We weren’t sure what would happen or who would show up, but the idea of a post-worship listening room had been floating in and out of conversations ever since the concept of Roots Revival first emerged, so we figured we’d give it a shot.
As the day approached, it started to become clear that this was going to be quite the adventure. Rhiannon was bringing some musical guests…and some dancers/foot percussioninsts. Oh, and by the way, there would be a film crew—John Whitehead, from Minnesota, is doing a documentary on the Carolina Chocolate Drops, with individual segments on each member.
Cool. It sounded like a fun party to me. We’d just have to see who showed up.
The night of the event, we stopped counting how many people were present after we’d put out extra chairs (to total 230) and still had people standing in the back.
Oh, I thought. OK. Here we go.
Although we didn’t know we would get that big of a response, we did know that we were likely to draw a crowd that might not show up for a worship service but would come to hear Rhiannon. That was part of the point, of course, but we weren’t willing to pull a bait-and-switch on those folks who came not for worship.
So we scaled our usual Roots Revival service way back, keeping two core elements: congregational singing (which Rhiannon helped us lead) and a message based on a focus song (the spiritual “I Know I’ve Been Changed” as sung by Rhiannon and her sister Lalenja). The crowd sang along and attempted to follow Martha’s directions for part-singing, and they even readily responded to an invitation to talk to their neighbor during the message. We took people to church that night through music and conversation.
And, of course, the concert was amazing. Rhiannon’s talent is incredible all on its own, but the thoughtfulness with which she approaches her music-making is profound. Much of what she shared with us that night was part of a project she is working on that involves research into cultural and musical exchange between whites and blacks in the Civil War era. We heard spirituals, Irish jigs, original songs, and more.
We already have a listening room-style concert coming up on April 3—Durham-based band The Pinkerton Raid will be our guest musicians for a slightly abbreviated worship service (though not so abbreviated as the one we did when Rhiannon was here) and will offer a concert afterward. And our next bigger show won’t be long after that—so stay tuned.
For me, there are a few reasons to incorporate this concert element into Roots Revival. It’s a way to spread the word about what’s happening on a weekly basis to those who might not otherwise find out about Roots. But more than that, it’s a great way for us to support the arts and to offer a community service of sorts in the form of a free concert. Music is central to the identity of Roots Revival, and bringing in and supporting other artists widens that vision.
FYI on that CCD documentary—ours was one of two shows that John shot for Rhiannon’s segment. The documentary has been 5 years in the making so far. John has won several Emmys. Here’s a link to learn more about his work: http://www.fretlessfilms.com/curriculum-vitae.
Our hope is that Roots Revival can be a place where people from all walks of life can explore spirituality, faith, art, community, culture and more. Let us know how we’re doing so far.