits and non-profit organizations.
The BET & Taste of Soul Community Stage was not only filled with performances, but with activities for the audience. People filled the area doing the Cha Cha Slide and the Cupid Shuffle. Some even won food vouchers for the Taste of Soul vendors.
“[A Taste of Soul] has been a really nice experience,” said Steven Coleman, 56. “It’s where young and old meet and have togetherness on one accord. It’s a beautiful thing.”
There wouldn’t be a BET & Taste of Soul Community Stage without food. There was competition for best barbecue in which Cynthia Daniel from Our Place Barbecue and Shawn Black from Big Ronnie’s Barbecue won Taste of Soul gift bags, tickets to the Grammy Museum and the title of the best barbecue at ‘A Taste of a Taste of Soul.’
People raved about the Taste of Soul vendors all weekend. Some of the fan favorites were Harold and Bell’s, Bourbon Street Fish and Chicken Hut.
“Chicken Hut has the best chicken ever,” said Valerie Bowden from Atlanta as she sat with her daughter and friends. “We’re all from Atlanta and this is the best chicken in the world.”
A Taste of a Taste of Soul did its job in bringing Los Angeles flavor to the BET Experience. With great performances and great food, everyone received a taste of soul.
Rounding out Saturday’s line-up were Fox 11 News Anchor Christine Devine’s protégé Sean Christian Jackson aka Lotis. The Sparkids and performers from the California African American Museum (CAAM) featuring actor Jeffery Anglenson Gunther took part in the BET & Taste of Soul Community Stage.
“This is a great multicultural activity that really allows those in the African American community to offer both the enterprise of their food services as well as to share entertainment and also create an opportunity for small business to integrate in a dynamic project that is not only of economic benefit to our community, but cultural enrichment as well,” said former Assemblyman Mike Davis as he enjoyed the festivities.
The original idea came about when AEG hierarchy met with BET officers to envision what the weekend would be, he said. After they decided to make it a celebration of all of the Black culture, it crystalized they needed to have food and they called Bakewell to help make it happen.
“I don’t know if you could say that I made it happen. However, I am pleased that ‘Taste of Soul’ nation could spice things up a bit,” stated Bakewell.
“Up until 2013, no one’s been able to even buy a ticket to the BET Awards because of its popularity,” Roth explained. “The notion was to package the program with other events and concerts during the three-day weekend, thus the BET Experience with a Taste of Soul.”
“That’s why this festival, which is free to anybody, is so great for us. You experience the food, the free Music Matters stage.... It’s a win-win for everybody. I think the legacy of the BET Experience is going to be what we can give back to the community ... a chance to attend some of these events,” Roth said.
When Shae Sewad’s Cobblermania was selected to vend for Taste of Soul at the BET Experience. She said the impact was two-fold.
“As a vendor at the annual Taste of Soul events, we love the event and are proud to be vendors at it. We were honored to be chosen as one of the vendors,” Sewad said.
She usually sells her vegan cobblers at the local farmers’ market on Vermont Ave, but attendance has dwindled, she said. Taste of Soul at the BET Experience helped to regain some of that exposure, she expressed.
“It was an attempt for us to not only promote our businesses, but also to let people know what type of vendors are vending at that particular famers’ market,” she shared.
Other food vendors selected for the event were: B.D. Burgers, Bac 2 Basic, Big (Kone) Huna, Big Ronnie’s BBQ, Big Tasty Legs, Boone’s Fabulous Fried Fish, Bourbon Street Fish & Grill, California Fish Market, Chef Marilyn Soul Food Express, Dulan’s, Fun Time Kettle Corn, Grandma’s House Catering, Harold & Belle’s Restaurant, Hot Diggity Dog & Co., Juice It Up! Just My Truffles, Kobbler King, LeSassier Catering, Little Ethiopia Business Association, OMG Chicken & Waffles, Quebec Smokehouse Ribs, Stone’s Jamaican Food, Sweet Red Peach, Thai & Hawaiian BBQ, Wi Jammin, Worldwide Tacos, and Young Ladies with Potential.
General Jeff, who was born and raised in South Central, is now a community activist, he serves on the board of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. Since he’s lived downtown since 2006, he’s noted a tremendous lack of Black business owners, he said.
Jeff said he’s been trying to do all he could to get Black businesses, especially food vendors into downtown Los Angeles and succeeded recently when Quick N Split, a hamburger joint, opened on 7th and Broadway.
“That was tremendous in and of itself but this is by far 10 times 10-fold compared to that It’s just to give the downtown community and the greater Los Angeles community an idea of what Black-owned food vendors would do in the downtown community,” Jeff said.
He proudly basked in the glow of the historic moment. It was the first time ever the BET Awards show presented as a three-day festival celebrating Black music, he expressed.
“It’s not just an awards show anymore. It’s a fan fest. It’s a music fest. It’s a love for all things Black and so we’re talking about the Black food, the Black music, the Black culture period. And that’s something that the downtown community definitely needs to see,” Jeff declared.
Interns Shanen Hill and Shonassee Shaver contributed to this story.