Just got back from the first night of WOMAD USA, the world music and dance festival founded by Peter Gabriel. The USA festival is held in Marymoor Park in Redmond.
I arrived about 5:30, straightened out my ticket (why does Ticketmaster only ship to your billing address? If Amazon figured it out, shouldn’t they?), and entered the festival grounds. The first act I wanted to see was at 7:00, so I wandered around to get the lay of the land. I heard the first few minutes of Baka Beyond’s show, but came to the same conclusion I had reached after a couple of months of listening to their debut album “Heart of the Forest”: they’re world pop too watered down to be really engaging. I moved on to Savina Yannatou. She had a fantastic voice, but unfortunately her more meditative material couldn’t be heard well over the sound of Baka Beyond coming over from the next stage. I grabbed dinner and headed over to the main stage.
The stage crew took forty-five minutes longer than they should have to get all the mikes set up for the first act, but finally Isaac Hayes took the stage. He played a set that dipped pretty heavily back into “Shaft,” “Hot Buttered Soul,” and some of his other early works. Both “Walk On By” and “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic” were fantastic. Because of the late start, I decided to leave before the set was over. As I was walking back to the other stage, I heard him start into his classic hit from South Park: “Chocolate Salty Balls”! How wonderful for all the little children (and their parents) in attendance! Fun song, though.
All those thoughts were put out of my mind by the next act, though. The Blind Boys of Alabama are a gospel act that have been around for over sixty years. The three members who were there from the original group came out, led by a sighted guest vocalist and the band (two guitars, bass and drums). They started with “Run On for a Long Time,” which I was familiar with both from Moby’s remixed version and from the version by Bill Landford and the Landfordaires. I looked around and the crowd were on their feet singing and looking happy. As the group proceeded through “Do Lord,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and “Way Down in the Hole,” people got more and more energetic. Clarence Fountain interjected a few commentary points along the way (“We’re not trying to save you, we’re just going to give you a good time. I’m having a great time. Compare how old I am to how old you are and see if you think I’m having a good time.”)
Then they got serious. Their version of “Amazing Grace” (to the tune of House of the Rising Sun) got people swaying and a few witnesses from the crowd. Then with “Look Where He Brought Me From” and “Soldier (in the Army of the Lord),” one of the other vocalists gradually worked his way into the crowd for about twenty-five minutes, shouting and generally getting into the atmosphere of a revival. At the end, they left the stage, then the core members plus bass and drums returned for a quick run through “Jesus Loves Me.” As the organizer said after they left the stage the second time, what a way to start a WOMAD.
By that time, I was pretty drained and only stuck around for a few tunes by Youssou N’Dour, including “Shaking the Tree” and a few songs I recognized from his early nineties releases. Then the rain came up and I went home. Two more days of this!