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Gospel diva Sandi Patty bids D.C. farewell with hit-packed concert

It’s a bittersweet period for fans of gospel legend Sandi Patty who brought her “Forever Grateful Farewell Tour” to Takoma Park, Md., last weekend



Sandi Patty brought her 'Forever Grateful Farewell Tour' to the D.C. area last weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Sandi Patty brought her ‘Forever Grateful Farewell Tour’ to the D.C. area last weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

It’s a bittersweet period for fans of gospel legend Sandi Patty, who brought her “Forever Grateful Farewell Tour” to Takoma Park, Md., last weekend.

Though her bread and butter and greatest fame was among white U.S. evangelicals, she never shunned gays (which is more than we could say for Anita Bryant) and though always careful to never say anything too overtly supportive — she’d rocked her base enough with an early ‘90s divorce and paid a huge price for it — she’s had gays in her camp for years and never batted an eye at her legions of gay fans.

Returning to the same church (Sligo Seventh-day Adventist) where she wrapped her “Everlasting Tour” last year at this time, Patty — this was the 70th show of her 120-city tour slated to wrap with a San Juan cruise in early 2017 — pulled out all the stops and delivered her most elaborate stage show since her “Le Voyage”-era shows circa 1993.

In recent years, most non-seasonal Patty concerts have consisted of her singing to tracks while longtime pianist Steve Potts accompanied her (though “Another Time Another Place Tour” vet Jay Rouse has been with her the last couple years). On a lucky night, the church choir would back her on a few numbers. But for this show, Patty has a four-piece band, several family members doubling as backup singers (including husband Don Peslis and son Jon Helvering), the five-man “popera” group Veritas and on many if not all nights, a choir as well. The lighting and video, featuring many classic Patty career clips, is also far more elaborate than in recent years.

Only a curmudgeon would balk at the set list which featured a robust array of Patty classics such as the tender “In Heaven’s Eyes,” gospel barn-burner (and Patty concert staple) “Yes God is Real,” sing-along classic “Love in Any Language” and, of course, “We Shall Behold Him,” the 1982 GMA song of the year that was Patty’s first big hit (though she’d made her major-label debut in 1979).

While some may lament that too many classics like “Upon This Rock” or “Let There Be Praise” were glossed over in mere seconds in several lengthy medleys, it covered a lot of classic ground the same way it’s done at a Janet Jackson concert. Sure, if somebody like Bruce Springsteen took this approach, it would sound like a groan-inducing sellout or lounge act, but since so many of Patty’s most-loved songs are stylistically similar and feature rafter-raising (and vocally taxing) climaxes that make Celine Dion’s material sound positively reserved, it made sense to take the medley approach. Especially effective was a few lines of “The Day He Wore My Crown” added to the “Via Dolorosa” medley since the spring leg of the tour and a duets medley that found the jaw-droppingly talented Veritas guys standing in impressively for Larnelle Harris and Wayne Watson on Patty’s classic duets.

Sandi Patty's farewell tour is her most elaborate concert production since the early '90s. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Sandi Patty’s farewell tour is her most elaborate concert production since the early ’90s. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Although it’s nice to see material from Patty’s latest (and she claims final) studio album “Forever Grateful” included such as “Anthem of Praise” and “All I Gotta Do,” perhaps a better choice for the latter slot would have been a medley of “Face to Faith,” “Willing to Wait,” “Someone Up There Loves Me,” “Pour on the Power” and maybe “Somebody Believed,” those tear-it-up gospel numbers Patty was always so great at delivering. Or maybe even an alternate praise medley with second-tier hits like “Shine Down,” “King of Glory” and “Come Let’s Worship Him.” Oh well — when you have a 35-year body of work to pull from, you can’t cover everything. The only legit complaint was that the choir wasn’t high enough in the sound mix and got lost more often than not.

Patty was in resplendent voice throughout. At 60, her robust soprano sounds as booming as ever. She does sound different than she did 30 years ago — there’s a heavier body to her timbre than there used to be but for me it’s a handy tradeoff. She may have had a more bell-like clarion purity to her vocals back then, but there was also a slight brassiness to her upper register that, to my ear, has been calibrated by age. She said in a pre-show Q&A session that wanted to go out on top and not be one of those singers who hung on too long. Ehhhh, I see what she’s saying but hate to see her hanging it up when the money notes are still so gloriously there.

I’m hoping, of course, that she’ll pull a Cher or Tina Turner on us and after five or seven years of home life and grandkids realize she misses the thrill of the crowd, or at least the pull of the studio. Even when eschewing her trademark high notes on lower-key albums like “Simply Sandi” or “Christmas Blessings,” Patty is always compelling. While it left many fans cold, the latter, a 2014 release that was her jazziest effort ever, made for enticing evidence that she might be wholly compelling and convincing doing non-seasonal material in that vein. A stool, a little jazz combo, some standards — she could totally pull it off.

However if she is content to raise heirloom tomatoes or teach (which she will be doing) or whatever, she has more than earned the right having spent 35 years schlepping around the country. Her oeuvre is a staggering body of work, especially from, oh, say 1981-1993, a particularly white-hot decade-plus that stands the test of time the same way the Beatles canon or the Beethoven sonatas do.

Patty was peerless because she was the right artist at the right time with the right voice and the right drive with access to the best songwriters, producers (especially Greg Nelson) and arrangers at a time when she enjoyed a nice, long run before the internet started eating savagely into budgets and major record labels.

Sandi Patty with (in back from left) Scott Lawrence and James Berrian of the group Veritas and her son Jonathan Helvering, a gifted singer in his own right. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Sandi Patty with (in back from left) Scott Lawrence and James Berrian of the group Veritas and her son Jonathan Helvering, a gifted singer in his own right. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

And nobody ever talks about this, but her heyday also happened to be when big was in. It’s no coincidence that “Dallas” — and everything’s bigger in Texas — was the biggest show of the ‘80s right at the time Patty was belting out “We Shall Behold Him” and “Upon This Rock.” The planets aligned and she didn’t just hit the gospel music zeitgest, she was it. And yet — another oft-missed point — you never felt bludgeoned by her. As an adult, I’ve come to admire her tender moments like “There is a Savior” and “O Calvary’s Lamb” to a degree approaching the big stuff.

Her career eventually self-corrected to the point that she was by the 2010s probably about where she would have been anyway had her divorce from John Helvering — whose mug is curiously whitewashed from the tourbook and flashback photos, though he was at her Ohio concert two weeks ago — not wiped the luster off her ‘80s dominance (she never won a Grammy, had an RIAA certification for gold or platinum or filled an arena on her own after that). Personal travails notwithstanding, it coincided with a period of artistic experimentation on albums like “Find it On the Wings” and “These Days” that didn’t always fully jell. But of course you expect that in any lengthy career. Her lowest lows artistically were never egregious. There was always something to love on every album.

But for a moment last Sunday night, it might as well have been 1986 or 1988 again and Patty held court in all her glory. For us long-time total geek-out fans, she has enriched our lives immeasurably.

1. Anthem of Praise
2. Praise Medley
3. MEDLEY: Agnus Dei/A Mighty Fortress/All Hail the Power (Veritas)
4. Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee
5. Love Will Be Our Home
6. Farther Along
7. The Prayer
* testimony
8. In Heaven’s Eyes
9. MEDLEY: Upon This Rock/They Could Not/In the Name of the Lord/How Great Thou Art
* Star-Spangled Banner video montage
10. I Can Only Imagine (Veritas)
11. The Lord’s Prayer (Veritas)
12. Love in Any Language
13. All I Gotta Do
14. Yes, God is Real
15. MEDLEY: Another Time, Another Place/More Than Wonderful/I’ve Just Seen Jesus
16. Revelation Song
17. MEDLEY: The Day He Wore My Crown/Via Dolorosa/The Old Rugged Cross
18. We Shall Behold Him
19. It Is Well With My Soul
20. How We Love (Beth Nielsen Chapman cover)
* In the In-Between was performed at a pre-concert Q&A session


Music & Concerts

Musical icons and newer stars to rock D.C. this spring

Brandi Carlile, Bad Bunny, Nicki Minaj, and more headed our way



Brandi Carlile plays the Anthem this month.

Bands and solo artists of all different genres are visiting D.C. this spring. Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will team up to perform at the Wolf Trap in June, and girl in red will play at the Anthem in April. Some artists and bands aren’t paying a visit until the summer, like Janet Jackson and Usher, but there are still plenty of acts to see as the weather warms up. 


Brandi Carlile plays at the Anthem on March 21; Arlo Parks will perform at 9:30 Club on March 23; Girlschool will take the stage at Blackcat on March 28.


Nicki Minaj stops in D.C. at Capital One Arena as part of her North American tour on April 1; Bad Bunny plays at Capital One Arena on April 9 as part of his Most Wanted tour; girl in red performs at the Anthem on April 20 and 21; Brandy Clark plays at the Birchmere on April 25; Laufey comes to town to play at the Anthem on April 25 and 26. 


Belle and Sebastian play at the Anthem on May 2; Chastity Belt performs at Blackcat on May 4; Madeleine Peyroux stops at the Birchmere on May 5; The Decemberists play at the Anthem on May 10; the rock band Mannequin Pussy performs at the Atlantis on May 17 and 18; Hozier plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 17 as part of the Unreal Unearth tour. 


Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will sing soulful melodies at Wolf Trap on June 8; Joe Jackson performs at the Lincoln Theatre on June 10; the Pixies and Modest Mouse are teaming up to play at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 14; Maggie Rogers plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 16 as part of The Don’t Forget Me tour; Brittany Howard headlines the Out & About Festival at Wolf Trap on June 22; Sarah McLachlan plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 27; Alanis Morissette performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 29 and 30

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Music & Concerts

Grammys: Queer women and their sisters took down the house

Taylor Swift won Album of the Year



When the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court, her answer was simple: Nine. She stated: “I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” RBG did not attend the Grammy’s last night, but her spirit sure did. Women, at long last, dominated, ruled and killed the night.

Cher, in song a decade ago, declared that “this is a woman’s world,” but there was little evidence that was true, Grammy, and entertainment awards, speaking. In 2018, the Grammys were heavily criticized for lack of female representation across all categories and organizers’ response was for women to “step up.”

Be careful what you wish for boys.

The biggest star of the 2024 Grammys was the collective power of women. They made history, they claimed legacy and they danced and lip sang to each other’s work. Standing victorious was Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, SZA (the most nominated person of the year), Lainey Wilson, Karol G, boygenius, Kylie Minogue and Victoria Monét. Oh, yes, and powerhouse Taylor Swift, the superstar from whom Fox News cowers in fear, made history to become the first performer of any gender to win four Best Album of the Year trophies.

In the throng of these powerful women stand a number of both LGBTQ advocates and queer identifying artists. Cyrus has identified as pansexual, SZA has said lesbian rumors “ain’t wrong,” Phoebe Bridgers (winner of four trophies during the night, most of any artist) is lesbian, Monét is bi and Eilish likes women but doesn’t want to talk about it. Plus, ask any queer person about Swift or Minogue and you are likely to get a love-gush.

Women power was not just owned by the lady award winners. There were the ladies and then there were the Legends. The first Legend to appear was a surprise. Country singer Luke Combs has a cross-generational hit this year with a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” When originally released, the song was embraced as a lesbian anthem. When performing “Fast Car,” surprise, there was Chapman herself, singing the duet with Combs. The rendition was stunning, sentimental and historic.

Chapman, like many of the night’s female dignitaries, has not been public with her sexuality. Author Alice Walker has spoken of the two of them being lovers, however.

The legend among legends of the night, however, was the one and only Joni Mitchell. Not gay herself, she embodies the concept of an LGBTQ icon, and was accompanied by the very out Brandi Carlile on stage. On her website, Mitchell’s statement to the LGBTQ community reads, “The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it will probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it.”

Mitchell performed her longtime classic “Both Sides Now.” The emotion, insight and delivery from the now 80-year old artist, survivor of an aneurism, was nothing short of profound. (To fully appreciate the nuance time can bring, check out the YouTube video of a Swift lookalike Mitchell singing the same song to Mama Cass and Mary Travers in 1969.) In this latest rendition, Mitchell clearly had an impact on Meryl Streep who was sitting in the audience. Talk about the arc of female talent and power.

That arc extended from a today’s lady, Cyrus, to legend Celine Dion as well. Cyrus declared Dion as one of her icons and inspirations early in the evening. Dion appeared, graceful and looking healthy, to present the final, and historic, award of the night at the end of the show.

Legends did not even need to be living to have had an effect on the night. Tributes to Tina Turner and Sinead O’Conner by Oprah, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor and Annie Lennox respectively, proved that not even death could stop these women. As Lennox has musically and famously put it, “Sisters are doing it for themselves.”

Even the content of performances by today’s legends-in-the-making spoke to feminine power. Eilish was honored for, and performed “What Was I Made For?,” a haunting and searching song that speaks to the soul of womanhood and redefinition in today’s fight for gender rights and expression, while Dua Lipa laid down the gauntlet for mind blowing performance with her rendition of “Houdini” at the top of the show, Cyrus asserted the power of her anthem “Flowers” and pretty much stole the show.

Cyrus had not performed the song on television before, and only three times publicly. She declared in her intro that she was thrilled over the business numbers the song garnered, but she refused to let them define her. As she sang the hit, she scolded the audience, “you guys act like you don’t know the words to this song.” Soon the woman power of the room was singing along with her, from Swift to Oprah.

They can buy themselves flowers from now on. They don’t need anyone else. Cyrus made that point with the mic drop to cap all mic drops, “And I just won my first Grammy!” she declared as she danced off stage.

Even the squirmiest moment of the night still did not diminish the light of women power, and in fact, underscored it. During his acceptance of the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, Jay-Z had a bone to pick with the Grammy voters. He called out the irony that his wife Beyoncé had won more Grammys than any other human, but had never won the Best Album of the Year. Yeah, what’s with that?

But then, it brought additional context ultimately to the fact that the winner of the most Grammys individually … is a woman. And to the fact that the winner of the most Best Album of the Year awards … is a woman.

Hopefully this was the night that the Grammys “got it.” Women are the epicenter of The Creative Force.

Will the other entertainment awards get it soon as well? We can hope.

Most importantly, in a political world where women’s healthcare is under siege. Will the American voters get it?

A little known band named Little Mix put it this way in their 2019 song “A Woman’s World.”

“If you can’t see that it’s gotta change
Only want the body but not the brains
If you really think that’s the way it works
You ain’t lived in a woman’s world

Just look at how far that we’ve got
And don’t think that we’ll ever stop…”

From Grammy’s mouth to the world’s ear.

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Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson returning to D.C, Baltimore

‘Together Again Tour’ comes to Capital One Arena, CFG Bank Arena



Janet Jackson is coming back to D.C. this summer.

Pop icon Janet Jackson announced this week an extension of her 2023 “Together Again Tour.” A new leg of the tour will bring Jackson back to the area for two shows, one at D.C.’s Capital One Arena on Friday, July 12 and another at Baltimore’s CFG Bank Arena on Saturday, July 13.  

Tickets are on sale now via TicketMaster. LiveNation announced the 2023 leg of the tour consisted of 36 shows, each of which was sold out. The 2024 leg has 35 stops planned so far; R&B star Nelly will open for Jackson on the new leg. 

Jackson made the tour announcement Tuesday on social media: “Hey u guys! By popular demand, we’re bringing the Together Again Tour back to North America this summer with special guest Nelly! It’ll be so much fun!”

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