Paint and switch

Watch a video of David Garibaldi’s Rhythm and Hue performance at

I first met David Garibaldi three years ago when I interviewed him for SN&R’s 15 Minutes. Though just 21 at the time, he immediately impressed me with his artistic commitment and positive energy. Back then, Garibaldi regularly appeared at the Empire Events Center, painting six-foot portraits of famous musicians in less than six minutes while dancing to a medley of their hits—a show he calls Rhythm and Hue. Today, he performs at parties worldwide and sells those portraits for upward of $5,000. Garibaldi truly is one of Sacramento’s great talents, so when I heard he was headlining a concert at the Crest Theatre, I made it a point to be there.

On the posters for last Thursday’s show, Real Life: Identify You, Garibaldi is quoted as saying he wants to inspire his generation to live a life of purpose and passion. The hundreds of young people in attendance proved he can at least inspire his generation to pay a $20 admission. The fast-paced production featured two hip-hop troupes, Press P.L.A.Y. and Boogie Monstarz; spoken-word artist Olivia Hansen; rap trio Lockdown, indie rockers RX66; and motivational speaker Tony Cunningham, senior pastor at Radiant Life Church. Each addressed the theme of passion and committing one’s life to a greater cause. There was much invoking of Martin Luther King Jr.

Though the show occasionally veered into the vaguely positive hyperbole of high school assemblies, it definitely energized. The music was loud, the moves were fierce and the anticipation for Garibaldi’s appearance ran high.

And there he was, bounding through the aisles to a standing ovation, spotlight bouncing off his metallic gold T-shirt logo. Garibaldi danced up to a black canvas and executed a vibrant portrait of Jay-Z to the catchy rhythms of “Show Me What You Got,” stopping periodically to get us waving our hands in the air. After slapping his trademark white palm print in the upper left corner, he grabbed a microphone.

Winded and paint-spattered, Garibaldi paced the stage and spoke about his beginnings as a semi-delinquent graffiti artist, his decision to commit to his dreams, and the long nights he sat in clubs painting and just trying to make a reputation. Eventually, he told us, his hard work paid off. He was making a living. But something was missing.

He painted another portrait—this time of Bono—as the crowd cheered. I’d pretty much guessed the missing thing was Jesus, so I wasn’t surprised when Garibaldi next told us how he found God at a church play and how his faith propelled his career to new heights. The crowd whooped and hollered what sounded like acceptance of the big J.C. as a personal savior.

I’m not Christian, but, as the Doobie Brothers so cheesily put it, “Jesus is just all right with me.” I’ve found some helpful lessons in the story of Christ’s life, but when it comes to true believers of any faith, I prefer a certain humbleness. As Maya Angelou says, “I’m always amazed when someone says, ‘I’m a Christian!’ I think, ‘Already?’”

For me, spiritual understanding is a lifelong endeavor. I bristle when others pretend to know something as intimate as the ultimate fate of my soul, and declare it a lost cause in need of saving, which is exactly what happened at this show. At the climax, Cunningham reappeared and urged us all to follow Garibaldi in accepting Christ’s invitation, to ask Jesus’ forgiveness for our sins, invite him into our hearts and thus secure eternal life.

The pastor led the audience in a prayer for salvation. Feeling deeply uncomfortable, but hoping to salvage what previously had been a fun evening, I joined in the asking for Jesus’ love. Then Cunningham uttered the line, “Thank you for dying on the cross in my place,” and I choked. I couldn’t say those words with feeling and I felt angry at being put in such a position. Motivation is one thing. A conversion ambush is quite another. If Garibaldi and all the talented performers at that night’s show hope to reach a global audience with their gifts, they’ll have to learn the difference.