On the past, present, and future tenses (I of II)

I was 17 the first time I attended the National Quartet Convention. The group I was playing for had just done its first date or two after spending a year in rehearsal and a lot of time in the studio. Though I had played hymns and old-school SBC church music all my life, sg was still more new than not. My minister-father instinctively distrusted what he perceived to be fast-talking, palm-greasing womanizers (or worse) that passed themselves off as “singing ministries” and whose primary effect, my father believed, was to cast the pastor in the role of traffic cop at an altar-call artificially inflated by lachrymose lyrics, secular rhythms, and finely polished testimonials road-tested by assembly-line schedules. All of which meant I was enthralled as if by fire for the first time when the guys in the group starting loaning me old albums: Masters V, the Statesmen, the Blackwoods, Blue Ridge, the LeFevres, the Kingsmen, the Stamps, the Goodmans and on and on until I was glutted with my vinyl epiphany. So when we arrived in Louisville that year, I was the first one in the Expo Hall. Pushing past a coupla old folks with mile-high ice cream cones and a small battalion of Pentecostal women idling by, I walked up to the first doorway I could find that led to the auditorium. And that moment for me remains frozen: the general din of activity behind me bathed in that tawdry, dumpy, oozing yellow light of the hallway; the great performance platform gently rotating in front of me, just barely visible from where I stood, standing in stark relief against the seemingly pitch black arena around and drenched in sharp, crisp spotlights. The performers seemed to float as if suspended by god’s very hand. And the sound … the glorious sound. I don’t recall who it was; probably the Workmen or some such group that gets an early Friday night spot for bringing umpteen busloads of ticket-buying WMUs and Gideons from the Simi Valley to northern Kentucky. What I remember was the inimitable sound of four harmonizing voices massively amplified in a 40,000-seat auditorium. From where I stood, it was transcendence itself come down and run all over me. And I still get that giddy feeling each time I pack up and head south for the NQC.

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