Hey, it’s Monday already! Whatever happened to the weekend?!? For the most part, it got away from me, but I’ll never forget the Blind Boys of Alabama concert I attended at the Orange County Great Park on Saturday night. The pictures aren’t perfect–no flash allowed, and I took them with my new cell phone. But in the same way the Blind Boys lit up the stage, I hope these pictures (and linked videos) will brighten your morning, if not the whole week ahead.
Since it was an evening concert, we enjoyed a sunset picnic. And as the fingernail moon rose in the sky, the stage lights went down, the The Blind Boys of Alabama appeared on stage. They sang this open number as a hot air ballooon drifted toward the sky: "Above my head, I hear music in the air. / And I really do believe there’s a Heaven somewhere." I swear, it almost seemed choreographed!
A little background, in case you’ve never heard of this group: Way back in 1939, The Blind Boys of Alabama began their musical careers while they were students at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind. They sang acappella gospel music in wood-framed Alabama churches, where they were often segregated from audiences because of skin color. Even so, they earned national acclaim by "singing about the Promised Land as if they were already there." Since those early years, they’ve shared the stage with notables such Ben Harper, Aaron Neville, Tom Petty, John Fogerty, Peter Gabriel, Taj Mahal and Prince. They’ve earned several Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, and they performed at the White House this past February (video). So it was a mighty privilege to see them take the stage — to hear them making a joyful noise in Irvine, California — I’ll tell you what!
They’re not young, by any means, but they sure do know how to get the audience on their feet! And let me just say that that’s no minor achievement in conservative Orange County. Understandably, their energy lagged a bit now and again. But at all times–even when they were sittin’ down–the Blind Boys were movin’ and groovin’ in the Spirit.
They sang what I’d call gospel standards, and they added devotional stylings to secular music–including contemporary, country, and blues. (Examples: Amazing Grace, sung to the tune of House of the Rising Sun (video); Tom Wait’s Way Down in the Hole (video); and a gospelized version of Grand Funk Railroad’s Some Kind of Wonderful.) It was a glorious evening, filled with music of a sort that lifts you to higher ground and keeps you there. The stuff of memories that you want to last forever.
This next picture is blurry, and I’m sorry about that. But I wanted to show you the loving synergy that flowed between the (sighted) guitarist and the lead singer–and which also spilled out into the audience. Just before I snapped this picture, the lead singer was guided along the front of the stage. He tapped several outstretched hands, and the joyfulness in those exchanges were almost palpable. When he came to the place where I was standing, he stopped, just briefly, and he squeezed my hand in his. I can’t explain why he did that, nor can I fully describe the way it felt. The only word that come to mind is: electric!
Before the evening ended, The Blind Boys gave a special shout-out to Bikers for Christ. Here’s an affiliate, who kindly allowed me to take his picture before handing me a Bible tract. ("Wanted: Jesus Christ…Notorious Leader of an Underground Liberation Movement!")
As The Blind Boys sang their encore, the platinum blonde next to me called out, "Woooooot! Blind Boys, you rock!" Then the lights went down for the last time. Hands folded as if in prayer, she gave one final shout-out to the band members: "Namaste…love and light to all!" I think that just about captures the flavor of the evening, don’t you?