Last week, new documentary The Reverend made its theatrical debut at the IFC Theater in Manhattan. The film shines a light on Reverend Vince Anderson and his five-member band, The Love Choir.
And starting on August 3, community members can come together to celebrate the “Dirty Gospel” (self-defined by Reverend Vince himself) legend and his longstanding relationship with the North Brooklyn music scene when the film hits screens at Nitehawk Cinema (136 Metropolitan Ave).
Filmgoers will recognize many familiar faces and places as the documentary highlights the history of Reverend Vince and The Love Choir, which has maintained weekly residencies in Williamsburg for 25 years, including Pete’s Candy Store, the bar formerly known as Black Betty (which is now The Commodore), and, up until very recently and for the past 15 years, Union Pool.
Described as an activist with an unabashedly unapologetic, Woodstock-era swagger, Reverend Vince doesn’t just play his own flavor of gospel-rock jams, but also focuses on spreading progressive Christian ministry and creating inclusive communities by working with likeminded faith leaders, creating a perfect storm which attracted Canfield to telling his story in the first place (a conversation that started back in 2015).
“I was just a fan originally,” Canfield admitted. “I always thought his music was amazing, but what I grew to realize is that it’s a spiritual experience that’s going on at a bar at like 2 o’clock in the morning. People from all different walks of life, all different ages and all different ethnicities and all different religions, and atheists, too. Plus, you know, you can tell that Vince is just an interesting dude in his own right. I wanted to know what goes on behind the stage, you know?”
And despite Reverend Vince’s hesitation at first — having been, unsurprisingly, approached for plenty of other documentary films that didn’t pan out in the past — he ultimately grew to trust Canfield with telling the story (in part due to what the Reverend describes as Canfield’s “manic energy”), resulting in roughly five years of filming.
And a large part of that filming, and the Reverend’s story, centers around Williamsburg and Greenpoint’s music scene, where Vince gravitated after initially following his musical calling in the East Village (after first moving to NYC in the nineties to enter the seminary).
“To me, it’s still a thriving scene,” Reverend Vince remarked. “The fact that our stage on Monday night hosts people that are in the scene and come around after their gigs. And I think the band itself was kind of an imagination of a lot of the different tenants of the Williamsburg-Greenpoint music scene. We have our own unique sound, but certainly the players are coming from, you know, different parts of the scene, from TV on the Radio, to Paula being more of a punk rock saxophonist. I started in the East Village, but that never really felt like my scene. It didn’t live there, it was just where all the clubs were, you know? So once started things started moving here, I was really excited about it because it felt more like this is our scene.”
The documentary also features an original score by Reverend Vince and The Love Choir, with in-film appearances by Love Choir members Jaleel Bunton (guitar), “Moist” Paula Henderson (saxophone), Ryan Sawyer (drums), Dave “Smoota” Smith (trombone), and Daniel Fabricatore (bass), plus special guests like Questlove, minister Jay Bakker, son of evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, and multi-instrumentalist Kyp Malone.
“It was a unique experience. These band members are all in a bunch of other amazing bands. So I got to kind of hang out with the band for a few years and see what that’s like,” Canfield reflected. “In a way it’s like its own unique thing, they’re totally a super group. They don’t really rehearse, it’s this like unique residency where they just feel each other and they’ve been playing for years mostly, but there’s also people who sub in and out. It’s cool to see them sort of just vibe off each other and vibe off the audience.”
And vibe off the audience they do — following the recent fire at Union Pool, the band has moved their past two weekly shows to TV Eye in Ridgewood, and while it may not be in our own backyard, Reverend Vince has been encouraged by the number of people still willing to come by and watch them perform.
And in terms of what they want audiences to take away from the film, both Canfield and the Reverend agree that it’s the power of music to bring people together.
“I think there’s a lot of hopeful things about the importance of people being together in person and how we keep our community strong, and Vince does a lot of that kind of work. Vince is using [music] more than for just a good show —there’s a lot of activism and protest work and things that he does with his music,” Canfield said.
“For me, I would [want to show] that not all Christians are oppressive. I’m not trying to convert people to Christian, I would never put that on anybody. That’s not my thing at all, but maybe Christians and atheists and everybody can work together, and you know, see that there are Christians out there that aren’t just jerks,” Reverend Vince said. “And also then see the importance of community and singing together; I think those are things that the church used to be really good at. And then church lost its way somewhere along the line, and we don’t have many places in our society when we come together to sing anymore. And I think that, like I stated in the film, I think that’s one reason we got ourselves into the mess we’re in right now.”