NatStar not coronated yet, but he’s working on it
Plates of fried Caribbean food lay on small round tables as studious writers review handwritten pages in the shadowed corners of Montego Bay, a low-slung hideaway painted in bright clashing colors on Greensboro’s West Market Street. As yet the stage is dark, a prelude at around 9:30 p.m. to the Blazin’ Ice joint, a periodic Thursday night occurrence.
Keith Robinson, a beefy New Yorker wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey and a belt buckle with a digital scroll displaying the single word “blazin’,” flips open his mobile phone at the first ring. A look of alarm creases his forehead as he receives the news.
“Oh no,” he says. “We’re gonna fight, but not right now. You’ve just got to get down here.”
The man on the other end of the line is Chris Stowe, the 23-year-old Winston-Salem singer, arranger and independent business agent who goes by the stage name NatStar the King. He’s the featured artist tonight, slated to both open and close the show, and he’s just leaving Reidsville now. He has a standing Wednesday night gig there playing organ at Jones Chapel Church.
An hour or so later NatStar makes a quiet appearance after much of his band and entourage has already filtered into the club. The two backup singers, Taesha Stackhouse and Samiah Ahmad, make a striking appearance, wearing matching black T-shirts that advertise “God’s Gift: The Album” on the front, and “Natrax Music” on the back.
Soon NatStar is up with his band playing one of the two keyboards set up on the modest stage. They’re crammed up there together: keyboardist Julian Stowe and drummer Jonathan Stowe – brothers and cousins of NatStar’s – a second drummer named Braxton O’Neal, a second keyboardist named Henri’ Newkirk, and the house DJ. The two singers are standing on the floor off to the side. The bassist couldn’t make the gig.
Right now Robinson’s nephew, Darrin DeWayne Caudle, takes a guest turn at the microphone as NatStar manufactures jazzy phrases on the keyboards, the two drummers locked into a tight groove, the whole jam surging into a crest. Wearing an oversized Lacoste shirt, Caudle clutches a couple scraps of paper, scanning the lyrics and reaching in for the feeling of his song while he shifts uncomfortably under the gaze of his audience.
“Girl, I know things ain’t goin’ right,” he croons, “but don’t you think it deserves a fight?”
Caudle stammers and apologizes. “Sorry, I just learned this song today,” he says. “I’m gonna take it from the top.”
Then without fanfare, NatStar launches his set. With the help of co-host Donalja James he situates the microphone cord.
“I gotta get free,” NatStar says. “Ladies, give yourself a hand for looking beautiful.”
He launches into the first song, “Whatever You Like,” which hits a recurring theme of escape and romantic adventure, lightly rapping here and crooning a chorus there.
“Mami, let’s fly to Miami, or fly to Orlando, laying low with the family, or maybe Biloxi/ Boo hand me the truck key standing with your man like a damn baby I’m lucky,” he patters over a buoyant reggae beat answered by Stackhouse and Ahmad’s smooth sensual backup vocals.
“We can do whatever you like,” NatStar promises in song.
The singer works the floor with microphone in hand, constrained by the length of the cord, which is stretched like rope at an airline check-in counter. He winces at the slight squall of feedback coming from the sound system.
At the end of the song NatStar gently chides his marketing director, Kecha Pellam, who sits at a stool in the audience.
“I said, ‘Baby, I need you to bring the mic,'” he recalls with a laugh. “The only thing she brought was one mic. It takes a receiver and a cord and some other shit to make it work. She did follow instructions.”
The next song, “Leave With Me,” is NatStar’s signature right now, with the boast “I’m in the back with the spouse of another man” and 18,111 Myspace plays to date.
At the conclusion he calls out: “All my ladies that want to be with me say, ‘Yeah!'” Among the women whose ages range from mid twenties to mid fifties, the invitation falls flat, so NatStar suggests, “Okay let’s move to the next joint.”
Another song, “One Day,” gets a better reception. When NatStar sings, “If you got kids, look at your kids and tell ’em you love ’em,” the women nod in agreement.
NatStar is still trying to win over Greensboro. He’s performed a couple times now at the Blazin’ Ice showcase and made a June 4 appearance at Renaissance Jazz CafÃ©, but he thinks the latter performance didn’t come off well because of problems with the sound.
The singer is currently embarked on a campaign for airplay across North Carolina. NatStar has some knowledge of the obstacle course of politics and positioning that stands in the way of breaking into radio; his father holds the program director position at 92.7 FM in Charlotte and represented Atlantic Records as head of promotions for the Carolinas in the 1990s.
“I got me an interview at 102 JAMZ,” NatStar says. “It’s just a matter of keeping in communication with them. You need to have the name recognition or you have to have a record label with some money behind you to make it happen. When it comes to regular rotation, it requires a lot of money.”
Still, NatStar shows no signs of discouragement. Since the first time he got on a stage at age 12 in Spartanburg, SC he was hooked.
“The love that I felt was something else,” NatStar says. “I signed autographs. Girls was dying to get backstage. After I got done performing I figured out this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
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