Jazzfest Magic In the Gospel Tent

Anyone who has ever been to Jazzfest, or likely any music festival, knows to not necessarily expect, but to hope for a “moment”…one of those times during a show or a song where something magical happens, the music takes you over, and you are forever changed in some small way. I’ve experienced a few of those in Jazzfests past, and there is really no way to describe them. A few that stand out for me are Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” in 2010, when no one seemed to mind that Art Garfunkel was suffering from laryngitis and could barely get the notes out. We sang for him. We danced. It was a celebration. And no, it didn’t hurt that a friend (shout out to Ginny) had given me a stageside pass and Tim Robbins was dancing completely uninhibitedly beside us. *I would like to include Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” from the same year in the list, but I was alone, and with no one to say, “How awesome is this?!” to, it doesn’t quite make the cut.* Another would be the Avett Brothers’ “Head Full of Doubt” in 2011. Just the passion in their performance and those beautiful lyrics sucked me in in a way that made me forget I was in the midst of thousands of fans. They sang that song just for me. That’s my story anyway. Last year’s standout for me, hands down, was singing along to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” with roughly 65,000 of my closest friends. After staking out a spot with my friend Susan at 11:00 and literally not leaving this spot until Bruce ended his show at 7:30, we deserved a “moment” and boy, did we get one. I told myself at that time that it would be the highlight of my concert-going career, and likely, it will be.

While I realize that Jazzfest 2013 is only halfway through, I think I may have already experienced this year’s “moment.” This one didn’t happen on one of the big stages. There were not tens of thousands of fans. It  didn’t involve a big name artist. In fact, my daughter and I had never heard of The Selvy Singers until Sunday afternoon, and we only discovered them because we were going back to one of the jewelry artist’s tents nearby. As we walked by the Gospel Tent, we heard a very soulful version of “Love Train” pouring out. We agreed to go in and listen to a song or two. While it was “Love Train” that brought us in, it was their incredibly powerful and joyful delivery that kept us there. The Selvys went on to sing a few more equally enjoyable songs, including the crowd-pleasing “We Are the World.” But it was when they broke out into their finale,  “When the Saints Go Marching In”, that the magic happened. Five of the most powerful voices I have ever heard belted out and completely owned this 19th century hymn that I’ve heard hundreds of times, but never in quite that way. Throw in some pretty impressive dance moves from some pretty plus-sized ladies, and a much-smaller-than-Springsteen-sized but equally enthusiastic crowd singing along, waving their hands, dancing, and just appreciating the moment, and poof…magic.

When the song ended, no one wanted to leave that tent. We wanted more. But anyone who has been to Jazzfest knows and appreciates that the acts always start on time and never run long. We knew the show was over, and honestly, anything after that point would probably have paled in comparison. My daughter and I left the Gospel Tent knowing that whatever we saw or heard after that point really wouldn’t matter. We had gotten our money’s worth from that one little song performed in a little tent on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The big acts at Jazzfest are great. They bring in the masses and lots of dollars for the festival and the city. But if you come to the Fest, don’t be in such a hurry to camp out for the big names that you ignore the incredible talent on the little stages. You might miss out on your moment.

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