Dr. John, Blind Boys deliver soul-stirring show

The elder statesman of swamp funk left no doubt that, decades on from being known as The Night Tripper, he can still stir up a mean musical stew. Dr. John got the party started Tuesday at The Smith Center with some foot-stompin’ help from his Lower 911 band.

Raymond Weber’s energetic drumming and backing vocals, soulful John Fohl on guitar, David Berard’s gritty bass, along with sassy young Sarah Morrow blasting away on the trombone like a New Orleans veteran and Herbert Hardesty’s swinging sax were the perfect complement to the good doctor.

After his sauntering entrance in a salmon-colored suit, black fedora and shades, Dr. John alternated between piano and organ for tasty renditions of “Accentuate The Positive,” “Blind Eye for Justice” and “I Been Hoodood,” among others, before getting the crowd riled up with one of his more popular hits, “Right Place, Wrong Time.”

But when the Blind Boys of Alabama took the stage a half-dozen tunes into the show, it got real, as the young people say. Jimmy Carter, the only remaining founding member (he was all of 9 back in 1939), admonished the audience already excited by their entrance with tongue only partially in cheek: “We don’t like singing to a conservative crowd – we like a noisy crowd.”

From a rousing “People Get Ready” to a gospel-tinged “Spirit in the Sky,” their part of the 90-minute set crescendoed to a revival-style “Free At Last,” with Carter’s handlers carefully lowering him off the stage and plopping him into the crowd to a roar of approval. He ambled up one aisle, across the center seats and up the other aisle to wild applause as the call and response rolled on. It was a rousing ride that provided ample servings of what made both groups famous.

Ben Moore, Joey Williams and the younger (and sighted) Eric “Ricky” McKinnie all had solo turns, gyrating and swaying as the music moved them.

Dr. John and company segued into the final tunes of the evening, serving up the back end of the funk-spiritual sandwich. After standing up, cane in each hand, leading the audience to think he was headed for the exit, he picked up an electric guitar – his instrument when he started out in the studios of New Orleans – and rocked out to “Let the Good Times Roll.”

The Blind Boys came back for a big send-off. We stood as one with arms raised as if in a church meeting for “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which morphed into “Glory Glory.”

Clearly, we were all in the right place at the right time.

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