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Seeking an experienced live band? The Blind Boys of Alabama boast 60+ years of show-stopping soul.

Wednesday, Sep 24 2003
Clarence Fountain and his gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama must have a good chuckle when they hear people cite a band like the Rolling Stones as an example of "longevity" or "durability." After all, Mick Jagger may be old, but he's not this old, probably not even this soulful. Observe: As the Stones played their first gig in 1962, the Blind Boys marked the first quarter-century in their prolific career as black gospel's premiere small ensemble. Like the Stones, the Blind Boys were in school when they formed in 1939, but their alma mater wasn't anything like Jagger's London School of Economics. The Boys started out as the Happy Land Jubilee Singers at the Alabama Institute for the Blind and Deaf, a place they've described as prisonlike.

The Stones listened to hard-working American blues artists and made money covering their tunes. The Blind Boys persevered as former gospel singers Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin made fortunes in secular music, and listened as Bobby "Blue" Bland and Marvin Gaye imitated their hard-driving gospel sounds. Eventually the Boys would upend American black music's gospel-to-secular route by folding spiritual tunes by secular artists - like the Stones' "Just Wanna See His Face" - into their hearty repertoire.

Unlike the Stones, the Blind Boys have survived both multiple tours of the black church circuit in the early-20th-century Jim Crow South and numerous record company rip-offs. Also unlike the Stones, the Boys have starred in a hit Broadway show, The Gospel at Colonus; shared a benefit bill in San Francisco with Green Day; and earned Grammys two years in a row. Those awards were for two albums on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, 2001's Spirit of the Century and last year's Higher Ground, on which the Boys applied their goose bump-inducing falsettos and heavy-duty harmonies to both traditional gospel tunes and takes on Tom Waits' "Jesus Gonna Be Here," Ben Harper's "Give a Man a Home," and Prince's "The Cross." As for durability, the Stones' European summer tour ends this month. The Boys, however, played throughout the summer, and are booked solidly across the United States through April.

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Ron Nachmann


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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
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    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
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    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
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    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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