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Stage as Pulpit

August 27, 2012

Artists as diverse as John Gay and Bono have long used the stage as a pulpit from which to preach a political, religious or social message.

Al Green has come to realize the power of sharing his views on the Holy Ghost in front of a massive stadium audience quite late in the game.

The legendary soul singer turned preacher has no trouble filling his church in Memphis with legitimate worshippers and brown-nosing tourists on Sundays. But now that he's once again returned his attentions at least part time to secular R&B, the Reverend Green is not holding back on sharing the word of God.

And there must have been a great deal of satisfaction for him in being able to share it with the more than 7,000 people that packed the Filene Center at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts on Friday night, where the performer gave a summer concert before an extremely diverse audience of fans.

As energetic and charismatic a performer as Green is and has always been, I couldn't help wishing he had toned down the Jesus stuff during his fairly short Wolf Trap set. I guess I wouldn't have minded as much but for the fact that the singer used snippets from very well known hits like "My Girl" to get people's attention focused, before abruptly stopping mid-song to ramble on about God.

I ended up wishing that Taj Mahal, the wonderful, understated old bluesman who opened for the much flashier headline act, had been on stage with Green. I think he would have kept the preacher in check. Like the Reverend Green, Taj Mahal also has his roots in gospel music. But he doesn't let religion rule his music.

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