Local acts deliver great performances in opening for legendary singers

Review: The Blind Boys of Alabama @ Burton Cummings Theatre (Winnipeg BBQ & Blues Festival) Saturday, August 12, 2017 – better late than never

The day was a crazy one, with planning and successfully executing a pool party at my in-laws house, followed by the unexpected news of another death in our family. 36 years old… We sat around after the guests left, and processed the shocking news.

Then I raced home, took the fastest shower of my life and drove to The Burt. I had virtually no issues finding parking, and ended up with half hour to spare, so I ordered a sushi burrito from Chosabi and waltzed into the BBQ & Blues Festival like I owned the place, so security wouldn’t take away my non-BBQ’d food. They didn’t.

I found a place to eat nowhere near the outdoor stage and unwrapped my meal. About half way through my burrito, the next band started and they sounded so good, that I literally could not sit still anymore. I had be near that stage. So, with a half eaten burrito hanging out my mouth, I grabbed the rest of my stuff and expertly weaved through the crowd.

I didn’t recognize the band at all, which I love, and the lead singer’s voice was very good, which I also love.

I took a short video and then ran back to the list of bands to discover they were The Commoners (from Toronto).

At this point, I ran into an old friend and never made it back to the outdoor stage. But I could hear the band from where we were and it sounded like they were putting on a great show, complete with a drum solo.

I’d be lying if I told you I was excited to see The Blind Boys of Alabama. The truth was, I was ecstatic to see opening band, The Mariachi Ghost. I had been waiting to see them play at The Burt since I discovered them a couple of years ago and my wait was finally over. I had all the confidence in the world they were ready for this stage, and I was right. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Regina acoustic guitarist, Jack Semple took the stage and from the second balcony, he looked A LOT like a young Gordon Lightfoot. Same hair style, same moustache, acoustic guitar in hand.

Jack Semple on stage at The Burt. /PHOTO: Anne Martin

“Classical Gas” was lightening fast and at the end he mentioned, “I only have half an hour. I have to play fast”.

We won the crowd over with the blues and also played an interesting version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?”

As the show progressed, I couldn’t help but think my Dad would have loved this guy and then,…he played a medley of Gordon Lightfoot tunes. I hadn’t intended on crying at the BBQ & Blues Festival, but my Dad died last year and Lightfoot was his favourite.

The end of his set was clumsy. The house lights went up after he finished the medley to which he replied “I think I have time for one more song”, as the stage hand motioned him to get off the stage. I think the crowd was upset by that. He took a quick bow and received a standing ovation on the floor as he raced off stage.

Next up was Mariachi Ghost and I couldn’t have been more excited. I remember being absolutely blown away by this band the first time I saw them, at The Cube. I was completely floored that the prairies (of all places), birthed something so unique and creative.

Mariachi Ghost performing at The Burt. /PHOTO: Anne Martin

Seven musicians and an interpretive dancer took the stage, dressed in black, the left side of their faces painted. Lead singer, Jorge Requena told the crowd he’d been waiting 13 years to play on that stage, and the music started.

They sounded amazing; they were ready and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. My senses were overloaded. I listened to Jorge sing, the band accompany him and watched dancer, Alexandra Garrido interpret the songs and I felt fulfilled. My brain loved every second of it.

Mariachi Ghost displayed enormous class in how they reacted to heckler. /PHOTO: Anne Martin

Jorge spoke to the crowd a few times and at one point acknowledged the great bands who were playing on the outdoor stage. Suddenly, this old biddy on the floor shouted “Yeah, well we’re here to see The Blind Boys of Alabama!”…and my mouth dropped open and my heart sank to the pit of my stomach. Someone gasped.

Those 11 words sucked the life and positive vibes out of the room and I was completely shocked by her rudeness and lack of respect.

Then I got angry. Really angry. HOW DARE this woman say that to this band. To these musicians who had worked hard to get here and were celebrating this accomplishment. Who were opening themselves and sharing their art with us.

The gall of this woman absolutely astounded me. I would never think to say something like that. Ever. I don’t understand people. If she hated it so much, why didn’t she just leave? The Burt was completely open that night. She could have walked around the block and came back. But she sat there stewing in her spite and then spewed that filth onto people who didn’t deserve it. I was so upset by it.

How did the band react? Initially, Jorge was a bit defensive (as anyone would be), reminding the woman that they were on first and THEN Blind Boys. And then lead guitarist, Rafael Reyes said “We’re also here for the Blind Boys”.

After that, the band appeared to work even harder. Jorge was even MORE grateful and humble when addressing the crowd. It was so damn classy and I was so damn proud.

After their set, while the band tore down their equipment, audience members made their way to the stage to shake their hands and (I’m assuming) offer words of congratulations and encouragement.

Despite that woman, they played really well and put on an entertaining show, which is typical of this band. I’m absolutely thrilled I got to see their first show at The Burt and I hope to see them there again soon.

This was my first time seeing The Blind Boys of Alabama. All I knew about them was that they were blind gospel singers who were no longer “boys”, but at one point, were from Alabama.

The Blind Boys of Alabama on stage at The Burt. /PHOTO: Anne Martin

Lead guitarist, Joey Williams led the singers out like a human train, each member holding onto the other’s shoulder.  Joey and bassist, Trae Pierce got everyone seated and set up with microphones.

Band leader, Jimmy Carter told the audience, in his gritty, gravely voice that he wanted to get the talking out of the way. He said the band loved us and that they didn’t like to sing to conservative audiences. Then they started singing “People Get Ready” and slowly, a smile spread across my face. They sounded lovely together.

Some members sat and some stood while they sang in their purple suits with dark sunglasses.

I watched Joey and Trae pull double duty playing their instruments AND making sure the elderly members were safe getting back into their chairs. They also wrote “I Can See”, an upbeat number off The Blind Boys new album, which is out shortly.

“Almost Home” was also off their new album and very touching, watching these men sing about the end of their lives on earth. “The end”, may still be a long way off however, after “Let My Mother Live” – written about a horrible school for the blind in Alabama – Jimmy told us his mother lived to 103 years old.

The crowd loved “There Will Never Be Any Peace” and after short solos and intros of the band, they kicked into “The House Of The Rising Sun”, by The Animals.

Ok. They didn’t. It was actually “Amazing Grace”, but listen to the video below and tell me what you hear.

At the end of the show, Joey sat Jimmy down at the edge of the stage and while he and everyone else sang, audience members came to him and shook and kissed his hand and hugged him. People were lining up to do this, it was quite remarkable.

Once the line died down, Joey lifted Jimmy back on stage, the Blind Boys formed a human chain, and were guided off the stage.

There was no encore.

All in all, that was a cool experience, but I came home pissed about that rude woman and had to rant to my Husband. You must have to have incredibly thick skin to be a musician. However, the band handled it like champs and the music was all good.

Thus concludes my review written on my cell phone from a cabin in The Whiteshell. I have used 100% of the data included in my plan and am now incurring data overage charges. The things I do for you…Hah!


Good night!

TicketMOMster is a Rock and Jazz-loving Mom; single-handedly keeping Ticketmaster alive in Winnipeg. Follow her musical journey here: www.facebook.com/TicketMOMs

Anne Martin


TicketMOMster is a Rock and Jazz-loving Mom; single-handedly keeping Ticketmaster alive in Winnipeg. Follow her musical journey here:

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