Views from the rafters, views from the front row
Drake and Future’s Summer Sixteen Tour came to Washington, D.C. — this is what it looked like
In which Justin Tinsley and Aaron Dodson experience the Washington D.C. stop of the Drake + Future Summer Sixteen Tour from two vantage points.
Six summers ago, I saw Drake in concert for the first time. June 13, 2010 — long before the countless No. 1 hits, the numerous Grammy nominations, the beard, the dance moves and his love affair with Rihanna. Long before Drake was Drake.
I cherish this concert, and to be honest, it’s probably the best I’ve ever been to. I still have my ticket, which I paid just $40 for to watch his hourlong set from the floor, standing about 25 feet from the stage. That night, he performed maybe 15 songs, if that. And one thing I’ll never forget is how he ended the show.
When he took the stage that night in front of a sold out crowd at the 1,200-person capacity 9:30 Club in Washington D.C., the only projects he had to his name were three mixtapes. Two days after the concert, his debut studio album Thank Me Later would release, catapulting him into stardom and making performances at venues like 9:30 Club a distant memory. But after finishing his final song, he grabbed the mic with two hands, looked out to the crowd and confidently uttered, “I go by the name of Aubrey Graham and I’m from Toronto, Canada.” Part of me feels like he knew that would be his last concert as simply Aubrey Graham.
Only a few guarantees exist in life.
- You’ll never hear anyone say, “You know, paying Sallie Mae ain’t that bad when you think about it.” Or, “Season five of Martin was the best season.”
- The Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl trophy case remaining incredibly easy to clean.
- LeBron James making the Finals.
- Whitney Houston’s national anthem being the GOAT.
- Men always trying to impress women in any walk of life, at any time.
Point number five is why men go to the barbershop every week. It’s why they leave eyeball emoji comments under Instagram pics. It’s why they cop nice cars. And, apparently, it’s why they buy suites during Drake and Future shows.
Around 8:00 p.m. Friday evening, our group split up. Beforehand, we’d descended upon Rocket Bar for power hour, a solid (and cheap!) pre-Washington Wizards/Washington Capitals/concert move for anyone in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown before a big event. My people Trevon and Ashley had floor seats. Myself, Ryan, Brad and John all had seats in the 400 area— and when we finally got to our section, the stage looked like it was a good two miles away. Not that it mattered much. The DJ’s set was just ending — a promise that Drake would arrive shortly.
But, near our row, a guy, obviously faded as all hell, talked to three women. Looking at him, he thought he had his mission in the bag. As for the ladies? Well, they were trying not to laugh.
“But … but … ” he struggled to get the words out. “I don’t think you’re beautiful. I think you’re beyond it.”
“Did you just quote Lil Wayne to me?” one of the women asked, nearly bursting out laughing at this point. He did.
“Look, I’ve got a suite. And I just want you and your friends to come chill with me.”
“Nah, we’re good. Thank you, though.” I lightweight expected them to go and at least drink buddy’s liquor once he inevitably passed out in a corner somewhere. If he wasn’t at his limit, he was teetering dangerously close. Regardless, it takes courage — or at least a lot of Henny — to go full J.R. Smith-mode. But he did it. The conversation continued for another minute or so. He was still quoting lyrics, not getting him any closer to his end goal. They were still laughing at him, eventually leaving once they no longer felt entertained. And dude walked off looking like the final scene from The Incredible Hulk.
Since the 9:30 Club show, I’d seen Drake in concert twice — on 2012’s Club Paradise Tour and 2013’s Would You Like A Tour? — both times at the Verizon Center in D.C. But since 9:30, never had I watched him perform from the floor. Then came this past Saturday night — the second show of the Summer Sixteen Tour’s stop in D.C.
Section 5, Row A, Seat 13. Floor, dead center, to see Drake and Future.
The ticket that cost way more than the $40 I spent to see him and Francis and the Lights six years ago, but it was worth every single penny. The moral of the story: Everyone should experience at least one Drake show this close. From the moment he appeared onstage to the tune of “Looking for revengeeeee,” the views from the floor might as well have been views from a movie. Surely not merely a concert. “This is the Summer Sixteen tour. I’m here to give you the best party,” Drake yelled a few songs in before quipping, “First question is, you want the short show or the long show? It’s up to you.”
Toto, we’re not at 9:30 Club anymore — that’s what I felt like telling my good friend Kenneth, who was there with me in 2010 and there with me on Saturday. Because the man onstage was certainly not Aubrey Graham. This was Drake, the 6 God himself, with his right-hand man Future Hendrix, whose musical career in 2010 was just as uncertain as Drake’s was that night we saw him perform the first time. Now, they’re who everyone wants to party to — who everyone wants to party with. And boy was it unlike any party I’ve ever been to.
The wind from onstage explosions blew the smell of marijuana down the aisles and up into the arena air. Rapping songs word for word on Snapchat with people who you’ll never again see in your life (to the girl who sat two seats away from me: if you’re reading this, just know that we definitely had a moment). Capturing the perfect panorama video from the middle of the arena of everyone holding their illuminated phones in anticipation of Future dropping “March Madness.” The older security lady abandoning her post to dance with me to “Hotline Bling” as hundreds of illuminated violet globes pulsated up and down from the ceiling. (To the usher who threatened to kick me and Kenneth out for trying to catch twerks in the aisle: If you’re reading this, I think CeeLo Green said it best.)
All of these moments — and some that I can’t even remember, but hope come back to me over time — made up this year’s summer solstice that is the Summer Sixteen Tour.
As for the actual show, life in the 400 section wasn’t too different from any other part of the arena — I’d assume. Aside from being close and whatnot. Drake finally blessed the stage. A young lady in the row behind us, who’d been, literally, asleep, immediately jumped from her seat and began rapping (and singing) lyrics. And while I lost count, I’m pretty sure there were at least 2,000 Snapchat videos being taken. I could be in 674 of them.
What was billed as a concert was more of a party. Everyone stood the entire time screaming at the top of their lungs. And right on cue, about 20 minutes in, someone sparked a blunt. One security guard did his best to stop people from smoking until he realized there was no point — and began partying with everyone else. People broke down weed, rolled it and sparked it and passed it along to people beside them. A very community-like appreciation for music and weed was quickly established.
Toward the end of the first Drake set, our section grew antsy for Future. Don’t get it twisted — Aubrey had it rockin’ in the Verizon Center, but he can get too sing-songy at times, a character trait even he joked about at one point, saying something along the lines of, “It’s some real G’s over there who been sitting down the entire time.” As the beat dropped for “Grammys,” his Views collaboration with his tour mate, there stood Future, arising from the mid-stage like a Codeine Crazy gladiator.
That’s about when the roof blew off the Verizon Center. About my only critique of Future’s set was that he didn’t perform “Real Sisters.” Other than that, it’s tough to pick a dull moment. We all partied with each other. One guy even came down from a few rows up with his double cup — could’ve been lean, could’ve been water, could’ve been he just wanted to look cool.
“N—–, Future got this s— all the way lit right now!” he yelled. “I forgot he had this many songs.” That’s another thing, too. You know Drake and Future have a lot of songs, but hearing them in succession over and over and over is a live setting is a totally different beast. And if you never listen to anything I say, believe me when I tell you this: There is a totally peaceful and serene feeling hearing 15,000-plus men and women scream at the top of their lungs, I just f—– yo’ b—- in some Gucci flip-flops.
I know it’s not the most positive or progressive line. Nor will “Thought It Was A Drought” — a standout record in his already massive catalog — make the Library of Congress for its contribution to the betterment of society. But living in the moment, watching everyone leave whatever stress they had in their lives or their jobs for a split second, the feeling was oddly liberating.
All week, too, Brad and Ryan had been talking about how they wanted to hear “March Madness,” the de facto national anthem, if we’re being honest. Future obliged. The only lights in the arena when Future’s classic single (because, yes, it’s already a classic) were those of cell phones and the fire from blunts being pulled while the crowd passionately rapped We ballin’ like the March Madness/ All these cops shootin’ a n—-, tragic. They’ll probably never admit, but I’m pretty sure I saw a tear roll down Brad or Ryan’s face. Or maybe it was sweat. Either way, a tear sounds much more appropriate.
The rest of the show went off without a hitch. Drake returned for another set that felt close to an hourlong. What’s funny about Aubrey is that, if people-watching is your thing, you’re bound to see a little bit of everything during one of his shows. It turned into an impromptu prom with couples in the aisle dancing to “Hotline Bling,” “Too Good” or “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Three minutes later, it’s a twerk-fest with feet on seats and hands around waists to records like “For Free,” “Work,” “Controlla” and “One Dance” — a transition that was, I’d say, marginally effective this summer.
By far, though, the biggest song of the night, and the one that literally made my entire section shake, was “Pop Style.” The song is one of the hardest on Views — even with that cringeworthy “Chaining Tatum” reference. But never did I imagine the Views standout would essentially turn into choir rehearsal.
“It still feels unreal.”
That’s what one of my friends, who was with me in floor seats, texted me Sunday morning. Then we struggled to figure out which song Drake ended the night on. That might seem weird, to not be able to remember the final song, but when an artist performs 45 tracks — all hits — in one night, it’s easy to get lost in the moment and forget a few. I always joke with people that if I die and come back to life, I want to return as Drake, for the simple fact of how he can command a crowd.
I never got the chance to see James Brown, Michael Jackson or Prince — three of the best artists our world has seen — perform in concert. I have, however, gotten a chance to see Drake emerge from the humble beginnings of performing in a 1,200-capacity venue as Aubrey Graham to rocking a sold-out 18,000-seat NBA arena as one of the best artists of this generation. “I go by the name of Drake and I’m from Toronto, Canada,” he said Saturday. The same phrase from six years ago — with the one important amendment — brought a smile to my face.
Drake’s a savvy businessman, and a profoundly amazing stage presence as his catalog and confidence has continued to swell. For myself and anyone in the 400 section that Friday night, all seemed pleased as they exited the Verizon Center into the muggy D.C. air, wondering what their next play would be.
People recapped their favorite moments, and their favorite songs. Some contemplated hitting Bliss nightclub for Future’s afterparty. Some contemplated Stadium strip club in efforts to keep the high-class ratchet party in full swing. No one, from the conversations I overheard and had, felt like they had been shorted. Here’s hoping the same can be said for our nameless friend with the suite.
Via the Washington DC date of the Summer Sixteen Tour, I got an up close and personal look at what Drake means to the culture. It allowed me to realized that Drake is my James Brown, my Michael Jackson, my Prince. I mean, there aren’t too many artists besides him from whom I’d buy a ticket, which costs essentially the price of a car note, to see in concert.
I’ve been going back and forth between which show now holds the top spot as the best concert I’ve ever seen. The 9:30 Club show is probably still up there, even though there’s no question that time has shaped Drake into a much better performer than I saw from the floor six years ago. It’s only right that I save my ticket from Saturday’s show. Because you can best believe, I will never forget Summer Sixteen.