Paisha's Place debuts as a monthly event at Streetlight Guild on Thursday, Aug. 29
Paisha Thomas understands patience.
Attending Baptist services at age 4, the musician recalled being moved by a vocalist’s stirring solo, telling her grandmother that she also wanted to sing in the choir. “And my grandma was like, ‘You gotta be baptized,’ and I was like, ‘Baptize me,’” a laughing Thomas said during a late-August interview at Streetlight Guild, the East Side arts space where she’ll debut a new monthly event, Paisha’s Place, this week. “But you had to be 8 years old to get baptized, so I had to get busy playing and being a kid for four whole years before I could finally join the choir.”
When Thomas was finally old enough to take part, she threw herself headlong into the experience, even getting baptized in her aunt’s Pentecostal church so that she could perform in that choir, as well, since its services took part later in the afternoon around the corner from her grandmother’s house of worship.
Thomas has taken a similarly methodical approach in developing Paisha’s Place, which will run on a trial basis for three months at Streetlight beginning on Thursday, Aug. 29. The singer and songwriter first conceived of the event as a free-form, communal celebration centered on food and music in the early 2000s, even developing a feasibility study for it while in school. And she hosted the inaugural event while living in Gahanna in 2011.
“When I started doing it at home, it was soul food, honestly, 'cause that’s what I’m good at making,” Thomas said. “I had greens and mac and cheese, and then there was a bonfire out back, and I had a keyboard and drums set up downstairs. … I wanted everyone to come and feel a sense of celebration.”
As the evening progressed, guests gradually circled their chairs around the stage, anticipating a full performance, which Thomas delivered while navigating kitchen and hosting duties. “They literally turned themselves into an audience, so I had to put on a show,” she said.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
This time around, Thomas won’t have to concern herself with keeping guests fed — Jo Vegan the Veganista will be on site handling cooking duties — allowing her to better focus on the evening's musical performance, for which she hopes to straddle a line between preparedness (she’s assembling a set list as a guideline) and spontaneity (creating an environment where musician friends are free to contribute in the moment).
Additionally, artist Richard Duarte Brown will be on hand doing live-painting, adding to the freewheeling, anything goes feeling of the affair.
Musically, Thomas incorporates elements of gospel, blues and soul into her earthy compositions, delivering her words in a powerful, deep register akin to Mavis Staples, with whom the musician also shares a strong social justice streak, filling songs like “When” with lines about overcoming inequity and marching into brighter days. Another new tune, “River,” was born of a political canvassing experience and centers on the idea that the oppressed and overlooked, when unified, can form a mighty river powerful enough to carve the landscape.
“I’ve always cared about fairness, and I’ve always looked at the rich and powerful and wondered why they got to be that way, and how people suffered because of that,” said Thomas, who traced this streak, in part, to her family roots in Piqua, Ohio, where she grew up a descendant of John Randolph’s Freed People, a group of slaves emancipated and willed plots of land in Mercer County, Ohio, by former master John Randolph in 1846. “I’ve always had a drive to prove that equality and justice are important … and I’m going to use who I am as a person to do whatever I can to change things. I’m not just going to sit here and watch things happen all around me when I have the capacity to do something.”