Next weekend at St. Paul’s Church, one of the finest chorale groups in the country will perform a selection of spirituals and hymns during the 4th annual Westobou Festival, said Keith Shafer, the director of music at the downtown Episcopal church.
“It’s what Westobou is all about. They’re bringing some groups to Augusta that wouldn’t normally make it here,” Shafer said.
The New England Spiritual Ensemble performs at the church Oct. 2. It’s one of several events hosted at local churches during the 10 days of the Westobou Festival.
The city’s celebration of the arts features dance, music, theatre, film and visual arts starting Thursday through Oct. 8.
“Faith is a huge part of Augusta. We wanted a festival that incorporates the roots and history of Augusta, Ga. We’re bluesy. We’re jazzy. We’re artistic and we’re spiritual,” said Molly McDowell, the festival’s curator and art director.
More than 50 performances showcasing local, regional and national talent are included in this year’s festival.
The New England Spiritual Ensemble is one of those national acts, Shafer said.
“They’re impressive. They don’t even need microphones,” he said.
The group sings spirituals, not gospel, which is an important distinction to make, Shafer said.
“Spirituals are some of the most native of all American musical forms,” he said. “This is not gospel, but spirituals, many of them sung in their original form.”
The festival includes an annual organ and chamber series, which features local talent in three chamber performances and four organ performances over four days.
“It’s a big part of the festival,” McDowell said. “The organ and chamber events are so well attended. They have a loyal following.”
Other events, though not held in churches, address issues of faith. An art exhibit and live performance at Paine College are based on the epic poem I Waltzed With God The Morning Of Genesis. The stage production includes music, dance, spoken word, art and fashion, while the exhibit, open Oct. 2 through Nov. 2, features the work of Augusta artist Nancy Wellington Bookhart.
“It’s a diverse group of events,” McDowell said. “We can’t wait to see what people will think of them.”