Matt White shares The Gospel

On Saturday I went to the First Annual Richmond Gospel Festival. It featured two Celestials and one really great hat.

Good afternoon. I’m suffering at a coffee shop in the West End, right across from Short Pump Mall. Don’t ask me what I’m doing here – it’s an unfortunate side effect of my work, and that’s all I will say. Anyhow, the only reason that I bring this up is that my current location stands in stark contrast to where my life lead me on Saturday afternoon – the same afternoon that has very shrewdly placed itself on the top of my “Things I Should Write About” list. On Saturday I went to the First Annual Richmond Gospel Festival held outside the The Great Big Flea Market on Williamsburg Road. There are three things that I want to talk about…

1. The mind blowing music that I heard.

2. The social intricacies surrounding me attending the First Annual Richmond Gospel Festival held outside the The Great Big Flea Market on Williamsburg Road.

3. The awesome hat that I got.

As always, the music first. When I say “mind blowing” I am quite sure that, mainly because of my liberal use of superlatives, it doesn’t quite register like I am hoping it might. I’ll say this: There was a fellow named Joel. Joel had on some purple pants and a purple shirt – the shirt was a different shade of purple, mind you. He also had on some purple shoes and big beautiful sideburns – not purple, more gray-ish. He apparently is in a gospel group called “Joel (unintelligible last name) and the Celestials”. The Celestials couldn’t be there so Joel decided to sing a cappella with his daughter. (Joel seemed about 65, his daughter 35). Their performance of His Eye Is On the Sparrow easily registers as one of the top five things I have ever seen performed live. I mean guys, I’m only 26 and have only seen so many live shows, but this 10 minute performance of a standard gospel hymn was a juggernaut of beauty. I cried…well my eyes became moist. I don’t know if that counts as crying, but whatever it counts as it happened. Joel continued to perform a few more tunes accompanied by his daughter as well as the addition of a couple young lions from the crowd – real smiley young bro killing it on bass, and less smiley but no less killing bro on drums ( the “drums” were a keyboard…not a keyboard with a programmed beat, but a keyboard with each key programmed as a different drum sound) The remaining two hours or so were filled by, what I must assume, was a Who’s Who of Richmond Gospel talent (none, however, topped Joel and his daughter), and the display of brilliance was absolutely ridiculous. Gospel music, to me, is the secret that connects so much of the music I love, and to see it performed at such a absurdly high level in the patio of The Great Big Flea Market was, to say the least, exciting.

So I could ramble on about that music forever and BELIEVE ME I’m going to go track all those folks down, especially Joel and his Celestials, and you are going to see a fair bit o’ words about that whole scene start to creep into your RVANews experience. But, until then, I need to at least just chat about this whole thing from a non-musical social perspective. One, Pinson and I were the only white people there. Also, I know dudes can’t cover everything, but it received slight mention in any Richmond press that I could find (save making “5 things” on RVANews). The latter I think illuminates less the problems that Style and RTD have in covering things and more the problems that Richmond has in communicating between a variety of very distinct cultures that we have going on here.

Truthfully, I really have no deep negative energy to share here. Really, I’m just bummed there weren’t 200 white people there because this shit was EASILY the best festival I have seen in Richmond, equaled only by maybe (maybe) the Folk Festival. That’s a bummer right? Walking the boundary between superficially homogenizing our culture and figuring out a way to be involved together without watering down things is complicated. Churches, of course, face a similar issue. Sure, it is, as they say “the most segregated hour in America” but it isn’t because white people hate black people or vice-versa… it’s something else. We live in two different worlds. Not acknowledging that there is another world, truly another culture, economy, etc., out there is perhaps the issue. Most of the time that ignorance comes around guised as ignoring education issues, or poverty issues, or crime issues, or something negative like that. I’m here to tell you that, of course, those are things that we need to be increasingly attuned to, but there is also a host of amazing things that the Black community, the Indian community, the Mexican community (but let’s be honest I’m specifically referring to the Black community) has to offer us.

In addition to offering me a superior day of music, The Great Big Flea Market also has wonderful 804/Virginia hats of which I plan to make a collection. You heard it here first. Do not go buying up all the hats and going to all the parties because I’ll be mad pissed. I KNOW, I’m sure there’s already some bros that have the hats BUT…unfortunately, we don’t go to the same parties.

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Matthew E. White

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