This past Friday, April 23, WMNF presented the Blind Boys of Alabama and Bird Street Players on the Skipperdome stage. Unfortunately, my plan to arrive early enough to grab a bench was foiled by a predominantly older crowd; the extra-early birds got the worms and the good seats, which were filled with fans who'd been listening to the group for decades. [Picture below from the 2009 Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival in Columbia, Mo., courtesy of the band's Myspace.]
The crowd was steadily filling in as the sun setting and the sky grew dark overhead. Mosquitoes were on the loose but the crowd was too excited to care, the place buzzing with anticipation. This particular 'MNF event had a completely different feel than the ones I'd attended prior. Perhaps it was the bluesy-gospel-harmonies about to ensue, but the vibe was simply amazing.
Decked out in sharp, sapphire blue suits and their signature dark sunglasses, the Blind Boys of Alabama were helped onto the stage to a huge welcome of applause, whistling and cheering from the audience. The group announced, "We dont like to play for a conservative crowd, so if you want to jump up, jump up!" Then, they launched into a few of what they referred to as, Grammy songs" and left the crowd in awe with their infectious energy and bellowed three-part harmonies.
There were not many people mouthing along to the songs, but there were plenty of folks moving, grooving and taking in the tunes. The soulful sounds and the group's intense dedication to each note was enough to bring one fan to tears. Among the standout songs in the set were Perfect Peace, a cover of Spirit in the Sky, Free at Last and their epic rendition of Amazing Grace.
The three main singers took turns sitting. At one point in the performance, the sitting and standing became a game. Joey Williams, the guitarist, would walk behind Jimmy Carter and sit him down, and then Bishop Billy Bowers would stand and dance around. As Williams helped Bowers to his seat, Ben Moore would jump up. It was like some kind of gospel-blues musical chairs. The only one who stayed seated throughout the set was drummer Eric McKinnie.
Towards the end of the performance, Carter asked the crowd, Do you feel good? And after holding a note for what felt like five minutes straight said, I feel good now! Shortly after, the Blind Boys bodyguard escorted Carter into the crowd to party with the fans. It was just about then that the non-conservatives got loud and rowdy; just in time for the big finish.
The Blind Boys of Alabama introduced each of the band members, with solos by each player following, and then they presented a great instrumental finale. After the crowd chanted We want em back, they returned for a quick encore.
The deeply Southern sounds, the on-stage chemistry, the gospel-esque wails, and crazy long notes made for an amazing peformance, one of those where you are so mesmerized and had so much fun that you don't even mind afterwards when you can't really remember what they played.
Jimmy Carter closed the evening saying, We hope we sang something that made you feel like you never felt before. Thats what we try to do. They tried and they succeeded. After a night watching the Blind Boys of Alabama in action, there is only one way to sum up that Friday at the Skipperdome: Impressive.