Monday, July 30, 2012

Left Eye Music Fest: a reminder of TLC's legacy and loss

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Reigndrop and Ronald Lopes, Left Eye Music Fest
  • Meghan Davis
  • Reigndrop and Ronald Lopes closed the first-ever Left Eye Music Fest, which honored the sister and TLC rapper.
At the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards, Tionne 'T-Boz' Watkins and Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas walked onto the Radio City Music Hall stage, holding hands. Footage of Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes, who died in a car crash just four months prior, flashed on the stage-to-ceiling screens. They stepped up to the podium, their eyes swollen from crying and a standing ovation of about 6,000 before them. For a split second, Chilli had to look away. "It's so hard, because it's such a reality check because it's only two of us up here," she said to the audience. "And she's so missed."

On Saturday afternoon, teenaged trio the OMG Girlz stood inside the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts and Community Center, before a near-crowded, 500-seat auditorium of mostly mothers and daughters. Star, Beauty and Baby Doll announced that they had a special guest, a surprise even to them. (They had been reading off of note cards.) Then, they turned to their left. "Oh my gosh," they said as Chilli emerged from the side stage, smiling.

Chilli and the OMG Girlz were kicking off the first-ever Left Eye Music Fest, spearheaded by Left Eye's brother and sister Ronald and Reigndrop Lopes. Ten performances were divided into a kids showcase and an adult tribute concert, and they became reminders of what the Atlanta-based Left Eye left behind: the most successful American female group of all time, and a growing number of artists that she'd taken under her wing. Gabbie Rae, a 14-year-old signee to Purple Ribbon Kidz (so, the label Big Boi gifted his daughter), belted through aspirations involving MTV appearances and magazine covers — emblems of fame that TLC earned in the '90s. Female trios Ejypt and Blaque each performed a cappella versions of songs that their mentor loved to hear, including the latter's gold-selling "808."

"Lisa always said there was magic — you know, that it reminded her of TLC," Blaque's Brandi Williams said of the group's initial chemistry.

Even the festival's tributes recalled that her expectations, informed by a decade spent in the music industry, were high. During the kids showcase, singing-rapping troupe the New KnERDS breezed through some of TLC's most-known hits by nabbing the choreography, since they were only mouthing the choruses. (They were hardly the only ones to lip-sync.) Whencrazysexycool single "Waterfalls" began to play, Reigndrop Lopes skipped onto the stage, without announcement, to recite her older sister's lines. As New KnERDS encircled her, the family resemblance took center stage — her eyes, her smile. In the middle of the auditorium, three friends kept darting their eyes back and forth from Reigndrop and amongst themselves, as if wondering, "that can't be Left Eye — can it?"

After she crashed the New KnERDS set, then thrashed, and head-banged through two songs of her own (she calls herself the "queen of hip-rock"), Reigndrop had to act as Left Eye again. Backed by dancers who pinned condoms to their baggy layers as TLC once did, Reigndrop stripped through layers of jumpsuits as she ran around the stage and recited Left Eye's verses from FanMail's "No Scrubs" and, again, crazysexycool's "Waterfalls." (She left the mic standing alone during TLC's first-ever single "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg.") Like the children and adult performers before her, she had to remember Left Eye's spunky words, nail her choreography, and embody her charisma as best she could — as best as anyone there could, really. Chilli left before the tribute concert started.

"It's hard to say 'was.' She is my sister," Chilli said to the audience when she arrived. But before she arrived at the festival, the OMG Girlz shepherded about two dozen kids, shy toddlers, and grade-schoolers, from the audience onto the stage. As the kids wiggled behind them, two of the OMG Girlz started to sing: "So I creep, yeah/just keep it on the down-low ... " They aimed their mics to the audience, who murmured in reply. The Girlz tried again: "Don't go chasing waterfalls/please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to..."

"Lisa would have got up here and gotten all crazy," Babydoll said afterward. "I was just trying to get it out of y'all."

See event photo gallery.

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