New Year’s eve, and again, Kelley Hunt sang us up and over, far and wide toward the changing of years. This time, it was in the Lawrence Arts Center, where Kelley performed “I Dreamed of Rain,” a benefit concert, with an astonishing drummer, Diego Voglino from Brooklyn, and also the soulful Gary Mackender on accordion and percussion. Throughout the concert, I found myself feeling a deepening connection with the packed audience as the boogie-woogie unfurled and long notes rose. While this was a performance, a form of entertainment, it was much more a long conversation, a ceremony, a meeting in the calm hum of our dreams, and then an awakening when we can’t help but dance in our seats.
I remember several years ago another Kelley Hunt concert — this time in Liberty Hall, and on the New Year’s eve eve. On the dance floor, in the middle of “It Ain’t Over When It’s Over,” Kelley had us all belting out with her, “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside.” I remember how glorious the meeting of worlds was: two elderly women sang with all their heart, lifting their arms to the stage that they stood before. A woman with short hair and maroon pants and top shimmied up and down along with her midrift-baring teenage daughter, holding hands and singing to each other. A older man, unshaven and gray, jumped up and down with his arms waving above his head. Two young women in love wrapped their arms around each other and leaned close with their eyes closed. An older lesbian couple swayed as they spooned and sang quietly. An young African-American woman jitterbugged with a middle aged white guy. It was quiet and ecstatic, sacred and wild. The music made us all family at that moment.
I felt the same thing at this concert. Kelley’s beautiful arrangement of Jan Garrett’s song, “I Dreamed of Rain” threaded into “We Shall Overcome,” which she also sang — the traditional song of freedom and equality. Yet Kelley’s song also acknowledged that we will not only overcome some day, but this day; that we won’t be afraid some day, but this very day. The song paid homage to Barack Obama’s election and to all the ongoing struggles for civil rights and social change.
The final songs of the concert echoed this message — that the struggle goes on, but the light comes through. Kelley sang a newer song, “There is No Place That God Isn’t,” a tribute to healing and comfort, and also the power of words, and then exploded into a boogie woogie jubilee in “Say the Word.”
The songs circled through us, circles through us still, calling forward the soul of community, the heart of love that so seamlessly blends the political, spiritual and artistic; the power of a single voice and the beauty of harmony and rhythm; and always endings and beginnings, showing us how we can lift above the cusp of what blinds us and see the rain, the freedom, the change we dream of.
Pictures: Kelley and a friend at Camp Wood, where we’ll do our next Brave Voice; Kelley and me in Vermont after she performed at The Power of Words conference; Kelley’s latest CD, “Mercy.” See more about Kelley at her website, mypage site, and the website we share for our business, Brave Voice.