“Soulful Symphony: #SoulfulSetlist” was performed at Merriweather Post Pavilion in connection with the Columbia Festival of the Arts in Downtown Columbia, Maryland on Saturday, June 29, 2019. Soulful Symphony, which is based in Baltimore, celebrated its new residency at Merriweather Post Pavilion that night. (They will be performing at least three shows every year during Merriweather’s Summer Season.)
The Symphony is made up of 85 musicians and vocalists, predominately performers of African-American and Hispanic descent between the ages of 26 and 55. The group is led by the founder (2000), Darin Atwater. His original compositions will also be featured at many of the Merriweather performances as well as they were at Saturday’s concert.
The concert’s music, according to Atwater, is comparable to music you might hear at a jazz club or church venue. It features American pop, gospel music, soul, hip hop, jazz, bluegrass and more.
Atwater made his debut as a composer and pianist in 1995 with the National Symphony Orchestra. In 1997 along with Kathleen Battle and the NSO for the re-opening of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. He has performed at the White House. He has been a Guest Conductor with the Baltimore Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, Memphis Brass, and the Columbus Symphony. He often performs with Winton Marsalis at Lincoln Center. In 2017 he led the NSO in an Evening with Ledisi at Kennedy Center and made his conducting debut with the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra for the Centennial Celebration of Ballet Across America. He is presently the newly appointed Artistic Director of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission.
…it is the sound of this wonderful orchestra that left the most lasting impression.
The night started with an “Intro from ‘Paint Factory’ an original work by Atwater and was followed by a guitar solo of “The Star Spangled Banner” in the Jimi Hendrix style. (Hendrix actually played his version at Merriweather Post before he did Woodstock.) At that point, we all knew we were in for a special night. The guitarist, Jonathan Dubose, Jr. and he did several wonderful solos throughout the night at one point strumming with his mouth. The overhead screens allowed us to see his hands, and with those long fingers, his mastership of the instrument was preordained.
We then listened to great songs from Michael Jackson, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye and other famous songwriters and performers. The vocalists were wonderful. Lee Mo was one standout with her renditions of “Feeling Good,” “Pink,” “Sweet Love” and “I’m Every Woman.” The latter really rocked the house.
Not to be overlooked were solos by Juanita Contee Johnson “The Best” and “Ain’t Nobody” and with backup “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Her duo with Erykah Edmund “Optimistic” ended the concert.
Another amazing vocalist was Andrea Albert who sang “All the Man I Need” and another crowd favorite, “I Will Always Love You.”
Davon Fleming capably channeled Michael Jackson with “Can You Feel It” and later, Sam Cooke with “A Change is Gonna Come.” Micah Smith did the same with Marvin Gaye with his vocal of “What’s Going On.” Later he brought us “Love, Love, Love” and “A Song for You.”
Jeremy Lloyd crooned “Something Just Like This” and rocked us with “Superstition” and “Rock with You.”
We were fortunate to be serenaded with some more of Atwater’s “Paint Factory,” including “Dance Arabic,” “Pink” and “Brown.” Atwater sat at the piano and let Jonathan Ball conduct “It’s a Wonderful World” and later the conductor did a moving vocal solo of his own while playing his original piece “Blue.”
However, it is the sound of this wonderful orchestra that left the most lasting impression. The blend of violins, violas, cellos and basses with traditional brass and woodwinds complemented the trap set drums, saxophones and electronic keyboards. It made for an exciting night of rhythms and melodies both new and familiar.
Soulful Symphony had a fantastic start to their residency at Merriweather Post, and Howard Countians, especially those of us who reside in Columbia, could not be happier. Welcome!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with no intermission.
For information and tickets about Merriweather Post performances of Soulful Symphony and others go online. Soulful Symphony will be back on Sunday, July 28, 2019.