I thought my blog entry would simply chronicle my month in Atlanta on an assignment – the general details of which I can share when the ‘reality show’ is ready to be seen in the Fall. I would have simply listed the musings and pop culture sightings across which I stumbled while in my ‘home away from home’ over this five-week stretch. But I’ll start with what awaited me here at home over this past few days as I did miss my partner Ant something terrible. I also missed the comforts of my home and the quality of my life. But during these economically-challenging times, it’s been critical that I be willing to sacrifice to stay connected to the industry I still hold dear and to hold onto the business that is – for now - the backdrop of my calling and living.
Though put up in lovely quarters and enjoying all the cuisine Atlanta has to offer, I was very excited to land at JFK airport the other day and be met by Ant and a roundup of ‘my favorite things’ that had been missing while I was away from home. He lined up TIVO – so we could catch up on the shows I didn’t have the time to watch. He served a tasty meal of salmon, asparagus, and fixings. We held onto each other for dear life before heading into the city for some time-sensitive errands (bills still have to be paid, etc.) and of course, some social time at SOBs (www.sobs.com). John Legend introduced his little brother Vaughn Anthony (www.john-legend.net/homeschool/) who provided a seven-song indication that he’s got the goods. Additionally, Legend performed a jam session with Estelle… Rick Ross… Ryan Leslie. John Legend rocks!!!! Then, Ant and I did a little karaoke. (and three times since I’ve been back). The next night, his buddy Mike from Denver (an awesome vocalist in his own right) joined us for an evening. We got our karaoke in but also did some bar hopping – including our old standby “No Parking” (www.noparkingbar.com) where our friend/owner Brian Palmer showed how happy he was to see me. Derrick Briggs whose awesome performance in "Finding Me" entertained Ant and me during our reunion (www.thanks4findingme.com) as we viewed a copy provided us from the filmmaker. Also, I co-hosted an event for my dear friend Carl Nelson. “Drums Along The Hudson” (www.drumsalongthehudson.org/), which I also co-hosted last year, is in its seventh year of transforming Upper Manhattan’s Inwood Hill Park into a POW WOW PLANET. Produced by Carl, it is presented by Lotus Music & Dance in collaboration with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. It is sponsored in part by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and WABC-TV, including host for the first part of the day, Sandra Bookman. “Drums Along The Hudson” is a celebratory gathering of Native people and a multicultural, family-oriented mélange of world dancers and drummers. Also, Native American crafts and international cuisines were a part of the day. My co-host Tetiana Anderson (of Weather Channel fame - www.weather.com/tv/personalities/Tetiana-Anderson.html) and I introduced a diverse array of performances – from Peru, Korea, and the Mohawk tribe. Ant volunteered for the effort while many of our friends came out to support - including Lisa, Nicole, and Wilson. We also met Theressa Dubois with Equal Access Sign Language Television (www.deafwelcome.org). She gave us an insight and awareness into the US Deaflympic Team (Taipei 2009). I also got to enjoy a quick breakfast in Hackensack, NJ. My sponsors were another of my ride-or-dies Lisa Goodnight and her man Lex. We enjoyed southern cuisine and each others' company. The crème de la crème of Ant’s welcome home fiesta was at the Velvet Cigar Lounge (www.velvetbrooklyn.com) at which he bartends a couple of nights a week. You’ll recall, his “Amazing Grace” Manivone has been working there for about a year and graciously extended an offer his way after the owner Phil needed to expand his team. Ant – ever the visionary – has come up with “SUNDAY NIGHT MUSE” – a weekly franchise that celebrates the body of work and the influence of an artist. For my WELCOME-BACK-SET, DIANA ROSS – of course – was the muse. The signature drink "Love Hangover" was made of organic, fruit-infused Grey Goose. And DJ Stereotype scored the night with 45 years of LA ROSS piping from the speakers. My “Amazing Grace” Nichole, who too was in Atlanta with me on this reality assignment, shared ‘the spotlight’ with me as this was her comeback as well. Next week, PRINCE is the muse: www.velvetbrooklyn.com... And come meet Ant and DJ Stereotype in person. I plan to be there as well. I’M SO HAPPY TO BE HOME!!!!!
A month of sightings without my every-two-week update means I have about five weeks to playback. I won’t bore you with all the details but the pictures are worth many words. Firstly, my fellow producers (including my Nichole, Shareen, Ev, Ashley) and I stayed at THE TWELVE – Atlantic Station (www.twelvehotels.com/AtlanticStation/HotelHome.do). It was truly a home away from home with each room well-appointed like an apartment - from kitchens to pcs to whirlpool and balcony. You’ll recall, I stayed there last August when in Atlanta to host an event for the High Museum (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/8/26/its-good-to-be-black.html). The lobby is quite the place to see and be seen. In the course of the month, I ran into “Ron” from “A Different World” played by Darryl Bell. He was in town working on a TV ONE special. Denise Boutte who is currently co-starring in Tyler Perry’s “Meet The Browns” was having dinner there one night (www.tbs.com/meetthebrowns). She too co-starred in Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married?". My friend Anthony Hill (a writer for the show) introduced me to her. The ladies and I ran into Anthony on more than one occasion in the lobby and hung out a little bit. One night, a friend of Nichole’s Michael Ferguson (former bass player for Levert and planner of music festivals – www.omnisourcevents.com), Anthony (credits also including “Eve” and “Between Brothers”), Shareen, Nichole, and I did a night on the town that included: Gladys Knight and Ron Winans’ Chicken & Waffles (www.gladysandron.net/)... Sutra Lounge (www.sutraloungeatl.com)... my favorite for organic wings and eggs R. Thomas (www.rthomasdeluxegrill.com). We popped by Justin’s (www.justinsrestaurant.com) and met Shareen’s friend Sonia who has a store “Roaring 20s” in Lithonia near its Stone Crest Mall (We went to check her out and bought a few 'looks for less'). Shareen is also friends with Lelee from SWV. So, I got a photo op with her as well. Also in Atlantic Station, we spent time at “Geisha House” (www.dolcegroup.com) and enjoyed sushi. And when we could get out, “The Flying Biscuit” (www.flyingbiscuit.com/) and “Arizona” (www.tripadvisor.com) were two restaurants that floated our digestive boats. Good food all around!!!! Now, I couldn’t be in Atlanta without sniffing out “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”. Don't we LOVE them? Well, I'm told I can't talk about it now (so I've pulled the pix and sightings off). But stay tuned pending the new season. I'll try to remember to recall my own observations once it hits the airwaves later this year. I apologize if my initial post caused any trouble. I did get to hang out a little bit with Sister 2 Sister’s Jamie Foster Brown (www.s2smagazine.com/). She and I got to catch up as we had some business-in-common later that week. Also, Keyshia Cole’s manager Manny invited me to a set for his birthday (www.velvetatl.com). Here I pose with his brother Steve who I got to know during the month there. We worked together and had a lot of fun too.
Since Nichole and I were both homesick, we were happy to be together as we also had to travel to Oakland for a few days on our assignment. Also, we were more than happy to get our friends and family in the mix as much as we could. Nichole’s sister Tori, Shannon, and Shannon’s friend Vernecia (who works at The Carter Center) came by to see us along with another of Tori’s friends Naima. Always good to hang with the girls. Any time we could connect to ‘our folks’ was a heartwarming time. My sister Janice lives in Lithonia. The same week I came to ATL, my brother Herman was coming to stay with my sister and her husband Vincent. So, I got a few moments to hang with them (Not as many as I would have liked but my work schedule demanded much of my time). My brother’s son Noot (who is now a rising-Senior at Morehouse College en route to NYC for his 2nd year at his HBO internship) came and saw me a couple of times (Spelman sister in tow). My Morehouse brother Welborn Preston came by with a friend Nathan (who knows my Mario who is here in NYC). My “Original Amazing Grace” Natalie got to meet my “NYC Amazing Grace” Nichole. That was a cool moment for me! SMILE! My girlfriend Kelly Welborn (formerly of High Museum. Now, Director of Marketing with Spelman College museum) came by and spent some time with me. She even had a birthday gift for Ant; Miss Cristal (with whom Ern and I spent many Thanksgivings in the Poconos) came by; my dearest Elise found me in Lenox Mall one day. Then, we had some great, ‘spirited’ times at the hotel lobby. And my Audrey – of course – came around as often as possible to lift my homesick spirits. She even joined Lamoh and me one night at late-night supper spot Pearl (www.thepearlbistro.com/thepearlbistro.asp). Afterwards, we even convinced her to join us at a spot Rain for dancing (her Taliban-esque chicness in tow). And I couldn’t be in ATL for a month without my “best friends” from New York City popping by (not so much to see me, but of course, they squeezed me into their missions). Jason and Marqice were in town. Marqice joined Jason a few days later for his birthday which falls near Ant’s birthday - so our households were represented in both places (as Jason wasn't able to attend Ant's birthday set earlier in the month). Marqice had a Queens-based fete upon their return to NYC... and Ant was able to attend that as well. So, we LOVE when we can represent for each others' birthdays. Then, THE Michael K. Watts came down for Mother’s Day to see his mom… and popped by the “12” to say HI. This, as he and I are co-producing the National Association of Black Journalists’ Hall of Fame Banquet (www.nabj.org). One night, while dining at Intercontinental Buckhead (www.InterContinental.com) for business, I was cajoled into singing with a German tourist/pianist at the bar. This, while legendary Frankie Beverly (of MAZE) looked on and later complimented me. The one thing missing was… ANT! But he sure made up for it when I returned. We’ll now be present with the time we do have together before I hit the road for a couple of months: L.A., ATLANTA, L.A., TAMPA. He’ll – for sure – get one of these destinations in for a visit, if not more, though he’s poised to start work on “The Wendy Williams Show” at the end of June (in addition to an art project on which he’s working to complete and get backing for a show). STAY TUNED!