Rev. Yolanda’s Old-Time Gospel Hour
Performance: Friday, Sept. 27
Sashaying towards the stage in a teased wig, throngs of pearls and shimmering eye shadow, Rev. Yolanda channels the stereotypical church matron as well as the iconic women of Southern gospel. He is, at once, the welcoming Big Mama and the sassy Dolly Parton.
From the first strum of his acoustic guitar, Yolanda holds the audience in a magnetic grip. As his voice wavers at a haunting tenor and then soars to a joyful alto, there is the mounting sense that “Reverend Yolanda’s Old-Time Gospel Hour,” his show at the ArtsCenter Friday, represents more than weekend entertainment.
It is a romanticized version of Yolanda’s own spiritual journey — from his conflicted, Christian upbringing in Muscle Schoals, Alabama to his LGBT activism with the Radical Faeries, an activist group fighting to redefine queer consciousness, and finally, to his ascent as a gay, interfaith minister.
Yolanda seamlessly interweaves these narratives with powerhouse vocals and a stage presence that distills the full spectrum of human emotion: from enthused hand-clapping to joyful tears.
Yolanda’s band, led by Kenneth Gartman, is one of the best and tightest groups I have heard live. Firstly, the musical chemistry between Gartman and Yolanda is matchless. Their distinct voices manage to perfectly harmonize without competing with each other. The bluegrass accompaniments, including a fiddle, banjo and bass, are also flawless and add an eclectic dimension to the gospel show.
Perhaps even more dazzling than Yolanda’s actual vocals is his poise onstage. There is a comfort to his stride — even in pink heels — that invites others to bask in the same pool of self-assurance.
The message of love and acceptance communicated by Yolanda’s body language imparts authenticity to his music. Thus, the traditional gospel songs are not just hollow echoes of his Christian past; they are confirmations of the divinity of each individual, often reworded by Yolanda to reflect as such.
Yolanda’s original music also adds to the atmosphere of love at his shows. One in particular, “Angels,” says, “We are angels, we are angels/and we’re struggling to be human.” In a show that explores challenging ideas about gender and self-expression, this particular song reaffirms the virtue of humanity.
While the notion of drag and gospel may initially be hard to reconcile, Yolanda accomplishes this feat in a sincere and unpretentious manner.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.