Every Sunday, as many as 100 guests start lining up outside the Blue Rooster restaurant on downtown Sarasota’s Fourth Street, waiting their turn to enter and be seated.
For most, it’s not really the Southern comfort food buffet—complete with buttermilk biscuits, smothered collard greens, catfish fingers, fried chicken and grits—that’s drawing them. It’s the music of the Sunday gospel brunch.
White, black, young, old, locals and visitors alike, they’re all here to leave their cares behind for a couple of hours while enjoying Sarasota’s gospel band, Truality—a group that takes the Biblical admonition to “make a joyful noise” very much to heart. And audience members soon find themselves clapping, swaying with the perfect strangers at the next table as the spirit takes hold.
The Sunday gospel brunch originated with Blue Rooster owner Ellen Cornelius about three years ago. “My husband and I were traveling back in 1996 near Atlanta when we stopped at a town called Social Circle,” she recalls. “We attended a Sunday gospel brunch there and were totally inspired.” The idea remained in the back of her mind until it came to fruition with the opening of the Blue Rooster.
At first Cornelius struggled to find the right musical group to make the Blue Rooster’s brunch work, but with Truality, she says, “It’s the perfect fit.” The band performs at Blue Rooster most weekends, but also stays busy performing at weddings, churches, fund raisers and even sporting events. When Truality can’t make it, another group fills in.
On a recent Sunday, the ensemble (composed of founder and music director Dennis Clove on keyboards, Darrell Johnson on drums, and featuring the tight harmonies of sisters Shemeeka Murrell and Kimla Murrell, soprano and tenor, with alto Joycelyn Corbert) delivered their signature mix of original gospel songs, traditional numbers like “Oh Happy Day” and R&B hits like “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”
Throughout the show (or shows; sometimes there are enough attendees to warrant a second seating), the band’s commitment to their beliefs as well as their music shines through. “When the praises go up, the blessings come down” is how they put it.
For Cornelius, the event “transcends religions, whoever you might answer to of a higher calling. It’s a great way to start your week. And it’s unique in that it brings the races together; in Sarasota you don’t often see that.” At one recent show, she says, the guests “all got up and did a dance around the room, holding on to each other’s waists—African-Americans, whites, everybody.”
Cost: $24.95 for adults, $12 for 12 and under, free for those under 5. (941) 388-7539, blueroostersrq.com