Israel Houghton At the Dell in Philadelphia: A Diamond Among the Rhinestones

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Okay, so I went to see Israel Houghton and New Breed, at the Dell in Philly, recently on a Thursday evening.  As I've said often,  I absolutely love this brother and his body of work, listen to him all the time; and his lyrics run through my mind on a constant basis, and encourages me when I'm faced with a challenge or a crisis - especially his signature song, "I Am A Friend of God".

Israel Hougton and New Breed
 So when I had the opportunity to cover his show, you know I jumped at the chance.  Like everywhere on the East Coast lately, had been raining cats and dogs all day in Philly, and looked very much as though the show might be cancelled.  However,  I kind of knew that God the Living Spirit Almighty would not let that happen to one of His favorite Troubadors.  And I was right.  Around 5:30, after a steady downpour all day long, the rain subsided, the clouds parted, and the sun came out - much like in Israel's song "It's Not Over."
So after having found my seat,  meeting some wonderful sorors (Delta Sigma Theta of course) on the way, I was prepared for an evening with Israel Houghton.  But apparently that was not to be.  Instead, I got an evening with everybody else but Israel Houghton for most of the evening; with Israel's usually full on show truncated to less than 25 minutes, at best.

It turns out that Israel was a part of a show called "Praise In The Park" that was sponsored by radio station 103.9 FM, who had a dynamic host who kept things moving at the beginning of the show. However, the overcrowded program deprived us of what could and should have been non-stop Israel Houghton!  People who came prepared to hear and sing along with Houghton and New Breed began to leave early, once they realized that he was not going to have the time to do his full repertoire. In fact, he never even had the opportunity to sing "I Am A Friend of God."

This is by no means a criticism of the Dell, by any stretch of the imagination. It's a wonderful venue, and has always been a favorite place for Mandrill when they performed in Philly, and a favorite of mine as well.  There isn't a bad seat in the house; the people and staff are congenial, the food is actually good (not many venues can brag on their concession stands); and it's easy to reach by various modes of transportation.  It's a part of the Fairmont Park system, much like Central Park  in NYC; and offers great quality entertainment throughout the Spring into Fall.  

I am, however, a criticizing those who put this show together.  I've seen Israel Houghton on other occasions when he is the only artist featured.  He really doesn't need anyone else (other than New Breed, of course) to inspire, entertain, and uplift.  So I have to admit that I'm spoiled.  But so were the other members of the audience that evening.  We wanted to sing the songs we had come to know and love.   I basically think that if you have a diamond, you don't crowd it out with rhinestones.  And Israel Houghton is a diamond.  And while it's laudable to want to give upcoming artists an opportunity, they should not be allowed to hog the bulk of the evening.  It was nearly 10:30pm when he finally appeared, less than half an hour before the show was set to end.  People who basically paid to see and hear Israel Houghton were clearly upset.

When he performed at the Brooklyn Tabernacle to a standing room only crowd, they had to open up 6 overflow rooms - twice - to allow for the crowd that showed up for him.  And the Dell, despite the rain, had a near capacity crowd as well.  Not only did they have four (4??) local groups perform before him (which by the way was no problem, they were quite good); but two other "artists," who cut so deeply into his time that he ended up doing medleys instead of the full versions of his songs.    And of course, Israel did not disappoint.  He tried to give as much as he possibly could in the relatively short time that remained,  But it caused him to cut out several of his signature songs, including "I Am A Friend of God," which everybody was waiting to sing with him. (did I say that already?  Oh well, that tells you the extent to which I was disappointed.)

So, at the risk of sounding petulant, I would really like to advise the Dell and other venues, when you book Israel Houghton, please be considerate of us, his loyal fans, and make it all Israel Houghton and New Breed,  FOR THE FULL SHOW; we'll love you for it.  Thank you (didn't mean to shout, just wanted to be clear).   His shows stand very well on their own.  He's a very gracious gentleman, and probably won't say a word, but we in the audience really came to see him.

That said, he did perform his new signature song, "It's Not Over," which is one of the most beautiful and inspirational pieces out there today, leaving us on an high note as we exited the venue - but many were commenting that the other artists should have come on last or not at all, rather than to have shortchanged Houghton and New Breed.

Thank goodness for Lakewood Church on Sundays.  Since Houghton  is the praise and worship leader for Joel Osteen, I do get to watch him on line - and those first 45 minutes - as well as Joel and Victoria Osteen's messages - are magical.   It's somewhat of a compensation.  Hopefully it won't be a year before he's on the East Coast again - I do try to catch his performances when he's within a 200 mile radius of where I am.  I think it's worth it. 

Stay Blessed &
Gloria Dulan-Wilson

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