Today included one of my favourite experiences: hearing gospel music performed in a bar!
I truly love this. I know lots of singers who would never dream of singing gospel music in a bar. On one side, they think it would be offensive to the customers. On the other side, they are so offended by the behavior of the customers that they think it's not a worthy place for the Gospel to be sung. (Clearly these people need to re-read the parts of the Bible where Jesus is hanging out with hookers and tax collectors!)
Once a month, local music club, Hugh's Room, hosts a Gospel Lunch, for two hours of solid gospel music. It's hosted by Ken Whitely, who surrounds himself by best friends and awesome musicians. Today, the theme was "siblings". The Levy sisters did some killer vocals, while the Patrick siblings sang and played keys and hand drums. Ken's son played bass, and his brother, Chris, sang and played guitar, trumpet and harmonica. Just no talent in that family! (Actually, Chris probably doesn't remember, but I sat in with his group for a song last summer at the Distillery District.)
So, you have this amazingly talented group of musicians, and room full of people. And it just started to rock. The music was mix of things, but a lot of old school gospel, bluesy stuff and spirituals. They did a great version of Wade in the Water that started with a solo walking bass. And they tore the roof off the place with Yolanda Adams' "I Believe I Can Fly".
One of the best moments, however, was completely improvised. Canadian blues legend, Salome Bey, was in the audience, and they invited her up to sing. I hadn't seen her for a while, but she's aged a lot. It was a little worrisome at first. She had a lot of trouble walking, and then couldn't remember the words to Amazing Grace. But once they got going, no one could touch her. She passed the solos around, and they would all take turns singing harmonies. And that voice! Rich and full and powerful and ready to rip out your soul. She knew all the right places to riff, and all the right places to just sing. As they say in basketball, we were taken to school! It was really tremendous.
I love moments like this. I love taking the Gospel into unexpected places. I love bringing it into untraditional venues. And I tip my hat to Hugh's Room for being brave enough to feature gospel music in it's monthly line up.