The Blind Boys of Alabama

Austin City Limits Festival

September 17, 2004

I didn’t play the trust game. I was paranoid, so I had visions of my friends stepping aside as my body fell backward and my head split open on the sidewalk. Though he’s about sixty years older than me, vocalist Clarence Fountain had the courage to close his eyes and fall backward during The Blind Boys of Alabama’s set at the Austin Music Festival Friday afternoon. Like his fellow five vocalists in the gospel group, Fountain was blind(the vocalists were joined by a drummer, guitarist and bassist). I’m not sure if being blind makes it easier or harder to play the trust game.

Either way, Fountain was an inspiration as he screamed his lyrics in joy. He made a hole for himself in the crowd during an extended jam toward the end of the set. The man who led Fountain around as he stalked and preached through the crowd earned his money. He caught Fountain after the singer dramatically lost his breath after screaming for too long.

It was this energy and a bunch of talent that made The Blind Boys a success in Austin. The group rocked, and they were easily one of the top two performers at the festival(the other being Elvis Costello). The group started their set with little fanfare, but once the audience realized their blindness had nothing to do with the quality of their music, they gave the band encouragement, which the band gave back in the form of a bombastic performance. Their harmonies were angelic, the songs were tight, and Fountain was on. At one point, he spun around at the microphone and landed his 360 safely. Still, it was great to see the look of shock on the face of the guitarist to his left as he went to catch Fountain.

These guys formed in 1939 and were old school performers, so they did their fair share of traditional Gospel tunes. Still, it was great to hear them do very good versions of “House of the Rising Sun” and “People Get Ready.” Their cover of “Amazing Grace” was simply beautiful.

By the time Fountain ventured out into the audience, the group had the crowd in the palm of their hands. The audience was so into it that the performance was like a big revival or party. Everybody was clapping and singing along. It was wonderful. Fountain was still among the people when the set ended. Hopefully, we’ll see The Blind Boys at Jazzfest


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