Great Gospel At The Kingbiscuit Blues Festival!

By Wally Stewart

I love gospel music, its varied flavors and the common feeling of hope found in gospel songs. My favorite flavor is "soul gospel," and I was in "Hog Heaven" at Helena, Arkansas' King Biscuit Blues Festival October 10 & 11.

The rejoicing began Friday, 5 downtown blocks from the main blues stage, as twilight joined the open-air "church's" 75 chairs and small bleachers section. Local Southern Gospel trio Now Faith got toes tapping with "I'm Gonna Wear A Crown" (which tapped me awake early the next morning.), then a house band backed several other local acts. The 5 women in Ark Of Angels, dressed in dazzling white, dazzled the standing room only audience, imploring "Slow Down Sweet Chariot." ("Stop and let me ride.") The New Life Singers showed the blues where its "call and response" came from on standard "Jesus On The Mainline." Their "blues shouter" vocalist lead the way and they marched offstage in measured cadence, singing to great applause. A local group highlight was The McCallett's driving guitar and urgency in "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Praying."

Memphis band The Spiritual Travelers was featured and enriched the 70 degree night with emotion. Singer William Martin's arrangements of hymn "Pass Me Not" and 60's classic "We've Come This Far By Faith" brought joyous responses. A gentle breeze greeted the overflowing congregation early Saturday afternoon, buffering the 80 degrees. The 40 a cappella voices of the Central High School chorus floated on it, their innocent, youthful praise soaring to Heaven. The Salem Harmonizers got the "amen corner" shouting again as Julius Cowan strode among it, exhorting all to sing on his original-"Everything I Need." (Most did.) Saturday night The Gospel Four's singing and dancing brought thoughts of The Temptations. Friend Vernon Blair remarked "They're the ones The Temps stole it from."

I had planned, with friends, to hear blues great James Cotton but couldn't leave Chicago's Pilgrim Jubilees. Fronted by dynamo Clay Graham these red-hot special guests proved worthy of their spot with major label Malaco Records. Their old-time, traditional style was reminiscent of the legendary Swan Silvertones and Graham powerfully worked the entire stagefront, singing and calling to the brothers and sisters. (Afterwards he added a little powerful preaching.) It was a great two-day "meeting" and I ran to join my friends for a late trip to Beale Street shouting "Amen!!"