I recently celebrated my 20th high school reunion—Saratoga Springs High School, class of 1998—and it was great catching up with all of my old friends. I hadn’t seen some of them in nearly 20 years, save for the dribs and drabs I picked up about their lives on Facebook. Back then, people knew me as a total music geek—I was a cellist (classical) and guitarist (punk), who could play a Bach Suite and later that day, jam out on a Misfits or Nirvana song. My musical tastes were all over the place.
However, if I could pick a single soundtrack for senior year, without question, it would be Wyclef Jean’s debut solo album, The Carnival, which dropped that previous June. It was seemingly on permanent rotation everywhere. I remember driving to Spring Street Deli on my lunch hour, cranking it as loud as I could. And then there were all of those parties, where someone would end up pulling out his or her copy of the CD and skip ahead to tracks such as “Guantanamera,” “Gone till November” and “We Trying to Stay Alive.” It was like a little party you could fit in a jewel case. We’d even play it the morning after, when the room was spinning, and we were trying to clean up the house before our parents got home.
The album wasn’t just a flash in the pan; it eventually hit No.16 on the Billboard 200 and it was nominated for a pair of Grammy Awards. (Mind you, at the ’96 Grammys, as part of hip-hop supergroup The Fugees, Wyclef had won two Grammys, including Best Rap Album for The Score.) More importantly, though, it was part of a new wave of highly diverse, multi-genre hip-hop that entered my musical lexicon. I’d largely steered away from hip-hop until that year—I did buy the CD single of Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.” and borrowed my brother’s copy of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, but by no means, was I hip-hop literate. Wyclef’s music was different, though; kids like me who were more into punk and rock music could still find common ground in his songs; it wasn’t angry like gangsta rap or goofy like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. You couldn’t pigeonhole it. Like my musical tastes, it was delightfully all over the place.
And Wyclef didn’t ever really slow down. He co-wrote the monster Shakira hit “Hips Don’t Lie.” He scored a hit with Fugees’ bandmate Pras on “Ghetto Superstar.” He appears on “Maria, Maria” on guitarist Santana’s watershed Grammy moment, Supernatural. He’s covered Creedence Clearwater Revival. Appeared in a number of films and TV shows. He even tried to run for president in Haiti. In other words, he’s stayed relevant long after many of the other artists that were on the charts in ’98 have fallen off the map.
Just this past March, Wyclef’s The Carnival Tour touched down at Saratoga Springs’ Putnam Place, and although I wasn’t able to make it, I heard that the show was nothing short of brilliant. Says Putnam Place Co-owner Tiffany Albert: “Wyclef Jean’s performance was so amazing when he was here back in March. He played for two-and-a-half hours and had the whole sold-out crowd jumping. He played five instruments, including the keyboard, and even played his guitar behind his back. He loved Saratoga so much that he wanted to come back for his last stop on his Carnival Tour.”
Well, what do you know? Wyclef’s a man of his word. This Saturday, September 15, from 8pm to 1am, he’ll be making his triumphant return to Putnam Place, bringing his Carnival Tour back for another incredible night of music. And to sweeten the deal, Putnam Place is offering saratoga living readers a steep discount on tickets for the show, which will undoubtedly be sold out soon. Fans will be able to snatch up tickets here for $30 only, with fees included. Click here for the deal. (Offer is valid through 12pm on Friday.) To put that into perspective, advance tickets are going for $40, and will go up to $47 on the day of the show. Jazzy Amra and Sophistafunk are the openers.
I’d be surprised if you didn’t bump into some of my high school classmates there. Heck, you might even see a dude in the corner, about 5-foot-11, quietly mouthing the lyrics to all the hits, and doing his best not to embarrass himself on the dance floor.