Opening Nights Presents Richard Thompson and The Blind Boys of Alabama

By ALEX AMENTA / Staff Editor

A feast for the ears, eyes, and soul; Ruby Diamond Concert Hall succeeds again with the Opening Nights series, showcasing some of the world’s most respected artists, comedians, and entertainers.  On February 13th, two musical titans, each with vast bodies of work and skill in their crafts, did what they do best: deliver music. Or, as  Jimmy Carter of the Blind Boys From Alabama said, “We hope we say something, or sing something, that will make you feel good.”

The first half of Opening Nights delivered the prestigious, highly decorated Richard Thompson,  who placed 69th in Rolling Stone’s top 100 Guitarists of All Time. Thompson kept a constant strum, maintaining the lighthearted Celtic roots his melody invokes, while executing finger-bending riffs at blinding speeds and singing his heart out. Thompson makes it look easy and natural, being a wizard that can play the sweetest of songs; describing the time he went for a stroll by the canals of Amsterdam, then taking you to the deepest depths of your soul with songs like “Walking on the Wire,” down to “A Heart Needs A Home.”

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Thompson’s music melts together as he gives a humble ‘thank you’ between most songs, and, if we were lucky, an effortless joke. Once, he asked for requests, someone yelled in an inaudible tone; he said back,“ I can’t understand you, you have a weird accent.” He’s playful when he wants to, making you relive lost loves with songs like “When the Spell is Broken,”  Thompson’s mastery of the “pick and fingers” technique  mesmerizes and confuses, and keeping audiences guessing when that next hit of heartwarming head-bobbing will come, or the next emotional ride will come, leaving hearts in throats. After finishing his set, he mentioned his personal vinyl of the Blind Boys from Alabama reaching 60 odd years old, continuing that he was honored to open for the them. Thompson is a legend, releasing music to this day; even for the uninitiated, it is an honor to see such a master musician perform.

Arriving on stage in a human chain, hand on the eachothers satin black suits, The Blind Boys of Alabama swaggered on stage. The eternally smooth Jimmy Carter said, in his hop step tune of talking, “ If you need to know one thing about tonight, it’s that the Blind Boys of Alabama want you to know that we love you!” Promptly, the Blind Boys burst out in song with an uplifting rendition of “Spirit in the Sky” to start the set off right. Throughout the performance, Jimmy Carter addressed the audience, saying, “The Blind Boys love Tallahassee so much, we took a flight right after the Grammys last night to make it here by the morning! We didn’t win a Grammy mind you, but we already have five, so we let someone else have it.” Richard Thompson joined them to re-create the mournful, blues-infused “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, which saw the Blind Boys rocking, swaying, and breathing life into the lyrics they delivered in this powerful song of regret and personal responsibility. Ironically enough, the last time they performed  this powerful song with Richard Thompson was for a scene in Tyler Perry’s Madea goes to Jail.  

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The climax of their set saw an unfathomably high note reached, and maintained, for an unbelievable duration by a singular member (Tracey Pierce). Following the miraculous note, Jimmy Carter said, “I believe in God, and we hope after tonight you do to, but if you don’t, that’s none of  my business.” Rounding out the spiritual experience was their spine-tingling rendition of “Amazing Grace,” invoking the feeling of the downtrodden, and subsequent redemption, in the voices of the amazing Blind Boys.

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