I spent some time on the computer and then headed out to Millennium Park for the Chicago Gospel Music Festival. The first sets were held at the Walgreen's stage close to Michigan Ave. The first performance was really good. After that, it started going downhill a bit. After the second quartet, I decided to go check out the Youth Stage. Good call. The choirs and groups that sang on that stage were absolutely fantastic. I have never in my life heard that much sound from a children's choir. One of the choirs, Voices of Tomorrow, had a lead singer, Dylan, that cannot have been older than five and was totally amazing and so cute!
After about an hour and a half or so at the Youth Stage, my ears were ringing (it was inside with very large speakers) and my stomach was growling, so I decided to find some food. However, first I went on a mission to scope out the main stage to make sure that I could find it later and get a good seat for the evening show. People were already starting to line up, so I figured I better get there in good time.
I found a good and cheap place to eat across the street and sat there and read a magazine on Obama's first 100 days in office. Since I would be waiting a while, I also went next door to Caribou Coffee (my favorite!) and picked up a soy chai latte.
With tea in hand and the magazine tucked under my arm, I walked back to Millennium Park and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I found a decent seat and sat down with a sigh of relief. I had planned to continue reading, but there was way too many exciting people and activities going on around me. For once, I realized what it is like to be a minority. I was one of perhaps 100 Caucasians in a sea of African American gospel aficionados. It was great!
The concert finally kicked off and much dancing, singing, raising of hands, and shouting commenced. Dr. Charles G. Hayes and The Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Choir was followed by an amazing choir called New Direction. This insanely energetic group of young singers blew me away. After a not quite as exciting section called “A Touch of Chicago's Gospel Pioneers/Legends,” we saw the return of Evelyn Turrentine-Agee (she opened on the Walgreen's stage). This lady can dance! She is 63 years old, has 11 living children, and 54 grandchildren. Quite an accomplishment...
While the stagehands got everything ready for the next performance, the MCs brought a 9-year-old girl on to the stage to sing a couple of measures. She had apparently sung on the Youth Stage the previous day and had impressed the festival coordinators. The depth of her voice, the range, and pitch was incredible. She definitely had the potential to be "Chicago's Fantasia."
Speaking of Fantasia, she was next! Another super energetic performance, including a song with her mother and another song with her minister and his wife. Unfortunately, a lady across the aisle from me had a minor stroke during this part of the concert, so there was much anxiety and frantic activity going on around me. It took forever for the paramedics to get there (they came on bikes...), but finally the situation seemed to be under control and the poor lady was wheeled off on a stretcher followed by her somber family. My heart went out to them.
Had it already been four hours...? Apparently so, because before I knew it, it was time for the final (and most anticipated) performance: Kirk Franklin. I've been a fan forever and had never seen him in concert before. It would've been worth coming Chicago just for his hour of the festival. The music was perfectly rockin' and touching all at once. I was also impressed by Kirk's humble nature on scene. He repeatedly pointed to himself while shaking his head, then pointed up to heaven and nodded his head to indicate our praise should go to God and not to him.
The whole experience was surreal, divine, and uplifting. My step was light as I moved (danced) with the crowds toward my hotel and my heart was singing "Hosanna."
Gospel music is the best.