The best word to describe the evening of Monday, November 7 is probably “blessed”, or better yet, “blessing”. Audiences generally walk out of an auditorium either disappointed or so pleased they don’t want to leave, but if nobody asked for an encore once Bob Fitts left the stage that night, it wasn’t disappointment in the experience. Most responses were “awesome” or “amazing” and the less hyper-enthusiastic ones were “good” and “nice”, not with that look of “I can’t really say anything rude can I?” but of wide-eyed radiance.
Bob Fitts claims a musical career of over four decades, and a repertoire that has been made popular through performances around the world from the United States to the Middle East and Asia. He is nearly a senior citizen, but the energy Fitts demonstrates in front of the congregation, jumping up and down, strumming his guitar and singing, you’d think he is still just a teenager rocking his ego. Unlike most musicians and artists though, who thrive on as well as give life to their audience by calling attention to themselves, Bob continuously leads the gathering to focus on the meaning of the music. The simplicity of his approach to what he does is further testified to in the lack of a fancy entourage, despite his status as a well-known and popularly emulated musician. Accompanying him on stage were just his wife and a backup band made up of amateur musicians from different parts of Colombo and the suburbs.
The two and a half hour programme featured a good repertoire of over twenty songs ranging from gentle, meaningful classics like ‘Blessed Assurance’ by Fanny Crosby to exuberant contemporary numbers such as Hillsong’s ‘Mighty to Save’. There were the poignant moments of prayerful meditation and the light funny ones too. “I never thought there’d be a worship song with the word intoxicated in it” he laughed, “but here it is!” launching into ‘You Are Worthy’. ‘Glory, Glory Lord’ he sang in English, Spanish, Hawaiian, Sinhala, Tamil and even “Ostraailian”! Although the repertoire didn’t call for display of a wide vocal range, the fluidity of Bob Fitts’ delivery was unmistakable, as was its gentleness and sensitivity. Added to the child-like smile that continuously adorns his face, it steadily becomes impossible not to be infected with his optimism and joy.
The freeness of his performance was more obvious in contrast with the relatively tensed nature of the CHRAFT choir that took the stage before Fitts. For a group of amateurs though, the choir boasted good strength and roundness of sound as well as a number of very good voices that stood out in the solos and full upper notes. A particularly enjoyable arrangement of ‘He is the Rock’ set the group more at ease, and one wished they focused more during the other numbers as well, on conveying the meaning of what they sang and enjoying themselves than putting up a grand performance.
Singing heartily along with Fitts and the choir was a 5000 strong congregation from different backgrounds, packed in the main auditorium at Calvary Church, Kirulapone. It was a rare and unique event that brought together people from a multitude of racial, ethnic, economic and linguistic backgrounds together with one heart and mind. “Say to those who are broken-hearted / Do not lose your faith... He will come and save you!” they all sang, hands held across the theatre and raised to the sky, echoing Bishop of Colombo Rev. Cangasabey’s prayer for our people as “one nation” to “receive healing”. It was an unexpected and meaningful moment, and true to Bob Fitts’ words, the evening was “more than just a concert”. If you missed it, what you missed was so much more than a musical show, what you missed was time to come together in all the diversity our society has to boast and take away a likeminded unity in hope.