Stewart Deere checks in from the Robert Randolph and the Family Band show at Harding University on Friday night:
I witnessed the most rock n’ roll moment of my past 12 months in of all places Searcy, Arkansas.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band provided the soundtrack, but the students of the private Church of Christ-associated Harding University provided the rock 'n’ roll. Packed towards the front of the Benson Auditorium, they ignited a moment that harkened back to rock’s birth in the 1950s, the time when rock was protested and objected to for its ability to “corrupt the youth” and make them want to (gasp!) dance.
Here’s the scene: it was midway through the band’s cover of the song “Shake Your Hips.” Robert Randolph began summoning people to the stage to do exactly what the song was commanding, apparently a tradition he does anytime the band plays the song live.
It started simply with one girl jumping on stage and dancing briefly before being forced to leave by student members of the Campus Activity Board, distinguishable thanks to their green and blue shirts that said “CAB.” Then six or seven guys and gals jumped onstage and danced, shook, and did whatever else the music moved them to do before being herded off by the CABs (that’s what I’ll call them from now on).
The song grooved on.
Finally, as if by some unspoken signal, a swarm of nearly 40 students stormed the stage and conquered it. The CABs were overwhelmed, as were the two or three uniformed members of campus security, and were briefly powerless in the face of such uninhibited dancing and shaking.
It was almost Pentecostal in its intensity and passion (appropriate since Randolph played pedal steel guitar at his church as a teen). Not knowing what to do, the CABs stood there and tried to regroup. One rebellious member of the CABs decided to join in and began air power chording at the front of the stage. Finally, after several anarchic minutes of bliss, the gang of 40 were herded off the stage.
Suffice it to say, school officials were not pleased. In the lobby of the Benson, a handful stood looking grouchy but powerless. But the show blazed on.
Randolph threw a little wah-wah action into his playing and launched into a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child”, spiced up with portions of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It was obvious that the energy seen onstage had bled into the audience, as the front was a sea of waving hands and bobbing heads the likes of which the university’s auditorium has probably never seen.
Following that last cover, the Randolph band left the stage, although an encore was still to come. But it became obvious that some did not wish this to be, as a representative of the school took to stage. “Thanks for coming out tonight, they’ve got a six A.M. flight to catch,” he said, as the house lights came up.
Boos and discontent oozed from the audience. Quickly, Robert Randolph and his band defiantly came out and treated the students to a fiery encore.
“Thank ya’ll for having us, don’t let it be the last time. Don’t let these fellows in green stop you from having a good time,” Randolph said as he and his band left the stage at the end of his encore.
While I have a sad feeling that it probably will be the last time Mr. Randolph plays at Harding, I do know that those in green will always be doomed to defeat when faced with those who want to have a good time.-Stewart Deere