Vancouver Island MusicFest’s gospel/spiritual set on Sunday morning always draws huge crowds to the main stage. This year’s star-studded line-up will be a sure-fire hit. Black Press file photo

Vancouver Island MusicFest’s gospel/spiritual set on Sunday morning always draws huge crowds to the main stage. This year’s star-studded line-up will be a sure-fire hit. Black Press file photo

TALES FROM MUSICFEST: Sunday morning gospel show always a big draw

Robert Moyes

Special to Black Press

No matter how late they stay up on Saturday night, Vancouver Island MusicFest regulars know that their sagging spirits will get righteously revived at the main stage Sunday morning gospel performance.

Always a festival highlight, this is a clapping, stomping, ass-shaking good time where a couple of dozen hand-picked musicians and singers come together to raise the roof with the weekend’s most uplifting music.

A key part of the show will be revered New Orleans vocalist John Boutté, who mixes jazz, R&B, gospel, and blues in his joyful repertoire. Boutté grew up amidst Mardi Gras parties and second-line street parades, and that spirit infuses his singing.

As JazzTimes wrote of Boutté: “A singer with grit, soul, passion and beauty, his sound is one of the most beloved in … New Orleans.”

This man will certainly touch your heart.

“Sacred steel” evolved in a few Black churches in the 1930s, and features fervent solos on a lap steel guitar in place of the more familiar organ. There are several practitioners of great renown today, and Nikki D is one of the best. Nikki is undeniably a gospel true believer, but she infuses her sound with blues riffs and deep grooves and lots of reverb – so much so that Guitar World once hailed her as “the Jimi Hendrix of Sacred Steel.’”

And then there are those special performers who can’t help but bring the church with them. For six decades the Legendary Ingramettes, a female African-American gospel quintet, have been delivering incendiary live shows of the most rousing gospel imaginable.

To quote No Depression, the Journal of Roots Music: “What the group puts out onstage is fiery, southern-fried jubilee gospel, served with deep-dish soul.”

Get ready to feel the power.

Hailing from the south side of Chicago, singer-guitarist Melody Angel is a take-no-prisoners blues-rock guitar shredder. With influences as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Chuck Berry, Angel has worked her way up from small clubs to premier events like the Byron Bay BluesFest in Australia that draws 100,000 attendees over five days (she was asked to play four shows!). With substantial songwriting, arranging, and producing skills to draw on, this independent artist has a five-star future.

Also from Chicago is singer-songwriter-violinist Anne Harris, a blues-and-beyond whirlwind who has been wowing global audiences for over a decade. She has toured and performed with a remarkable array of musicians, from Living Colour to Vieux Farke Touré. Notes blues journalist Cleve Baker: “[Anne’s] gypsy-like stage presence is truly unforgettable and revolutionary.”

Which brings us to a longtime friend of this festival, the incomparable Shakura S’Aida.

Pure magic on stage, Shakura is an electrifying vocalist known for her versatility and scorching power. Nominated for several Junos, this charismatic performer can downshift from a wail to a purr in a single, seamless moment. As the Edmonton Journal wrote, “The singer’s versatility came through as never before, from gritty rocking blues to funky soul grooves and gospel, proving that S’Aida can do it all.”

And holding this special performance together will be the Funky Chester Rhythm Section, six remarkable session musicians who are the “secret weapon” that adds extra luster to the records of your favourite stars. Their musical director is guitarist Andreas Werner, who has worked with dozens of the greats, including Tony Joe White and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Special guest Tom “Bones” Malone has played trombone and sax for the likes of Frank Zappa, The Band, and Billy Cobham. And keyboardists Mark Narmore and Kevin McKendree, bassist Paul Ossola, and drummer Lynn Williams are also insanely accomplished, having worked with John Hiatt, Ricky Skaggs, Alabama, George Thorogood, Percy Sledge, Buddy Guy … the honour roll is endless.

Amen, indeed.

–Robert Moyes is an arts journalist with a particular interest in music

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