Courtesy of Sweet Honey in the Rock
Sweet Honey in the Rock
Last night, the acclaimed, Grammy-winning a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock
performed at the Flynn MainStage in Burlington. Over two-plus hours, the all-female, five-member — six, if you include their sign language interpreter — ensemble delivered a program of seasonal material that celebrated music from faiths and religions around the globe. By turns joyous and somber, celebratory and introspective, the concert was a truly moving experience. What follows are some brief thoughts on the show.
- I confess it's been a hot minute or two since I've seen a show at the Flynn. And I tend to snooze thorough the obligatory introduction/pledge drive that (necessarily, I suppose) opens every performance on the Queen City's grandest stage. But I have to admit I got a kick out of the Flynn Center's latest promotional gimmick: selfies. "I know we usually tell you to put your phones away," quipped Flynn Center executive director John Killacky. "But right now we're asking you to pull them out." The gist is that audience members take selfies in their seats and post them to social media with the hashtag #attheflynn. At the end of the month, folks with the best selfies win tickets to a show. Cellphones have long been a scourge of the theatergoers and performers, so I guess if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em. Silly but fun interactive gimmick.
- Of course, someone's phone went off roughly 18 seconds into Sweet Honey's opening song. #idiotattheflynn
- Sweet Honey are certainly women of faith. But they expertly navigate the line between spiritual and preachy. Perhaps nowhere was this more elegantly done than on their stirring rendition of "The Women Gather," a heartbreaking elegy about mothers mourning sons taken by senseless violence. Though the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were never invoked, it was clear they were never far from the minds of the singers — or the audience. Later, while introducing the African spiritual "Denko," Sweet Honey's Nitanju Bolade Casel echoed yet another social media refrain: All lives matter. That line drew one of the loudest and longest applauses of the night.
- If you ever want a clinic on vocal technique, check out a Sweet Honey in the Rock concert. The group's range, dynamics and blend are impeccable. But, believe it or not, I was most impressed with their collective breath support. In particular, Bolade Casel's closing passages on "Denko" were jaw-dropping. Every time I thought she was about to end a long-sustained note, she kept going. And going. And going. A phenomenal display of breathing technique.
- Kudos to a lively Flynn audience. Flynn crowds can sometimes be a little stiff and reserved. But last night's crowd was engaged and energetic, often clapping and singing along with little provocation from Sweet Honey. One thing, though: Clap on the twos and fours, people. Can't stress that enough. Count it out if you have to. One-TWO-three-FOUR. One-TWO-three-FOUR. See? It's easy.
- Count me among those who find the now-obligatory quality of an encore obnoxious. The encore has simply become a standard and expected part of any concert, rather than a reward — for both audience and performer — for an exceptional performance. And if ever a group earned an encore, it was last night. Yet Sweet Honey in the Rock settled for a mere curtain call. They did, however take the opportunity to hawk their new single, a surely gorgeous rendition of "Silent Night." Yet, despite very vocal pleas from the crowd to perform it, the group declined, instead politely bowing and walking offstage. Bummer.