PORT HARDY—If the purpose of gospel music is to uplift, then the Sojourners succeeded wildly in Saturday’s North Island Concert Society Event at the Civic Centre.
The vocal trio and their backup band certainly lifted the audience out of its collective seats.
Drawing from a wide-ranging catalogue of traditional spirituals, Civil Rights-era anthems and accessible hits from popular artists, Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders and Khari McClelland drew the annual dinner show crowd into their revival tent and left it shouting ‘Amen!’ by the end.
The Sojourners were in top vocal form throughout Saturday’s show, whether in a tight, well-honed, three-part harmony, individual solos or solos backed by the other two members.
A large part of the group’s appeal to this audience was its engaging manner and the sheer joy the singers brought to the stage. Quite simply, these guys were having fun.
The trio, formed in 2006 to provide backing vocals for Jim Byrnes’ Juno-winning CD House of Refuge, was capably backed by the veteran rhythm section of drummer Geoff Hicks and bassist Bill Runge.
On occasion, NICS concerts provide unexpected — and welcome — surprises for the patrons. This was one of those shows, as the Sojourners also hired on blues/rockabilly/swing guitarist Paul Pigat as part of their accompaniment for the evening.
Though he spent the night seated, sometimes leaning back cross-legged as casually as if plucking on his sofa at home, Pigat — frontman for the rockabilly trio Cousin Harley — made his presence known by the end of the show.
The concert was essentially divided into two sections. Kicked off by the traditional spirituals Brother Moses Smote the Water, Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around and Children Go Where I Send Thee, the first set focused on the Sojourners’ vocal chops.
The set began to expand when McClelland, who replaced founding member Ron Small last year, took the lead on the somber Rev. Gary Davis song Death Don’t Have No Mercy and on the soulful ballad Lead Me Guide Me, a song covered by Elvis Presley.
The group then shifted to a cappella for Clean Up What I Messed Up, a song by the Canton Spirituals that the Sojourners performed backed only by Hicks’s funky groove on drums.
The pop hit When I Die by the Canadian soul group Motherlode followed, and the Sojourners closed the set with a hint of what was to come, with Pigat’s blistering intro kicking off a blues-funk version of Strange Man.
Though he remained seated in the background, Pigat was thrust forward sonically in the second set, a blues compendium that ranged from the Mississippi Sheiks’ Sweet Maggie and the down-and-dirty Frost Texas Tornado Blues to the Los Lobos blues-rocker Peace in the Neighborhood, to a punched-up version of Great Day interlaced with Pigat’s signature rockabilly licks.
In the middle of it all, the Sojourners slipped in a well-received take of Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready, a song reincarnated as a hit for succeeding generations by artists as diverse as The Impressions, Rod Stewart and Bob Marley.
You know you’ve won the crowd when you’ve got them clapping along to the music without prompting, and that’s just what the Sojourners did Saturday. A loud call for an encore brought them back for By and By (When the Morning Comes), a joyous, three-part harmony led in by Pigat’s sublime, understated intro.
The evening opened with dinner served by Malone’s Oceanside Bistro, accompanied by instrumental music from the North Island Community Band. It is the last dinner show for Malone’s a longtime sponsor and participant which is scheduled to close its doors this spring.
The fourth concert in the NICS 2011-12 schedule will feature Barney Bentall with multi-instrumentalist Eric Reid Mar. 11 at the Civic Centre. Tickets are $25 and are available at The Hobby Nook, Port Hardy Museum and Cafe Guido in Port Hardy and The Flower Shoppe in Port McNeill.
For info, visit niconcert.ca.