On The Ground At Kanye’s Sunday Service

I attended Kanye West’s Easter Sunday Service and I think it was a Big Deal.

Kanye tried to give people a religious experience.  Too bad everyone showed up expecting a Kanye concert.

To be honest,  I didn’t believe Kanye was coming to Coachella.  He wasn’t on the lineup.  The Internet had confirmed Kanye’s participation, but this is Kanye West we’re talking about.  Rumors abounded: the producers couldn’t accommodate his stage, so he had to perform outside the festival; he wanted to headline, but the producers wouldn’t pay him enough; some people thought he wasn’t even going to show up.  By the time Sunday rolled around, Kanye’s Saturday morning sound check burst the eardrums of anyone camping and he’d spotted rapping at Kid Cudi’s show.  A Very Yeezy Easter seemed likely.

The pearly gates opened at 9, in a mild desert heat the temperature of a pleasant summer’s day.  The previous night’s windstorm had made the ground ready for fresh footprints.  Booths offered pretentious food and merch, but I saw none of these.  The crowd gathered around a grassy mount, and the cause for yesterday’s deafening sound check became clear:  speakers surrounded the “stage”, casting sound in every direction.

The music began slowly at first, like an enterlude for the gathering crowd.  Worship music built to a crescendo of Kanye songs.  I didn’t even realize Kanye was up there until he started rapping “Jesus Walks”.  Among hymns and covers, he performed:

“Ultralight Beam”
“Ultralight Prayer”
“Jesus Walks”
“Father Stretch My Hands”
“Everything We Need” (unreleased)
“Water” (unreleased)

Bet you didn’t know all of Kanye’s songs were about God.

His singers and dancers, clad in flowy Earth- toned robes, brought the hype.  Last time Kanye played Coachella he famously ‘fessed up to his bad singing; this time, he brought a small cult of extremely talented singers.  Most were black, but a few were brown or white.  I found this inclusion important.  They also wore dyed lavender robes, possibly symbolic of #WearPurple to signify unity.

If you were there, you may have seen me.  I was wearing a gigantic silk button- down and dancing barefoot in the dirt.  I channeled the singers and dancers, who clearly wanted us to feel their energy.  At first I feared looking like That Crazy White Woman Who Looks Possessed By The Holy Spirit.  About an hour through the service, though,  I embraced acting like That Crazy White Woman Who Looks Possessed By The Holy Spirit.  The music blared loud enough to sing without being heard and the void created by disappearing semi-fans created enough space to flail.

I took no drugs.  I cried a few times.  And I definitely stuck out.  Most people stood, swayed, checked their phones and/or walked off.

And then, like the lyric “I feel it fade”, the music faded out.  The crowd dispersed into the frenetic dust of Regular Coachella.

I felt stunned.  It’s getting harder and harder and harder to defend Kanye West’s erratic behavior.  Yet every time I think about ditching Camp Kanye, he does something like this.  He creates something incredible, if poorly received, and you realize why he calls himself Yeezus.

He’s no Jesus.  But Kanye feels in touch with the Holy Spirit, or at least his version of it.  He feels like he serves a higher power.  If you let it, his Sunday Service brought something divine- way more divine than a mere rap show.  However, as with most of the weekend, I felt somewhat alone in my reverence.  People walked out of the show at a pretty constant rate. One time Chance the Rapper told us to turn to our neighbor and tell them we loved them.  Not many strangers did that.  I think many people did have a moving experience, but most came just to be there.

Friday night,  Childish Gambino admitted he felt down after the last weekend’s show.  He said something like “I feel like I didn’t connect with the audience” and implored the crowd to put their phones away.

Most people aren’t coming to Coachella for the music.  So why are they coming?  DrugsInstagramSTI’sTo experience a cultural moment? What does the reception of Kanye’s Sunday service say about us?  Most people left as soon as they figured out Kanye was actually channeling church.  Would people rather worship a rap star?

I can’t speak for anyone else.  I came for the music.  And I appreciated artists like Kanye West and Childish Gambino, who tried to give the audience an experience and an opportunity to connect to something greater.

I feel lifted, yes.


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