ST. PETERSBURG It’s not uncommon for Jannus Live to pump high-energy music into the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, but the outdoor concert venue’s headliners on Sunday mornings will make sure that music is carrying a message.
Jannus Live hosted its first In the Spirit gospel brunch Sunday, featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet of southern staples like fried chicken and waffles, a sermon and a performance by a church gospel choir.
It was the culmination of nearly six months of planning, said Jannus Live partner Lou Mann. Organizers hope the gospel brunch, which will be held on the second and fourth Sunday of every month, will draw audiences of different races and ethnicities to the traditionally black community of gospel churches.
“I worked at the House of Blues for many years and was part of the team that started the gospel brunches, so we decided to bring that concept here,” Mann said. “There’s nobody downtown that does a gospel brunch, so people that don’t ordinarily go to church may be more comfortable coming here and having some fun.”
So far, the plan seems to be working, as people of every color filtered through the venue’s steel gates in search of good food and good music.
“Downtown really needed a gospel flavor on Sunday morning, and overall this is an opportunity for churches to reach out and expose different people to their message,” said Bethel Community Baptist Church Pastor Manuel Sykes, who delivered the sermon. “My message is really about bringing people together, tossing aside our barriers and opening ourselves up to our community. The gospel is universal. God is the father of all.”
About 300 to 400 people attended the service, where alcohol consumption is not frowned upon. After deducting the cost of food, all proceeds from the $21.95 brunch tickets go back to the churches’ music programs, Mann said.
A different community church will perform at 10 a.m. each time the brunch is held. This week’s performance was from the Bethel Community Baptist Church.
The roster is already full through July, Mann said. Those who don’t want to pay for food can come and enjoy the music after 11:30 a.m. for a small donation to the church, he said. Jannus Live will continue to host the brunch as long as churches are willing to perform.
It’s about time the community realized “we all are a family,” said longtime Bethel church member Debbie Daniels.
“No matter your race, color or creed, you get a good, wholesome feeling when you sit next to people maybe you wouldn’t normally and once you get that feeling, life really becomes wonderful,” she said.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster hugged and chatted with event goers, and said he hopes the event can bring about a revival downtown.
“Regardless of what you believe, the music is just incredible,” Foster said. “I think our community is really hungering for an event like this right now that can bring people together.”
For many who will be performing, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to sing and play on a professional stage.
As 10-year-old Endea Robinson joined in the growing crowd that danced, cried and clapped their hands to the music, she made sure to remember the reason why she was there. Church is all about accepting your neighbor for who they are, Robinson said.
“Without Jesus, this world would be in a real mess,” she said. “Everybody makes mistakes, but there’s always a chance to fix them.”