The Mothership landed Wednesday night on New Hampshire Street — right in front of the Lawrence Arts Center, to be precise.
After a warm and genre-bending opening show by The Phantastics, a Kansas City rap, rock and soul band, the legendary George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic took to the stage around 9 p.m. in front of a jam-packed city block.
The free concert was the featured performance of the Free State Festival, a celebration of art, culture and ideas that continues throughout the week.
"Do not attempt to adjust your radio. There is nothing wrong," P-Funk could be heard over the speakers. "We have taken control to bring you this special show."
Cooler than cool, Clinton showed himself to the crowd as the bass line kicked in, minus his signature colorful locks of hair.
The band plunged into its set with the 1975 hit "Mothership Connection." The crowd's hands immediately skyrocketed as voices joined in the chorus.
"If you hear any noise, it's just me and the boys," they sang. Clinton hushed his band and let the audience carry the last half of the song.
"Swing down, sweet chariot. Stop and let me ride."
Barry Barnes, of Lawrence, said when he heard of the free concert he knew he had to come.
Clinton's shows are a "family event," Barnes said, recalling that his son was only 9 or 10 years old when he went to see the band at Liberty Hall.
"I've been following George Clinton and the Funkadelics since the late '60s," Barnes said. "'Flashlight,' 'Aqua Boogie,' 'Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk.' I saw the landing of the Mothership. So, heck yeah, I had to see him in my own town."
Although at 73 he is getting on in years and his dance steps are slowing, Clinton's rich voice effortlessly energized the crowd. His act incorporated dancers and bits of hip-hop over his older tunes.
The audience spilled onto every level of the New Hampshire Street parking garage across from the arts center. Some stood on cars, watching the show from above.
Carol Rason and Matt Wheeler stood atop the garage.
"He sounds freakin' awesome," Rason said. "He's still got it."
The pair have been fans of the band for many years, and Clinton's presence enriched the weeklong festival, they said.
"He's constantly evolving," Wheeler said. "You might not like what he's doing tonight, but he's always changing."
Over the decades, no two Clinton shows have been the same, Barnes said.
"I'm 55, and to see someone 20 years older than me rocking out is awesome," he said. "His music influences every aspect of modern music since the mid-'70s. Even since they started sampling, it's all been George."