INDIO, Calif. – A few years ago, I stopped going to church. The reasons why are for another story. But on Sunday, I gathered with about 10,000 people around a grassy knoll in the middle of Coachella to attend an Easter Sunday Service by Kanye West.
A bright California sun beat down on the crowd – some in Kanye shirts, no flower crowns in sight. Doors opened at 6 a.m. for festivalgoers who wanted to be in the front row to see Yeezus make history with the festival’s first major event in the campground.
About 10 minutes past 9 a.m., Kanye was nowhere to be found but an orchestra in a round atop the grassy “mountain” began playing smooth jazz, a saxophone wailing. When they started riffing off “Outstanding” by The Gap Band, it felt like an invitation. “It makes me want to shout.”
‘Jesus Walks’ at Coachella: Kanye West’s historic Sunday Service on Easter
Kanye West takes the Coachella crowd to church on Easter Sunday. (Photo: Rich Fury, Getty Images for Coachella)
Eventually, Kanye made his way through hundreds of VIPs – including his wife, Kim Kardashian West and her family – and onto the stage. He appeared briefly atop a pedestal in the center, which, from aerial views on the livestream, appeared to be a giant eye looking up to the heavens.
The choir continued to sing with their backs to the crowd, the orchestra also turned in. From a performance standpoint, it felt disconnected – the way they sheltered Kanye, Chance the Rapper, Teyana Taylor, Ty Dolla $ign, DMX and Kid Cudi throughout the morning. For a recovering church kid, it felt like a relief.
There was no pressure to raise hands, to speak in tongues – though the choir director implored us “turn the volume up on that praise.” The spiritual gift was referenced in one song. While others in the crowd swayed with their arms in the air, I simply smiled when the choir remixed hymns celebrating the resurrection of Jesus with contemporary refrains, like “Back to Life” by Soul II Soul. “Back to reality…”
The smell of marijuana drifted through the air by the time the choir finally turned around to all of us in the crowd, proclaiming “He’s alive!” over and over again. Their heavenly harmonies and praise dancing paired with Taylor’s soulful “Never Would Have Made It,” made for a contagious kind of anointing.
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Kanye West made only the briefest appearance at the start of his Easter Sunday Service at Coachella. But two hours later, he was all in. (Photo: Rich Fury, Getty Images for Coachella)
By that point, I wondered if we’d get any more than the 30 seconds of Kanye offered when he first stepped on stage. But I didn’t wonder long. Two hours into the set, he started to launch into “All Falls Down,” but had to rap his lyric “She’s so self-conscious”three times due to microphone issues. Even in the midst of miracle, we’re all human.
Of course, Kanye descended down his mountain for “Jesus Walks,” parading around the circular stage with choir in tow. “The only thing that I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now.” Clad in an identical purple outfit, with purple-and-black dappled hair, he then sang a new song “Water,” before handing it back over to the choir.
Kanye West's Easter Sunday Service performance could be heard and seen from outside the Coachella festival grounds. (Photo: Thomas Hawthorne)
DMX preached, Chance rapped (“I’m tryna keep my faith/But I’m looking for more/Somewhere I can feel safe”) and Cudi made a last-minute appearance. But all of that was ultimately obscured – literally, by the orchestra – but also by the bravado of the choral ensemble.
They returned to many of the worship songs they’d sung in the beginning, again repeating that phrase “He’s alive!” with even more gusto. Then even they left the stage, so it was just the instruments – smooth jazz mixing with the smoke on the polo fields.
No condemnation, simply celebration, of a truth we can all partake in. Because in the end, it wasn’t about Kanye. It was about the miracle of being alive.
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