Kanye West brings song, sermon, prayer — and a crowd of thousands — to Salt Lake City’s Gateway for ‘Sunday Service’

(Clark Clifford | Special to The Salt Lake Tribune) Spectators reach for a better photo of Kanye West's Sunday Service at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

People perched on light poles and street signs. They scaled buildings. And some, Zacchaeus-like, settled into trees for the chance to catch a glimpse of Kanye West and his “Sunday Service.”

Of course, it was Saturday, but nobody seemed to mind that technicality, as thousands packed nearly every viable nook and cranny of The Gateway for the part-performance, part-church service.

The promised spectacle — happening at nearly the same time and place as the March to End Child Abuse and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ General Conference — prompted a Kanye-centric plea from Mayor Jackie Biskupski the night before.

@RideUTA will take your money and get you where you’re going when you’re in need," she tweeted, an allusion to West’s 2005 single “Gold Digger.”

But this Saturday service had more in common with the other gathering of religious faithful happening blocks away than it did the rapper’s 2005 “Late Registration."


It was no General Conference, but it was certainly spiritual, with a gospel choir singing hymns and variations of pop songs getting more microphone time than West, who performed for only a few minutes, and a short sermon from Los Angeles-based pastor Tyson Adams.

Dressed in a cream-colored sweater and tan pants, in contrast with the reddish sweaters of the choral members, West took the stage late in the service. He performed one song, a popular one: “Jesus Walks," from his 2004 album “The College Dropout.”

Afterward, he spoke his mind. And prayed.

“Christ Jesus, Lord Jesus, our Savior, thank you for bringing us this far. We know we don’t need to worry, but sometimes we’re weak," the rap star said. “The flesh is weak.”

He testified about his religious journey, saying he once tried serving more gods than the God. He tried the god of ego, the god of pride, the god of money, the god of fame.

“When I was trying to serve multiple gods, it drove me crazy,” he said, so he doesn’t do that anymore.

West then switched tangents to social media, which he said makes you think slower.

Social media is trying to control you, he said, as nearly every spectator with a sightline to him held up their phone to record.

Instead of focusing on which NBA or NFL player did this or that, or what Jay-Z is doing, he urged, be concerned about the mass incarceration of black people.

West preached that it was the Republican Party that freed the slaves, which elicited jeers and cheers from the audience.

He pressed on, noting he’s received flak for his support of President Donald Trump, and that he’s tired of people saying he can’t support Trump because he’s black.

“I ain’t never made a decision only based off my color,” he said. "That’s a form of slavery, mental slavery.”

And then, after telling people to give their worries to God, he ended the prayer.

Some people came Saturday ready to party, but the performance wasn’t raucous. It was barely loud, especially for those watching from farther away than the ground-level stage, a circular concrete slab that, on another, warmer weekend, would have been a splash pad for children to play.

“It seemed like there was definitely a divide between people who knew what it was and were aware that it was Sunday Service," Salt Lake City resident Katie Clifford said, “and people who thought they were at a concert.”

It didn’t affect her experience, she said, but the dichotomy was noticeable.

At some points in the performance, Clifford said she felt moved to tears — like when the choir sang a scripture that means a lot to her: “Be still and know that I am God,” from Psalm 46:10.

About an hour and a half into the show, as some of the crowd began to wane, Frances Lozano was draped over a railing above, but not necessarily near, the stage with two others. She hadn’t seen West when she went down to ground level. She didn’t have any more luck from this higher vantage point.

But she arrived around 12:30 p.m. — after the service’s start time — and didn’t expect much, just the opportunity to see West. She thought most others who came Saturday had similar motives.

Lozano said she didn’t regret the venture. How often does a star like Kanye West come to Salt Lake City? Much less, perform for free.

Plus, she did get something out of it.

“Even coming out just for the service," she said, “I feel like it’s a different feeling in the air.”

Not exactly like church but something like it.