Kassandra wins Divine Voices
Audio-visual problems that plagued the opening of the Bermuda Gospel Festival continued on Friday, its second night.
Audience members were first treated to an extensive delay to the show’s start and a series of sound problems that ran the gamut of poor sound balance, poor sound engineering, instruments overpowering vocalists and severe distortion and feedback problems.
On top of that, the large screens erected for better viewing by those at the rear of the audience were filled with embarrassing typos, and misidentified performers as they took to the stage.
Leading up to the start of Friday night’s performances, there was definitely a developing sense of excitement with a great selection of food and a time of fellowship by those in attendance, however, the mood did begin to become somewhat restless as the 7.30pm start time came and went.
Around 8pm host Bobby Jones came to the stage to explain that the band had been delayed. He began a sort of one-man-show, entertaining the audience with anecdotes and allowing anyone in the audience that was brave enough, to come forward and sing a cappella.
Several came forward, some excited to jump at the chance of appearing on the popular US television show, Bobby Jones Gospel; while it took a little more prodding from friends and family members for others. Rev Stephanie Castro sang parts of ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus’; April Smith shared ‘I Feel Like Going Home’; Pastor Dion Douglas, of Bright Temple AME belted out a supreme soprano rendition of ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’.
Then, somewhat caught by surprise, Dr Jones called on Community Development Minister Michael Weeks, who was there on behalf of Premier Paula Cox. After some playful banter in which Mr Weeks asked Dr Jones to not ask him to sing, the MP presented Dr Jones with a plaque from the Government as a thank you for his coming.
Finally, the band arrived and it was time for the finale of the Divine Voices competition. The contest was hosted by American Idol season three finalist, George Huff, who currently works as a vocal arranger and background vocalist for fellow season three finalist, Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson.
Wearing white choir robes with a black satin trim, each of the six finalists took to the stage to sing ‘Because of Who You Are’.
The contestants were then given the opportunity to sing two songs each.
Willard Burch, the only young man in the finals, opened up the solos with a marvelous rendition of ‘His Eye is On the Sparrow’, demonstrating a deep passion in his voice and good voice control.
He was followed by Cindy Smith, who began her performance of ‘How Great Thou Art’ with a sweet, still opening, that gently and gradually grew into a much stronger voice. However, it was clear that Miss Smith was very nervous about being on stage.
Francine Brown really took the stage with her performance of Walter Hawkins’ song, ‘Thank You (Lord For All You’ve Done For Me)’, while Ashley Smith did an excellent job interacting with the audience singing Yolanda Adams' ‘Jesus Kept Me’.
Nerves also seemed to be getting to Claire-Lee DeCouto, as she performed ‘Oh Happy Day’, although she still managed a stellar performance. However, Kassandra Caines’ rendition of ‘Precious Lord, Lead Me Home’ was punctuated with a deep passion that seemed to stem from her soul. It really blew the audience away.
Before the competitors performed their second selections their backup singers, the VaShawn Mitchell Praise Team, sang several selections with Dr Jones and George Huff.
The second round then came, with Willard Burch performing ‘Stand’, Cindy Smith performing ‘For Every Mountain You've Brought Me Over’, and Francine Brown performing ‘Let Your Glory Fill This Place’.
Ashley Smith followed with ‘Encourage Yourself’, Claire-Lee DeCouto with ‘Draw Me Close’, and finally, Kassandra Caines with ‘Jesus You Are Beautiful’.
As the judges completed their scores, George Huff wowed the crowed with the song, ‘Speak To My Heart’; the VaShawn Mitchell Band sang ‘Joy Comes In the Morning’ and ‘Show Me Your Light’.
Finally the contestants were all called to the stage and presented a plaque by Dr Jones, and then Kassandra Caines was announced as the winner.
Covering her mouth and with tears and her eyes, she was practically speechless when she was presented with an original painting by a local artist and a bag of goodies as her prize. When she could finally speak, her first thanks were to God for bringing her through trials and to the blessings of being in, and winning, Divine Voices.
The contestants, George Huff and the Praise Band sang ‘Lord You Are Good and Your Mercy Endures Forever’, bringing that aspect of the night to a close.
At long last, it was time for the night’s headliner, Pastor Shirley Caesar. She opened with “I Remember Mama”.
It was at this point that the feedback and distortion from the stage monitors, which had cursed much of the Divine Voices competition, really came to a head. Pastor Caesar stopped in the middle of the song and demanded that the sound engineers fix the microphones and turn the stage monitors down surely a huge embarrassment for those running the sound equipment.
Pastor Caesar was a true professional throughout though, carefully directing and controlling her classic, masterful band and singers with precise movements by the wave of her hand. And once the sound issues were finally corrected, she got right back into the swing of things, performing old favourites like ‘Yes, Lord, Yes’, ‘Put On the Armour of God’ and ‘Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name’.
She then sent her backup singers down offstage and into the audience, at which point the concert took on more of a classic holy-roller service the music was punctuated by a heavy beat, dancing, jumping and preaching, lifting much of the audience to a whole new level.
Pastor Caesar then invited the audience to take their problems and challenges and to stomp them down hell. She called anyone who was sick or in need of a miracle to come to the front and touch her hand and claim that miracle. Much of the audience followed suit as the band played on.
“It is my prayer that from this night on, you’ll never be the same, that you’ll walk in victory,” she said.