The cold wetness outside seemed miles away as the Southern group's warm harmonies radiated from the Old Rock House stage. With matching embroidered black suits and dark sunglasses, the Blind Boys rallied around Jimmy Carter, a veteran of the stage and member of the original group that banded together in an institute for the blind in 1939.
Carter's deep vocals have not wavered with time, nor has the performer's jovial presence, which brought the crowd to its feet. There were chairs in front of the stage, which is an unusual set-up for the Old Rock House, but it made sense once Carter descended into the audience with help from a stage worker and maneuvered around the seats. Delighted attendees ranged in ages, including a few small children who joined their parents to witness a continuing part of American music history that featured both traditional and newer music.
Touring openers Sara and Sean Watkins, formerly of Nickel Creek, kicked off the night with a set of modern acoustic folk. The Blind Boys joined them onstage as Sara Watkins' fiddle and Sean Watkins' guitar were welcome additions to the Southern sextet during "Jesus Built a Bridge to Heaven."
Throughout the night, both the band and audience's intensity gathered steam as the Blind Boys powered through spiritual classics such as "Free At Last," as well as their stunning version of "Amazing Grace," which is set to the music of "House of the Rising Sun." (The group performed "Amazing Grace" live at KDHX just before the show. Hear it here.) These and other songs showcased the ability of Carter (who sounds a bit like the late Solomon Burke) as well as fellow singers Eric McKinnie and Ben Moore who provided both backup and solo deliveries.
With a fantastic band behind them that included guitar, bass, organ and drums, the three singers sat up straight in chairs with their knees bobbing or stood to belt out a solo. Carter in particular worked the crowd, asking them to clap by shouting, "Let me hear you!" Late into the set, he showed off his vocal prowess by emitting a siren-sounding wail for what seemed to go on for half a minute.
For the encore, Sara and Sean Watkins rejoined the stage for a heartfelt rendition of "I Saw The Light" before the Blind Boys exited the stage, hand to shoulder, and marched past a hearty ovation.
At the end of the night, the Alabama greats proved that their music has little to do with blindness or aging, but instead is about their uncanny ability to speak to the soul.