It didn't just rain on the gospel music show at the Carter Baron Amphitheatre last night. The rain fell in such thick sheets that even those with umbrellas abandoned their seats. The crowd huddled under the narrow arcade at the back.
Separated by 50 rows of seats, thunder and a thick curtain of rain, the lyrics were obscured, and the gospel music sounded more than ever like the rhythm'n blues that grew out of it.
In the closely bunched harmonies of the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Harmonizing Four, one could hear the roots of the Drifters, Temptations, Beach Boys and Earth Wind & Fire. The Harmonizing Four had a slower, more rural sound with a booming bass voice and a warbling falsetto. The Hummingbirds were smoother in their bouncy tempos, close-knit vocals and spinning choreography. Both groups sang about going to heaven, and when their voices meshed into perfect thirds and fifths, you felt you were halfway there.
In the call-and response shouts of Shirley Ceasar and the Five Blind Boys, one could hear the roots of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison and George Clinton. Ceasar -- who has won more gospel awards than anyone -- stalked the stage in her gold-embroidered red robe. She displayed a rare voice that could shout uninhibitedly right on key. She brought a new insistence to Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody." Each time she repeated her shouts of "Jesus!" or "Freedom!" her ringing voice seemed to gain acceleration.