The Art of Cool Festival

Friday, Sep. 27, 2019

Downtown Durham


Art of Cool brings a special vibe to Durham that no other local festival does. It fills the streets and venues with smiling people of all ages, and you never feel the pretense of festival-goers who are there just for content on their Instagram highlights.

It’s just North Carolina folks coming together to enjoy some soulful Black music—and this year’s first night carried on that tradition very well.

My night started at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, where Black Violin was just wrapping up, and I was instantly taken by the feeling of standing on the field, surrounded by the new high rises lighting up the night sky. It was breathtaking.

If you’ve ever been to DPAB for a game, you know how pretty the city looks during night games—but with the lights turned off, standing in the actual field, there was an exciting energy that set the perfect tone for the two upcoming headliners, Ari Lennox and Jill Scott.

The last time Lennox came to the Triangle, it was for J. Cole’s new Dreamville Festival in Raleigh, and though the audience at AOC was positive and happy, it wasn’t the raucous crowd of twenty-somethings that Ari was introduced to in April, which she clearly noticed.

This time, she played a much more reserved set, serenading the calm crowd and expressing her appreciation that it was made up of mostly Black people, saying, “I love playing for my people.”

By the time the “Shea Butter Baby” singer was done, DBAP was filling up for the moment everyone had been waiting for since AOC announced its headliners—the arrival of Jill Scott.

And arrive she did! On time and ready to go, in a dress that showed off her voluptuous curves, she was an instant hit among male and female fans alike.

Where Lennox was calm and nonchalant, Scott and her band hit the ground running, jamming on medleys of funk, R&B, and even rock (with a funky, synth-laden rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”) before getting into her familiar body of work. 

Kicking things off with her painfully bluesy “Say Thank You,” it’s amazing to watch Scott work. There truly is no one like her. Where the usual R&B diva presides over her audience with an air of unimpeachable power, Scott levels with her fans.

She puts her insecurities and vulnerabilities out on the front line and works through them with us, helping us work through our own in the process. She’s a musical caregiver who encourages not just empowerment, but also self-love.

In a music industry that’s filled with fakeness and an obsession over image and “influence,” it’s refreshing to have someone like Jill Scott who still cares about the beauty of our imperfections as humans. Leave it to her to remind us that it’s cool to be flawed, making her headlining performance the perfect way to round out the first night of Art of Cool 2019.

music@indyweek.com