Dispatches from Gospel Music Fest 2010

Overstimulated after a fantastic evening at the annual Chicago Gospel Music Fest with church peeps. Lugged my camera but was too immersed in the present to bother taking pictures, which I now regret. But here are some quick observations:

  1. Even decked out with a cream suit and white and turquoise fedora, Richard Smallwood will always look like a down-to-earth high school teacher. He looks like an average joe who just happens to be a musical virtuoso. Even from far away you didn’t ever get the vibe that he was this slick artist. One of my friends Belena said he looked like Fried Chicken, which somehow made sense to me.
  2. Smallwood used only 9 vocalists (3 per part) and yet the choir sound was overwhelming and mesmerizing.
  3. In between Smallwood and Fred, they had a lengthy and often redundant announcement times. In between announcing sponsors, welcoming special guests, you had the sense, they were just totally doing everything on the fly. Everyone who gave an announcement spontaneously sang something.
  4. I find it interesting that the CTA chose to sponsor the Gospel Music Fest. Other sponsors (Walgreens, CLTV, WGN, made sense to me… but I wonder what led the CTA to sponsor?)
  5. Both Fred and Smallwood frequently asked us to turn to our neighbors and say something. It felt just like church and most people in our section did not participate.
  6. I was quite surprised at the number of Asians present. Or at least I was pretty good at picking them out of a crowd. My loose take on the racial demographics: 80% Black, 10% white, 5% Latino, 5% Asian.
  7. One woman, a well-known local African American Gospel singer (didn’t catch her name tho) sang “How Great is Our God” in Swedish and then asked for all the Swedes to represent. There was a distant whoop and scattered applause. I was confused and delighted.
  8. Fred Hammond, though comes across as a ton more “hip” than Smallwood (not good or bad, just an observation) — he comes across as a likeable, honest man who knows very much who he is as a mega Gospel superstar, but seems to share from the heart. I was actually surprised that he wasn’t super polished in his sharing… it felt more off the cuff than I expected, but I think that made it more genuine and to me, felt less like a performance and more of a worship service. (not sure why tho)
  9. During Fred’s set, there was more electric guitar shredding than keyboards or organ solos combined.
  10. Worshipping with thousands of other fellow Chicagoans in the middle of Millenium Park was a rush. It made me want to see the Kingdom of God more visibly present in the city I love.
  11. Overall flow of Fred’s set: Upbeat newer stuff up top (not as strong). A nod to Smallwood and a look back at some of the old school hits and a medley of old school Gospel choruses (participatory and impossible not to clap and dance to). An intimate time of worship and exhortation, with a few testimonies thrown in. Finally, a raucous megamix of his greatest hits from “You are the Living Word” to  “Glory to Glory” to “When the Spirit of the Lord” to “Blessed” and a few others. Most of them were done in Bb.
  12. More than the great music, I appreciated being led in worship by these two Gospel giants. There was a moment where Fred led a time of worship that was incredibly intimate. He didn’t share anything powerful, but God was clearly speaking through Him. He shared how people in Best Buy, Home Depot or Wal-Mart always try to say holy things to him. Christians aren’t perfect, yet we try to come across like we are. That small snippet of vulnerability was huge, because at that moment, I needed to be vulnerable before God… and I was led in to a powerful place in worship. Singing songs like “Agnus Dei” and “How Great is Our God” — I forgot I was in Millenium Park listening to a superstar, but in the presence of the Lord. And I sang my heart out until I couldn’t even hear Fred… for a moment.

Favorite Quotes:

Best Smallwood quote of the night: when asked by the Gospel Music Fest what advice he’d give to young people trying to break into the business: “Take lessons! God gave you His best, give Him your best.”

Best Fred quote of the night: “Knowing me, I don’t know why God picked me. If I were God, I wouldn’t have picked me. But thank God I’m not God. His mercies are new every morning.”

The song I’m playing on repeat after tonight:

“Lost in You” from Fred’s most recent album “Love Unstoppable” (buy it right now)

Seems like i`ve spent this whole life of mine
Searching and searching trying to find
A life filled with love that you already gave
Because of the searching it pulled me away

I found all the heartache i found all the pain
I found all the drama i found all the shame

But my search will not end no my search will not end
Till i find myself (repeat)

Lost in you again lost in you again
My search will not end till i find myself (repeat)

You said seek and i`ll find ask and it’s mine knock and the door will be open lord

Lost in you again lost in you again
My search will not end till i find myself (repeat x3)

Lost in you
Lost in you
Lost in you
Lost in you


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