NQC coverage 2004

NQC COVERAGE 2004: “[He] attend[ed] NQC with a notebook, pen, stopwatch, binoculars, and a pitchpipe.”
-Anonymous poster at DBM’s musicscribe blog

NQC ‘04: Personal note
A huge shout-out to my NQC pal (MNP to most of you). She kept me on time, honest and on the ball with the musical stuff and contributed great bits to the nightly commentary (this is mostly because she has the sharpest all-around musical mind of anyone I know). The banter usually went something like this:

ME: Wow, the Hoppers just had a really awful set [on Friday night].
MNP: [Withering look] That was NOT a set.
ME: [furiously scribbling in notebook]

Plus, she has this little handbag that, I swear, is like the widow’s barrel in that biblical parable … there’s no end to the depths of this thing. Water bottles (magically chilled at all times), Tylenol, my notebook, extra pens (I loose them pretty regularly), snacks, handwipes … you name it. Seriously, everybody should be lucky enough to travel (in a YACHT, no less) with someone as accommodating, fun and funny as MNP. September 20, 2004 10:14 AM [comments]

NQC ‘04: Final wrap-up
Still recovering from an exhausting but exhilarating three days and nights (I don’t know how people do five days and nights of the convention without their heads exploding), but I wanted to follow up on a few final points.

McCray Dove: Over at the message boards, someone wrote that “I’ve listened to every night of NQC so far and I’ve come to a conclusion. The Dove Brothers are the best group in SGM right now. WOW.” This was on Friday, so I assume the poster hadn’t yet heard the Dove Brothers’ Friday night set, which was, perhaps predictably, messier and less careful than their Thursday night appearance. Or maybe someone inclined to this opinion would have only found Friday night a reinforcement of that best-in-sg judgment. At any rate, McCray Dove can be a funny, funny man at moments on stage, deadpanning with his brother, Eric, or working himself up over some mock indignation or pretended affront from the crowd’s delighted response to DBQ’s new bass singer. And the group is capable of some pretty sweet sounds now and then, as they ably demonstrated Thursday night, which did not feature any of the familiar circus antics reserved for Friday-night’s familiar performances of “Get Away Jordan” and “Didn’t It Rain” (asked to rate McCray’s fern hop, I’d give it a 7 or so, unless he actually did manage to thwack the crash cymbal in mid-air, in which case he’d get an 8 if he hit it with his hand and a 9 if he managed a flying drop kick … 10s are reserved for full leaps off the stage). I continue to remain skeptical that a sustainable career-long niche can be tilled and tended from a 50-year-old songbook and a penchant for wildman sideshows, but maybe that’s the wrong standard by which to judge the Dove Brothers. Maybe McCray Dove knows that as long as he’s staking so much of his success on flash-in-the-pan techniques and faddish nostalgia, he’ll have to keep re-inventing his group ever five or so years. If so, good luck with that. No matter, it’s a gutsy thing to do to take the stage with virtually no original material night after night and still manage to get people on their feet, as the Doves did both Thursday and Friday at NQC (and DBQ was a regular topic of bathroom-discussion Friday night, at least where I was waiting) … gutsy, and pretty risky, for the reasons I’ve suggested. If it pays off, I’ll have crow to eat, I guess. But I’m not sure how long a man creeping up on middle age can keep going at the furious, exhausting, coronary pace that the Dove Brothers’ way of rousing a crowd requires from McCray Dove. Maybe the Dove Brothers should start carrying one of those portable defibrillators around with them?

NQC politics: The message boards have finally started hashing out Claude Hopper’s “political speech” at NQC. Some interesting suggestions emerge from the discussion: most interestingly, that Claude’s speech - and especially the part about Gaither’s absence - was so much nest-feathering on his part, since he has a decent stake in the success of the Gaither enterprise, what with his family appearing so regularly on Gaither’s videos. By this theory, all the other stuff, about the lights and Integrity and the move to Nashville, was a way to pre-emptively position himself on the fans’ side in a battle that he sees coming within the NQC board and that he thinks he has a good chance of losing (but, of course, doesn’t want to). I think there’s some truth in there, probably, though perhaps only some. I’m not sure why Claude would really care one way or another about the move, in which case folks are over-reading his remarks on that score, or else he’s an even more mercenary tactician than anyone thought and is aligning himself with the direction he thinks the wind of fan opinion is blowing on the issue of the move. If it works, this gets Hopper a lot more leverage with the board on issues that really do matter to him … like Gaither (I’m still uncertain what went on with the Gaither unvitation this year; I first thought it impossible that even the extraordinarily hubristic NQC board would refuse to invite Gaither, but the fact that Hopper brought it up does suggest there was an element of board action at the root of the issue; otherwise, why bring it up and suggest a reversal is possible if Gaither himself was the one to refuse to come?). Anyway, if I had to bet on it, I’d say the move to Nashville is a done deal or just about done. The board met with the governor of Tennessee and the mayor of Nashville earlier this year (and does it matter that Claude Hopper is NOT in the picture, literally?), and the Singing News has been dropping big hints left and right about a potential move. For events the size of NQC, two or three years’ lead time for planning is not much, so even if we don’t hear about it until, say, the fall of 2006 before a 2007 move, the deal will have to be done (or not) soon, if it hasn’t been inked already. My suspicion is that the deal is about to be finalized one way or another in the near future and that some upcoming deadline for a decision was the main impetus behind Hopper’s awkward speech (I don’t know when else he would have done it, but it seemed particularly unwise to plop it right down in the middle of the Hopper’s set and ask the producers not to dock his time on stage for it, which made Hopper look a touch petty - the producers docked his time anyway). By lumping sundry issues large and small (the lights, Gaither, Integrity, the move) into one big grab-bag of controversy, Hopper smartly masked which issue was the real motivator for him. You’d be justified to say I was manufacturing a pretty elaborate tale of political jockeying from this short speech (Hopper trying to outflank the board on the Gaither issue by getting to the board’s right on the issue of the move). But it’s helpful to remember that this is big business and high-stakes stuff for the NQC board and contrary to what they’d like to suggest, it’s impossible that everything is sunshine and roses among the bunch of them. And it’s also useful to recall that, by some estimates I’ve heard, NQC full board members may make as much as $75,000 a year apiece (or more) on any given convention. So it’s not that far-fetched to think that Claude Hopper, who may or may not be “one of the nation’s most influential businessmen,” would go to some pretty far lengths to win.

Finally, the lighter side: forget the bright lights shining in fans’ faces at NQC. They were annoying, but at least they occasionally also kept us from having to watch Buck Morton, the weekend emcee, act so arrogant and foolish. Too bad the bright lights didn’t also induce temporary deafness that lasted as long as whenever Morton was talking. Honestly. Someone needs to tell “Dr. Buck” that when a performer like Karen Peck is working the last few crucial minutes of her set and is right in the middle of getting a crowd on its feet and happens to look in your direction, this is NOT a cue for you, Dr. Buck, to get up on stage with that performer, stick your face in her microphone, and start singing with her. Furthermore, no one wants to hear ancient history about Jerusalem, at lesat not in this setting. Instead of spending so much time working up and delivering his Jerusalem lecture, perhaps Dr. Buck could have spent that time finding something else to say about EVERY group other than that “it doesn’t get any better than this next group right here.” Oh really? How can that possibly be? At best, that proposition is only true part of the time. At worst, it’s fatuous blather from someone who should stick to chapel services in the east wing on Thursday mornings. Can anyone say “Brian Lester”? September 20, 2004 10:05 AM [comments]

NQC ‘04: Saturday night round up
Tonight was The Gerald Wolfe Show: in addition to Greater Vision’s impeccable and rousing set, Wolfe was everywhere tonight … sitting next to Justin Ellis calling chords for him so the Dixie Melody Boys could have a live band for their rewarding rendition of “Somebody Touched Me” (and it’s amazing that Wolfe can still do this, since it’s been at least 20 years since he played the song with the Cats), magically appearing on stage to help Roger Talley fill some time created by the abysmal sound glitches that marred tonight’s performances, popping up, on a lark, to play some licks for the Kingdom Heirs (just for fun) on KH’s finale appearance … in case you missed it the first time, Wolfe is the finest performer of his generation and NQC ‘04 repeatedly and ably showcased why.

The Big Stuff

  • GV: The trio sang uninterrupted for three songs, slowly, deliberately building the set’s intensity between “Why Did he Go,” in which they took their time and let the crowd settle down, through “Do You Know How Much More,” from their new project, into “He’d still been God,” by which time the crowd is on their feet and is GV’s for the picking. And what a harvest time it was. Wolfe ends with a jaw-dropping delivery of “Oh Holy Night,” which, by using the second verse as his launching ground, he transforms from Christmas Standard to Anthem of Spiritual Liberation. When he ends song on an A-flat (and A FLAT! … from a baritone), the place comes undone … roaring with approval and delight … Wolfe stands there for a beat or two … takes a few steps toward the stairs, stops, humbled, and the hall explodes again … the only time I’ve heard the audience this week keep a performer or group on stage this long for an uninterrupted ovation … I wouldn’t believe anyone who told me from the sound of that last “Holy Night” note that it was an A-flat; it sounds much lower because Wolfe’s voice is so robust that an A-flat sounds like most singers’ strong Fs. But I asked and it was and Gerald Wolfe was on fire.
  • L5: Another strong set that represented a huge shift from the Gold City stand that came before L5. In contrast to GC’s in-your-face raucousness, L5 brought a smooth, full, enriched sound to the stage and sustained it. The set’s impact was mortgaged heavily to Roger Bennett’s personal narrative, which - in a nutshell - is that the cancer is back and he’s got to have more chemotherapy and bone marrow injections. We all must surely plead to the heavens for Bennett’s grace and humor should we ever face such harrowing darkness, and though MNP and I both felt like Roger seemed to be preparing for that final dark night in his remarks, Bennett pivoted that darkness into a testament of light and hope and the promise of divine renewal in the depths of mortal despair. “Whisper in the Night,” from the new Monuments project worked only and fully because of Bennett’s stagecraft and powerful story of faith in the face of fearful reversals and failed recoveries.
  • SSQ: Ernie Haase began SSQ’s set with a generous gesture of reaching out to L5, inviting them to sing “Oh, What a Savior” with him while Roger played. Haase was clearly trying to evoke the golden aura of the Cats in the most honest and sincere way possible, but it was an awkward gesture, not only because he essentially called L5 back on stage to back HIM up on a solo that rode the waves of Bennett’s emotional testimonial. What’s more, Haase sang the song with flat unremarkability. The move was smart and heartfelt, but not entirely successful, I didn’t think. The rest of SSQ’s set was energetic and fast moving but not nearly up to the hype I’ve heard and the expectations that seemed to be circulating about them recently. The vocals were swampy and muddled by the over amped tracks (a consistent NQC problem this year), and only middle-class white boys would think the moves SSQ does on stage are dancing. Still, “This Could be the Dawning” brought out a huge sound in the group, thanks mostly to the lead and baritone (and, surreptitiously, Wesley Pritchard) all stacked very tightly beneath Haase to shore up his rather insubstantial tenor tones. I realize that’s probably heresy to most folks, but Haase’s voice sounds to me like the weakest link is this group. They’re hot right now, and may very well get hotter, but they need to put as much work into the fundamentals as they have their style, look, and buzz-maker.
  • Karen Peck and New River: it was amateur night this evening before KP&NR took the stage. The artists’ circle filled up for their set and to listen to them is to know why: KP’s voice and the ensemble work NR puts out are works of absolute grace. Karen Peck is capable of these easy little flights of fancy and vocal beauty, turning a song like “Thank God I am Free” into a vessel of light and mercy. And in a short medley of God songs (”God Still answers Prayer” and “God Likes to Work”), MNP turned to me and said “KP is not afraid to keep the mike right in front of her face and on top of the tone,” a true sign of vocal confidence and maturity. The set ended with “When He’s Four Days Late” and “Look What God is Doin’” - a virtual KP&NR clinic on sg mastery.
  • The Sound: Fire the sound men, or whoever wired the place. Honestly. At times tonight, the whole sound system completely cut out and shut down, hissing and buzzing and generally making a hash of several different groups’ very hard work. The Dixie Melody Boys’ set was effectively gutted by the sound issues, and when taken with the longstanding problems getting mikes turned on before songs start (I mean, really … when a group takes the stage and starts to sing, what sound man waits until AFTER they start to sing to turn things ON? … I tell you what kind, the imminently unemployed kind). Before we start talking about moves and other grand upgrades for the convention peripherals, maybe somebody oughta put some time and money into the NQC infrastructure.
  • The Finale: quick transitions (some of them perfectly seamless) between groups and a decent idea for a finale… at least a fresh one that only involved one all-sing at the end. Kudos to Phil the Producer for this innovation.

Bonus Standouts and other Worth Mentionings

  • Stan Whitmire: in case I wasn’t clear enough yesterday, let me make this perfectly plain: Stan Whitmire is an unrivaled genuis. He turned in the best piano playing of the convention. This evening it was 60 seconds of studio quality playing that Gerald Wolfe made possible during GV’s set (Whitmire also played a bit for the Talleys). Whitmire’s execution is razor sharp, not a missed or dropped note in the whole bunch, and he exudes class and elegance.
  • Kingdom Heirs: First the good news - KH opened with a super tight version of “I Didn’t Know that I was Carrying a Heavy Load,” and they have finally gotten some new comic material (best line from the bass player: “No “I” in team, but there is a ME”). The bad news: too much of the set was insufficiently defined vocally, and the band played JOSHUA FIT THE BATTLE. It’s bad enough Jeff Stice is still trying to fit the battle after he left the KH. Now the KH band is relying on material that was popularized by an erstwhile pianist? Please.
  • Gold City: It was a hard decision, but I finally couldn’t justify putting GC (or the Hoppers) on the Big Stuff list tonight. In GC’s case, it’s simply because they are so unevenly matched in talent. Bluntly, Steve Ladd is not there yet. His tones are hollow, covered, and conspicuously unsupported. To be fair, it must be hugely intimidating for the group to perform their stands with Tim Riley sitting six feet away from them in the artists’ circle (and it couldn’t have helped that Riley put his hand to his ear every time Lawrence or Steve Ladd sang big lines), but that can’t possibly account for the unevenness that I heard tonight and last night. Riley made another “guest” appearance tonight, and I was in the process of being blown away (unlike last night, and despite the fact that Lawrence is a phenom) until Riley went flat on his last low line. Real bummer. Too much unevenness all around.
  • The Hoppers: A much stronger, better organized set tonight, but still not Big Stuff material by this group’s own standards. “Yes I Am” and “What A Lovely Name” were beautifully arranged and performed (though the new STILL UNNAMED pianist needs to learn the old convention style). But the new tune, “What They’re Thinking” was only politely received by the audience (perhaps it was the cognitive dissonance of wondering what dead people think that hampered the song’s reception?). The larger problem is that, aside from “Jerusalem” being an overly long song of often numbing sameness that was obviously written for a choir and not a quartet, the Hoppers relied too heavily on gimmicks and “specials” to keep the set together. In addition to a video full of waving flags and nationalist landscapes during “We Are America,” there was the Wesley Pritchard cameo on “What a Lovely Name.” This wouldn’t have bothered me so much if 1)this weren’t a tune the Hoppers were debuting from their new project (shouldn’t they be able to sing it without help?) and 2)Wesley Pritchard wasn’t also stacking the vocals off-stage on most Hoppers endings (I have more to say about this). Taken together (and in the context of other developments this year), the Hoppers two sets may mark the end of the Hoppers’ long ascendancy as THE Undisputed Powerhouse Family Group. I don’t think it’s too dramatic to suggest the Perrys eclipsed the Hoppers (and almost everyone else) this week, and there’s plenty of reasons to believe that until the Hoppers stop gliding by on the cache of their name and past success, the Perrys won’t just become America’s New Favorite Family of SG. No one would deserve it more. And maybe the Hoppers would have some incentive to get it back together.
  • Goff: Last night, I reported some chatter about Jerry Goff having a fallout with NQC. Tonight, Buck Morton echoed a statement from NQC that chalked Goff’s absence up to illness. Western reader PM put it well:

    This is what they just said on the live feed about last night’s ordeal with Jerry Goff: “Many of you have been asking about Jerry Goff… well he has been having some health issues and had not been able to take care of his emcee duties.” So, someone is lying to me. It is either you (HA!) or NQC, what gives I wonder? I would bet one fatted steer that it is the latter of the two. It’s stuff like this that makes me dislike this industry at times. Why would they think we are that stupid? Well maybe before I say too much, I best hear your take on it. After all, maybe this was the honest reason….but I doubt it.

    Yeah, maybe there is some truth to the sick story, but I’m also suspicious. I mean, if he’s been sick all week, why not say something LAST night when he was so obviously missing? I honestly don’t know. But if he is ill, godspeed his recovery.

  • Enough stacking: First there’s the Hopper’s relying on Wesley Pritchard to bolster their endings. Then there’s SSQ also using Wesley Pritchard to stack their endings (Pritchard is, I should say, a handy stealth stack since he controls monitors for the performers and isn’t someone anyone in the stands has a reason to pay attention to normally). Then the Talleys use a stack track on “I Love the Lord.” A few words, then, about stacks. For starters, if you’re going to use them, be certain you can sing with them. Debra Talley went flat against her stacked vocal on “I Love the Lord” and consequently flubbed the whole set. Second, if you’re going to use stacks, stack the sound track; don’t sneak a mike to a sound guy off stage in the dark and pretend the ending on stage is live and raw as you see it staged. Sound men are not on stage and unless you say “thanks to Wes Pritchard for pitching in on offstage vocals” (which NO ONE did), it all seems slightly unseemly and below board. Certainly beneath the likes of the Hoppers and SSQ (in fairness, though, maybe Connie Hopper was trying to own up to Pritchard’s role by inviting him onstage to help out with “What a Lovely Name”). And as for second-tier groups using regular their vocal tracks … the Pfiefers might as well have called in their set remotely for all the singing they really had to do live, thanks to a choir-sized vocal track.

The Grab-bag, an assortment of things

  • Speaking of stacks … Highest traditional vocal stack on a soundtrack: TIE - The Crabbs and the Pfeifers.
  • Most annoying junk sold at NQC: those blinking red and blue LED crosses. Those are really distracting when they’re blinking behind performers on stage.
  • Second most annoying junk sold at NQC: those plastic handclappers.
  • Most awkward thing to write about: Chosen Few. It’s hard either to write or not write about this, so I’ll just lay it out there for those who don’t know about Chosen Few. First off, they are a trio that, oddly enough, uses a tenor, a baritoney lead and a bass, instead of a bassy baritone. But the real thing is this: the piano player has one arm and one leg.
  • The single easiest thing NQC could do to improve next year: print the evening schedule vertically.
  • Most overused innovation: videos during songs. Booth Brothers, Talleys, Pfiefers and Hoppers all used them, but their utility and effectiveness are not clear, since you have to split your attention between what’s going on onstage and what’s on the screens way above your head. Plus, the quality of these videos is not high. Somebody get Bill Gaither on the line.
  • Most bizarre overheard comment: “This year was too much like the year of that 911 thing.”
  • Most insightful thing ever said in a bathroom line (apropos KP&NR): “That group just lights a fire under the place … other groups sing good but only a coupla groups really get the people going.”
  • Whiplash award: Dixie Melody Boys, for going from Powerful to Pander in less than three seconds. DMB brought their A-game tonight and sounded fine, in many places much better than GC, I thought. But then the lead singer thought it would be a good idea to use the good will DMB created with “Somebody Touched Me” (that baritone can really play the piano, too) to go political. Setting up their set-closer (a semi-patriotic number rooted in a God-and-Country theme), he said that this song was about our simplest beliefs, that the bible is the inherent word of god (no harm done there) and … wait for it … the sanctity of marriage is between … etc etc. Before you start firing off emails, ask yourself why THIS particular issue? To illustrate the point about foundational beliefs? Then still the same question: Why THIS issue? Why not abortion or gun control or any number of other hot-button issues near and dear to the fundamentalist evangelical voter? Put another, slightly more polemical way, if this had been the 1920 NQC, we’d have been hearing about the Godless anarchy of women’s suffrage. If this had been the 1850 NQC, we’d have been hearing about the unscriptural attempt to secularize the government by freeing the slaves (both causes supported by the conservative Christian establishment). Why THIS issue? In an audience of conservative Christians, bringing up this issue is the gratuitous political equivalent of singing songs with STAND in their chorus or asking all the folks from Alabama to let me hear you in order to get a rise out of a crowd. Sing your set and get folks on their feet by virtue of your songs, not your social soapboxes. Now, let the outraged comments flow, I guess.
  • Final thoughts: It’s interesting that the biggest news from this year’s National Quartet Convention was a trio (GV), a mixed group (The Perrys), and a quartet no one heard (MM). I see reason for great hope and encouragement in all this, since the diversity of forms, modes, and styles strengthens the sustainability of the industry as a whole and drives traditional and nontraditional groups alike to hone their marketable difference and exerts a clarifying force on the ministerial aspect of things. There is a constellation of great quartets solidifying their sound and style right now (MM, SSQ, L5, GC, and others). But it’s good to know the vitality of sg is not beholden to a single formation. It’s even better to hear. September 19, 2004 2:41 AM [comments]

NQC ‘04: MM, redux
What a thrill to get a second small helping of Mercy’ Mark at the Crabbfest, where they sang Crabb’s song “I Got It,” which is on their newest project. It’s one of those songs I allude to below as an up-tempo country number from Crabb that doesn’t do much for me, but MM could sing the classified ads and I’d listen. What a sweet, smooth, polished sound they have … the quality of highly preened studio work but with the energy and snap of a live performance. Untouchable. September 18, 2004 3:58 PM [comments]

NQC ‘04: Clearing the house
Reader JB wrote to remark on the Crabb’s “blue-haired clearing set” last night. A great way to describe it, in one sense. The Crabbs closed things out last night and as if rehearsed, a ton of elderly fans got up and left before the first song was over (it was true of the people next to me, three older people who said, as soon as the Crabbs started setting up, “well it was nice to meet you …”). I also noticed this afternoon that the Crabbfest was not nearly as crowded as I might have expected, not as crowded, say, as last year’s Greater Vision Quartets Live showcase. And too, as we were leaving the hall post-Crabbs, the buses and vans of mostly older people were pouring in for the Vintage Quartet showcase (which I opted out of for a nap and some time to write). So yeah … “blue-haired clearing” indeed. Though, full disclosure, MNP and I left about 2/3 into the Crabb set last night, … not because we have blue hair but because we knew there was much more (and probably better) Crabbs to come today. And I think we were right, at least judging from this afternoon. Anyway, I don’t think the “blue-hair” exodus means much more than that older people don’t always like loud, kickin’ music, especially at 11:30 at night. I guess you could make the case that this is a small but important sign that the market for sg is aging away, but I just don’t think so. September 18, 2004 3:47 PM

NQC ‘04: The Crabbfest; or, Rockin’ Ode to Gerald
I’ve never been to a Crabbfest before, and I didn’t really expect this NQC version of the event to be much like the regular thing on the road. But I was pretty surprised at how much of a Gerald Crabb Appreciation it turned out to be. Not that I’m complaining. Any excuse for some of sg’s greatest performers to sing Crabb’s finest songs is fine with me (plus, neckties were, evidently, banned, which gave the whole affair a more relaxed, intimate feel). After an all-sing of “Holy Ground,” a long videography commemorated Gerald Crabb’s success. And the clips of the Crabbs singing with Terah reminded me how much I miss her contribution and presence with the family. In my notebook, I have a big line drawn from the note I wrote to this effect at the top of the page, to a spot about a quarter of the way down, where I wrote, “Terah Returns.” Because that’s just what happened: As Gerald Crabb recounted early on in the two-hour event, he and the rest of his family had been estranged from Terah and her husband for a while now and he, Gerald, had not seen Terah’s new baby boy yet. “But last night,” Gerald said, “in one of those little rooms up there [pointing to the box seats], we had a family reunion … God done some healing.” The emotional charge of Terah’s return ramped up the intensity of the entire set, which was filled with genuinely moving tributes from Crabb’s family to him and fine renditions of his most popular songs as sung by the artists and groups that popularized them: among them, Gold City, the first sg group to record a Crabb song way back when (”Still Small Voice”); Talley Trio (”The Hero”); Greater Vision (”The Samaritan”); The Hoskins Family (”Places to Go”); Karen Harding (”Yesterday’s Bread”); Tony Gore (”Final Chapter”); The Bowlings (”When He says Arise”); and the Crabb Family doing “Dontcha Wanna Go?”, “Hell Make a Way,” featuring Terah, “Through the Fire,” and “When the Reason I’m Standing.” I’m quite a fan of Gerald Crabb’s ballads (like “The Cross” or “Through the Fire,” for instance) and hard-driving tunes (i.e. “Dontcha Wanna Go?”), which resonate with serious musical force and the pressure of personally felt spiritual experience. I’m not as big a fan of his mid-tempo tunes, which tend to my ear to be often undistinguished adaptations of country western forms and habits. Plus Crabb doesn’t always seem as musically careful with these tunes as he is with the big powerhouse numbers. For instance, “The Samaritan” is riddled with two-bar dead spots between phrases in the verse and the chorus, and there’s really not much a vocalist can do with these kinds of patches of nothingness. But no matter, it was nice to get to meet and see the Crabb family, as each set of children and their families, along with Cathy Crabb and Aaron Wilburn, took turns introducing each song (and, man, what a circus it must be bussing this enormous, sprawling family of toddlers, babies, and instruments around). And, too, it was nice to get to hear some songs of Crabb’s songs that, because they were recorded by less well-known groups, I hadn’t heard before, like “When He Says Arise,” which was the most solid single piece of musical writing and scoring of the day, since “The Cross” was not performed. Dottie Rambo absolutely stole the show with her inimitable humor (best line: “They call me the clean-mouthed Joan Rivers,” and she’s right). Rambo is a funny, generous woman with an easygoing stage manner won from a lifetime of performing and writing. And she’s an astute student of the creative temperament and mind, remarking insightfully about the cycle of ebb and flow of spiritual influx that can take over a writer’s life if he or she is totally immersed in the work of creation. Rambo and Gerald Crabb sang “Tears,” and it didn’t really matter that the song was way too high for everyone (as Rambo wasted no time in saying and repeating often). It was great to watch and listen to Rambo take complete and utter control of the stage while she was on it … holding the audience captive to her wit and wisdom and self-deprecating charm (”I’m up here in my teeny-bop outfit, my jeans and spangles … I’ll never be old ya know”). And at the end of “Tears,” I laughed out loud to hear her call the ending (”Take it to the 4, boys,” she told the band). What a delight. “Through the Fire” was not the last song, but it was the effective high point of the set. The first half of the song was pared down to just the vocals and piano, which not only gave the second half a real kick when the band joined in but gave us a chance to hear the Crabb Family in their element. As MNP noted, because they’re so talented and capable, The Crabbs have a tendency sometimes to get lost in the arrangements and complex instrumentation of their tunes, and the piano-vocals acoustic approach to “Through the Fire” put a special twist on a familiar favorite. September 18, 2004 3:32 PM

The NQC ‘04: Live bands rock
Occasionally, the Crabb Family band uses tracks, but that shouldn’t diminish the smokin’ hot quality of this bunch of players. Justin Ellis, keyboards, JonMichael Brady, drums, Lori Sykes, bass, and assorted Crabb children comprise one of the tightest bands in the business. I remarked a few posts ago on the Kingsmen band and how pleasing it is to hear a group that doesn’t rely heavily on tracks. And today I was reminded of that all the more. The Crabb band exemplifies the kind of all-business musicians who derive the most pleasure from doing their job reliably, well, and without a lot of flash or razzle-dazzle … and add to this group of first-rate folks a whole host of other players, like the Hoppers pianist (still can’t remember his name … somebody HELP ME), Stan Whitmire, Mike Hopper, Roger Fortner, and others. You’ll see no one falling of his piano bench in this bunch, probably because they’d be rightly fired on the spot for focusing more on histrionics than playing. Would that there were more like them. September 18, 2004 3:31 PM

NQC ‘04: The McJudds?
MNP notes that the McCraes, performing at the Crabbfest, sounded like a downmarket Judds, especially with all the harmonic intervals built around fourths. I haven’t heard enough of the McCraes to know if this sound, which the Judds put to good uses, is native to their voices or mostly a product of the particular Crabb tune they were singing today. But, for what it’s worth … September 18, 2004 3:31 PM

NQC ‘04: The Kingsmen, a follow-up
A few of you have written commenting or asking about the KM and their sets, especially Friday night, which was essentially a small KM reunion with folks like Hammill and Garry Shepard on stage singing, of course, “The Old Ship of Zion.” I’m probably not the best person to ask about this, because, as I’ve suggested before, I’ve never really been persuaded fully by the “messy magnificence” theory of the KM’s greatness. Last night, for me, was no different. This particular performance of “The Old Ship of Zion” was symbolically important, of course, because it marked the return of the KM name to sg. But as performances go, it was awful, save for Tim Surrett. The highest low point had to be Garry Shepard’s verse … no matter what your opinion of Shepard’s style of singing in his years with the KM, his singing last night was horrendous. He’s clearly out of shape, and I’d like to hope that the only reason he got on stage in the first place was because of threats from Hammill, who carries and whips around this menacing-looking cane these days. That said, the crowd mostly ate it all up. That particular song is so legendary that it would be difficult NOT to get a rise out of audience with it, and it was a smart call on Ray Reese’s part. Still, I would rather have heard a group like the Nelons in that spot than a bad rehash of a song resurrected from another era of sg and done with especial inelegance. September 18, 2004 3:30 PM

NQC ‘04: The Stabbing
In short, I know nothing about it other than that it happened and things aren’t nearly as bad as they might have been. Sogospelnews has a short blurb about it at the end of this story. September 18, 2004 3:29 PM

NQC ‘04: Friday night roundup

The Big Stuff

  • I heard a story once about the Cats playing one of Opryland’s outdoor theaters in the 80s. It was one of those multi-group singings, and about the time the Cats took the stage it started to rain. As the crowd began to disperse, George turned to the boys and said “Gather ‘em up” and launched right into the set … “One morning at daybreak, a crowd slowly gathered …” And as if compelled by the very words themselves, the crowd began coming back in, at first in a trickle and then by the dozens until they were all held there in the rain by dint of George and the Cats’ stage presence. I was reminded of that story today when the Perrys came on. The first act of the night, the Perrys took the stage at 6:05 as the hall was still buzzing with chatter and seat-finders and latecomers. But when the Perrys started their set, things settled down within what seemed like a matter of seconds. And by the time they were halfway into “Damascus Road,” they had the place eating out of their hands. They seemed to pick up precisely where they left off last night, working their way from “Damascus Road” toward another monumental performance of “Calvary Answers for Me.” Listening to this song live for a second night, I noticed a few things worth commenting on. First, there are two little duets - one near the end of the second verse with Loren Harris and Libby Stuffle, the other in the bridge to the song’s conclusion, in which Joseph Habedank and Harris sing a sweet little phrase above Libby and Tracy Stuffle - that are emblematic of this song’s ability to be both powerful and immensely pretty. These little self-contained flashes of virtuosity really break open the whole shooting match. Second (and this happened in every song the Perrys sang) is their ability to reach out and grab notes vocally, to punch up certain phrases and make certain tones pop - a skill that plots a song’s trajectory and gives a tune a recognizable dynamism of its own. The set - and the Perrys’ awesome two-night stand at the convention this year - closed with “I Wish I Coulda Been There,” and as the hall roared with delight, it was clear that this is obviously such a nice time for The Perrys right now … it’s impossible to be anything but thrilled for them.
  • GV: Some groups gather ‘em up; others, like Greater Vision, command attention from the start. In part because of a really bizarre and disorganized set from the Hoppers, but mostly because of Greater Vision’s stature, the place seemed jittery with anticipation before GV took the stage. And when they did, the night essentially belonged to them. “My Name is Lazarus” effectively resurrected an evening that had fallen into a lethargic stupor dotted with a few moments of excitement here and there but was mostly listless. Gerald Wolfe set up “Faces” movingly, and GV finished the set with “It is Well.” Three songs. That was all … and everything. Wolfe and GV’s music kept the entire hall thoroughly rapt. It was breathtaking to watch and listen to.
  • The Hoppers: This may have been the strangest Hoppers stand I’ve ever seen (or heard about). But first, a background anecdote. When we arrived this afternoon, I lurked around the main hall for a bit while the Hoppers were rehearsing their set for tonight and watched them practice some choreography involving people marching in from the four corners of the hall to the stage. So I figured some kind of special event was planned. But imagine my surprise later when the Hoppers actually take the stage and ask us what time is it (ugh) as an enormous choir starts trooping out from every opening. Huh? A choir for “Shoutin’ Time”? It’s clearly a directorial misfire, and part of the choir crosses the hall and goes out the other side without much fuss. But the other half of the choir marches right up on stage and stands staring at the Hoppers while they pretend not to notice anything. Pretty soon, the choir drudges back offstage, and for the moment I am grateful for a distraction while the umpteenth version of “Shoutin’ Time” finishes. Next comes “Child of God,” which is sweet and much lower key than I’ve come to expect from the group. Very beautiful. Then Claude literally stops the clock (the timer for the group’s set) and speaks to the hall in his NQC board voice (which I initially mistook for his “let me explain what just happened” voice). He says, essentially: I’ve heard you. I’ve heard your complaints about the Gaither Vocal Band (their absence), about Integrity Quartet (their absence - and now perhaps we have a clearer idea of why John Hagee’s showcase seminar was bumped for an Integrity/MM feature this afternoon), about the lights (this year, these retina-burning spotlights are aimed directly into the stands and abruptly turned on and off, making you feel like Paul on the Damascus Road but without the conversion), about the NQC’s potential move to Nashville (evidently, fans are saying they don’t want it). He briefly describes a hastily called NQC board meeting this afternoon to discuss the complaints (Claude made it clear he was getting an earful and he was slightly vexed by it). At first I think this is going to be a mea culpa, a fall-on-your-sword kinda thing. But it’s not that clear, because he closes by saying “success [of the NQC] is in your [the fans’] hands” and “pray for your leadership.” Then he invited everyone back to the Hoppers’ booth where he said he would give out every NQC board members’ contact info, presumably for people to give everyone else on the board the earful he got. Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this, but it seems like it may mean Hopper was inviting fans to pretty much dictate the terms of the NQC’s future. Obviously, that’s not likely, but until I make up my mind or hear a good explanation of what it all really will mean, I’ll hope it’s a sign that the autocratic stranglehold of the NQC board on sg’s flagship event is slackening, if not going away. And then as quick and herky-jerky as whiplash, the Hoppers are staging “Jerusalem,” and the choir appears again (this time for real). I couldn’t really hear the choir, the group vocals were amped so loudly, and the choir director (who also wrote the song) was kind of a distraction, circling the Hoppers as they sang like a lion-tamer. But the overall effect was powerful. Still, the set ended in no less an odd fashion as the rest of it transpired, with Dean Hopper rambling on in a sort of chit-chatty conversational tone about the Hoppers’ last year, which really clashed with the visuals: while Dean was chatting, two poor guys right behind him were struggling to hold up this enormous JESUS banner left over from “Jerusalem”. After about three or four minutes of Dean’s soliloquy, he says, abruptly, “Well our time us up” and the stage full of people slowly empties out. Odd. The place filled up in anticipation of The Hoppers, but I saw or felt no sense that they fully met that expectation. Tomorrow night’s another day though, so we’ll see.
  • Jerry Goff. Goff was supposed to be the emcee tonight, but Buck Morton took the stage with no explanation. Later in the night I heard that Goff and the NQC had a rather large and last-minute falling out over something and he left in a huff. Hmmmm. This, taken together with the board’s uncharacteristic transparency in the form of Claude Hopper’s speech, and the noticeably lower attendance this year … well, it seems to all add up to something big and portentous for the NQC board and the event itself. [Late note: glad to see David Bruce Murray also thought attendance was slightly down.]
  • Gold City: They salvaged their set tonight with a rousing version of “God Handles it All,” a real foot-stomping crowd pleaser with big low notes and long high tones. But the set’s middle was slow and droopy, and not really helped along much by Tim Riley’s “guest” appearance centered around an unremarkable rendition of “Under Control.” Of course Riley had to be on stage and singing in this context, but the song selection could have been better. Steve Ladd got the job done tonight, but the assignment, unfortunately, involved a lot of squealy high notes that I realize really seem to do it for most people but leave me utterly cold. Maybe the new GC sound hasn’t gelled yet. Or maybe it’s just me. At any rate, I think it’s fair to say that the group is in some important ways going through a molting process that has just slightly diminished their place among the big quartets (which does NOT mean they’re no longer one of the Big Players … they still are for sure).

Bonus Standouts and other Worth Mentionings

  • The Hoppers’ new pianist, whose name escapes me at this late hour, did a fine job this evening. It’s nice to see a live pianist back with the Hoppers.
  • Stan Whitmire, a solid gold studio player and cultlike figure among some sg pianists, quietly (and, of course, expertly) backed up GV tonight on the keyboards.
  • Bill Lawrence is a smooth powerhouse of a bass singer. Wow. A big, bold voice.
  • The Kingsmen and Crabb Famly bands are kickin’ outfits. Perhaps this will usher in a new era of groups that invest in bands and depend less on tracks? Doubt it, but let’s hope. A live band is expensive and impractical … I know all the responses … but if you spend you’re money wisely, the payoff is immeasurable. And with that in mind, perhaps the fans will start recognizing as Band of the Year one of the bands that is truly live (the Kingdom Heirs band, this year’s award winner, is half canned).
  • Gene MacDonald: there were a few recent years when the Florida Boys were not just funny and entertaining at NQC but had a first-class sound. This year was not one of them, sadly. But Gene MacDonald is still a super-fine bass singer, maybe the best in the business right now. Derrell Stewart seems to be figuring more and more into the core of the group’s act, instead of just being a peripheral source of comic relief. He’s funny, but after a while it seems like Les Beasely is relying on this senile-old-man schtick he has going with Stewart in order to keep the group from having to sing as much. Too bad. Because MacDonald is what a star sounds like.
  • The new NQC format: Maybe this belongs up above with the discussion of a potential NQC shake up. But no matter: in addition to adding Brian Lester as emcee two nights earlier this week, the NQC board also tried to compress the evening performances by drastically reducing the time that Buck Morton and (at least originally) Jerry Goff usually spend talking. Good. Great. Couldn’t be happier. This means Phil the Mysterious Voice (an NQC producer) introduces a lot of groups to keep things moving along in places where they once would have foundered on a Buck Morton or Jerry Goff rabbit-chasing expedition (only one such moment occurs tonight, when Buck Morton carries on for a good five minutes about the lexical history of the word Jerusalem and a mini-disquisition on the ancient geography of the city). Unfortunately, things got rushed too often last night and again this evening. The Kingdom Heirs weren’t the only ones to suffer from being rushed on stage before they set up, but they suffered the worst. The pros like Arthur Rice and Steve French know how to cover (and they did it well tonight), but they shouldn’t have to. This is a supposed to be the big leagues.


The Grab-bag, an assortment of things

  • Worst Knob of the night: The Perrys were eight bars into “Damascus Road” before we heard the vocals. Inexcusable. A set can be made or broken by the energy created in the first five or ten seconds of a set. The Perry, of course, were unfazed by the screw-up, but getting knobbed by sound men at NQC just won’t do.
  • Jumping the Fern: This is, I want to be clear, no sign whatsoever of things to come and is really just a funny intersection of pop culture and sg, but tonight McCray Dove gave sg it’s own jump-the-shark-moment. In television, this refers to the moment when a television show peaks and goes downhill (named after the episode of Happy Days in which the writers, so desperate to stop the show’s ratings slide, had The Fonze jump a shark tank on his motorcycle). During one of the set-ending stem-winders (”Didn’t It Rain” or “Get Away Jordan”), McCray Dove jumped a fern on stage (and did anyone else imagine he kicked or hit one of the cymbals on the trap set? MNP thinks so; I couldn’t see). Like I said, funny.
  • Strangest moment of unintended irony: Jackie Wilburn’s comment that “America doesn’t need to go to the moon again and America doesn’t need more computers …” That’s ironic indeed, since the Wilburns, like so many other groups, rely so heavily on digitally rendered tracks.
  • Best interpretative dance: Peg McKamey for her use of a hanky during her sister’s solo (and isn’t this the second year in a row that Peg hasn’t taken off her shoes during the McKamey’s Friday-night set?).
  • Sold out: The Perrys sold out of their latest project early this evening. Amazing, and wonderful for them. Their booth in the exhibit hall was a mob scene this afternoon.
  • In the nosebleed seats, things are pretty quiet. But tonight, down in the “good” seats just off the floor, it was incredibly noisy … rude talkers, inconsiderate people who not only left their phones on but ANSWERED THEM AND CARRIED ON CONVERSATIONS. Honestly.
  • Some final Friday thoughts: This year, as in a few past, the NQC is being broadcast live via radio and, if it isn’t already, it’s only a matter of time before select portions are televised. Things will change dramatically, not necessarily for the worse, when this happens, but in the meantime, a few thoughts on the irreplaceability of being there. It’s hard to convey to people who aren’t at a live performance how the feeling and mood of a space like Freedom Hall can change almost instantaneously in response to something on stage. I say this of course in part by way of qualification to what I write about the convention, which I assume may make some people listening at home to wonder if we were hearing the same thing when they read what I wrote. But seemingly little things happen during a performance, as everyone knows but doesn’t always remember, that drastically change the reception of the music. For instance, tonight, during GV’s set, Wolfe originally said the group would sing two new songs off the Faces project. After “Faces,” Rodney Griffin talked for a bit about the origins of the song, and you could see Wolfe call the next song out to Jason Waldrup (who runs GV’s tracks) almost as soon as Griffin started talking. But as Griffin talked more and his testimony took a certain shape and direction, Wolfe turned to Waldrup and changed the song-call to fit the emerging nature of the set, and instead of another new song we got “It is Well,” which couldn’t have been more perfect for the moment, saturated as it was after Griffin’s comments with a sense of the deep connectedness of the present with a past populated by so many “Faces” who have shaped our lives and given us our legacies. These moments remind us how rooted sg is in the live performance, in the convergence of creative intensity and the unique alignment of a certain audience and the context of a particular concert or set. Tonight there were long dry spells between the Perrys and Greater Vision and between GV and The Crabb Family that were only occasionally broken up by flashes of sweetness. But when those moments come, they are deliverance itself. One such moment came via the Booth Brothers, whose set may have sounded to someone listening at home like a lower-key comedown from the Kingdom Heirs raucous, rousing set. But in fact, given the intensity (and the overwhelming volume) of the KH set, the Booth Brothers provided the NQC crowd with a pleasing shift in tone and style that, in the context of what came before, played marvelously well (this is due in no small part to the Booth Brothers’ tunes, which are all arranged in a slightly lower key than might be expected, allowing the vocalists to expand and develop really rich, textured tones in those pleasing middle registers). These moments are what make the long NQC nights not just bearable, but welcome. September 18, 2004 1:36 AM

NQC ‘04: Idiots, talent, and too much time - a follow-up
A few readers have hammered me pretty hard for my remarks about Angie Hoskins Alridge’s style of singing all around a melody with vocal improvisations - a style I dubbed IAG. For instance, self-proclaimed “Hapy NQC attender” JH wrote, in part:

It would take a very limited musical person to not see the tremendous talent that Angie truly has. … Angie’s vocal range is very intimidating to those of us who sing, but those of us who are in awe of her talent instead of bashing her for her talent simply send out an applause. Intimidation often causes people to lash out in ignorance, and I fully believe [you are] speaking from ignorance … (Would that make [you] an idiot? Question to ponder). As far as the angry child thing: If that is what causes someone to sing with that kind of power and ability we would all be wishing for Angry Child syndrome. Angie’s confidence when she is singing enables her to take her voice to places that real singers only dream of. At the Thursday night convention Angie controlled her voice movements in an unbelievable soulful fashion. Comment on not hearing the melody…maybe you should try to worship while she is singing instead of studying her like a guinea pig in some kind of a musical experiment. Sounds like you have way too much time on your hands..

If only JH knew how often I ponder my own idiocy … Anyway, JH is right of course: Hoskins Alridge has real vocal ability and lotsa raw talent. I’ve never said or implied otherwise. What I have said (and not implicitly) is that she uses her voice in very unmelodic (as opposed to untalented) ways. It does indeed take control and range and confidence to do what Hoskins Aldridge does, but it takes more control, sometimes greater range, and almost always greater confidence to put your voice out there on the unadorned melodic line, uncovered and unmasked by an arsenal of tricks, flourishes and improvisations. If you can go places that others only dream of, then you should … just maybe not in every measure of every song. September 18, 2004 0:47 AM

NQC ‘04: Outbursts, agendas, and soapboxes - a follow-up
Western reader PM writes, apropos of my Jonathan Wilburn comments last night:

You really think Jonathan had an agenda last night? I think anytime someone takes a stand is good. Still wondering about that though. I don’t think it was a dig at Talley, do you? If that were the case then I don’t think it was proper. We’ll never know until someone asks him about it. Jonathan is known for not being bashful…which I admire.

As always, PM is on the ball and making me think. I doubt the comments were directly aimed at Talley, though certainly Talley’s case would clearly fall within the pretty broad condemnation Wilburn issued. More important, though, is this issue of agendas. I don’t doubt that Wilburn was speaking from deeply held convictions and beliefs. But that doesn’t preclude his having had an agenda, which I think he pretty obviously did (and does?) have. In fact, agendas almost always arise from ideological beliefs so strongly held that they usurp the better angels of our characters that help us judge what kind of behavior is appropriate for different settings. Indeed, “having an agenda” is about the only thing that explains why Wilburn would think that the Singing News Fan Awards was the place to get on a soapbox about homosexuality. Unless Wilburn knows something we don’t, there was no overt or implicit indication up to that point (or at any after it in the ceremony) that homosexuality was being openly and actively endorsed by anyone or anything on or off stage. Part of what was so disorienting and disappointing about Wilburn’s remarks was how apropos of nothing they really were. It’s unclear why he felt he needed to take a stand on that issue at that time. Especially since a vast majority of the people (performers and fans alike) probably already agreed with Wilburn on the issue of homosexuality. I don’t exactly think this is a case of “Methinks thou protesteth too much,” but certainly something like an agenda is about the only way to explain the outburst. September 17, 2004 4:03 PM

NQC ‘04: Mercy’s Mark and Integrity Showcase
I have no idea how the NQC board managed to convince John Hagee to give up his Friday noon spot in the south wing for the Mercy’s Mark/Integrity Showcase (after hearing the sets, though, I have some idea why). And frankly, I don’t care. Call it a scheduling conflict or whatever. The point is, it happened, and the showcase was equal parts unbelievable and underwhelming. If I had had it my way, Mercy’s Mark would have gone after Integrity and the piano would have been replaced with one that didn’t sound like it belonged in an Old West Saloon. But I quibble. Here are my thoughts on each set.

Mercy’s Mark
A few days back, a reader wrote to say - at the risk of sounding like a “Mercy’s Mark hack,” in his words - that he thought MM’s new project was the best freshman release he’d ever heard. I was really excited to hear the new group, but I was skeptical of such grand claims for MM. Today, let me firmly plant my flag in the “best freshman project” camp. Having heard MM’s all-too-brief but knockout thirty-minute set this afternoon and after listening to their new project on the way too and from lunch, I’m thoroughly comfortable saying that they have the best sound of any male quartet in sg right now. This is a big assertion and will be impossible to back up adequately in the brief time and space I have right now, so let me just hit the high spots from this afternoon’s set and draw a few conclusions from there. First, Garry Jones has hired three of the most talented vocalists I’ve heard in ages. Chris West, at 29, sounds almost as much like George Younce did at 45 as Younce did himself - strong, robust tones at all ranges, capable of carrying a solo or melody with clarity and precision, unaffected and resonant. And I noticed a few signature Younce moves in West’s repertoire, both as a showman and vocalist (West has perfected Younce’s habit of shifting his weight onto the back of his heels and resting he left hand on his breast while singing, and West used a classic Younce ending today, descending from the third to the tonic slowly and dramatically). Josh Feemster’s lead work anchors the group vocally with confidence, and Feemster himself has some really fine high notes, high enough that he ended up just a third below Anthony Facello’s decently higher notes on a few endings (one big key, I should say, to MM’s sound is the ability to stack voices this way). Facello is a rarity in sg tenors these days, so rare that most of the ways I want to describe him are in statements of what he isn’t: he’s not shrill at any range (even his high notes are well-rounded and shapely), he’s not a squealer or a screamer … his voice is mellifluous. He possesses a first-rate interpretative mind too, emphasizing lines with little flourishes in just the right place, and his breath support and control are astounding. Garry Jones’s is not a pleasing solo voice, but his ensemble work is predictably solid. But no matter. What he brings to the group in genuine, plainspoken likeability as the front man and what he gives to the group as the arranger and architect of MM’s sound far, far compensate for whatever he may lack vocally (faithful reader JG says Jones sounds a bit like Mark Bishop, and I agree). Songs like “His Response” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness” showcase the rich, deeply mature sound that Jones’s seasoned talent has brought out in this group in a shockingly short amount of time: to record and release two projects, one a recording of old sg standards and the other a wildly sophisticated and highly polished set of songs (almost all of them original tunes from the stunning likes of Kyla Rowland, Joel Lindsay, the Franklins, and Gerald Crabb), and to sound the way MM does within less than a year of the group’s inception … wow. Many groups go a decade or more without managing to sound like MM did in the south wing of the Expo Center today. In listening to MM (both their live set and the recording) I was reminded of many comparisons … to Younce, to the sound of Gold City in Jones’s days with the group, to CCM and to the richness of L5’s set last night … but these comparisons all fail to suggest the one thing about MM that jumped out: it’s as if they sprung up from the earth, a whole formed group with the sound and look of a much more experienced quartet. If they weren’t less than a year old, I’d say they have come into their own, but as it stands, they are entirely their own group - stylistically, vocally, performatively - right now … and it will be their contest to lose in the race for The Next Great Quartet.

Integrity Quartet
Evidently (and little did I know), Integrity has a cult-like following of middle aged and retiree couples (well, I suspect some of the men are there less willingly than the women, but still, some of the husbands were applauding and hooting pretty enthusiastically too). I say this because though MM outsung and outperformed IQ in every respect, the crowd literally, actually started screaming and 90 percent of the people were on their feet before IQ ever sang a note. Is this a byproduct of working theaters and theme parks (”TNT” work)? I don’t know. What I do know is that IQ’s set was entirely too loud - way too much track, and instead of turning down the tracks, the sound man simply amped up the vocals, which didn’t make the group anymore audible but did make them sound harsh and unappealingly shrill through all but a few songs. And I admit that after MM, for me at least, everything that IQ did felt a solid notch or two lower. Clayton Inman, a fine, fine lead singer, sounded slightly thin in comparison to Feemster; Eric Bennett sounded barkier and more nasally in comparison to Chris West; Jeff
seemed to be overplaying in comparison to Garry Jones’s understated brilliance at the keyboard on the wonderfully revived “Jesus Said It ..” David Sutton, … well, last night I pleaded with someone to find the old David Sutton, but I must have written too late, because the new and drastically unimproved Sutton was on stage again today. Last night I described him as a mix of Hovie and Vestal in a higher register, but today I think the more appropriate comparison may be to Johnny Cook, but without most of the good stuff. MNP wonders if Sutton has had vocal problems, but I think his vocal about-face has something to do with IQ’s obvious attempt to be a more traditional, retro throwback group, not to the days of the “classic quartets” (so McCray Dove is safe for now) but to the storied male quartet of the 70s - somewhere in between the Cats and the Kingsmen (it’s not just a stylistic thing either: aesthetically they make a point of starting the set with four mike stands in the traditional quartet formation, something MM predictably dispensed with). Scott Inman has a pleasing, smooth instrument of a voice that redeems the center portion of IQ’s set, especially with his rendition of “Wish you Were Here.” But the group’s last few numbers veer back off course. “Walk with Me” is a mess, rhythmically decentered (rubato run amok), vocally overindulgent (in addition to reprising his new, uhm, idiosyncratic pronunciation - “wawwwwwuhlkuh” for “walk” - Sutton shaves pitches right and left), and generally undisciplined. And so, generally disappointing. Maybe they need new material. Stice wheeled “Joshua Fit the Battle” back out and with the exception of their radio hit, the group didn’t have any other new material (by which I mean original songs). Stice is a first-rate arranger and serious talent at the keyboard, but the group’s material and sound are being obviously neglected. If this is the result of the TNT work, IQ should get back on the road right now or else find some other way to snap out of it. September 17, 2004 3:45 PM

NQC ‘04: Friday a.m.
A quick note of thanks and general apologies: thanks to the hawk-eyed readers who helped keep me honest and accurate in last night’s posts. Apologies for the errors, inaccuracies, or other infelicities I’ve posted … in some sense, there’s an unavoidable margin of error in these kinds of things, but of course I’d rather not be the one to prove the rule. It’s no excuse that it was and will be often late when I write, but that’s probably the main cause of most of these problems (and I’m sure, unfortunately, there will be others). As always, if you see anything, let me know. September 17, 2004 10:01 AM

NQC ‘04: Thursday night round up

The Big Stuff

  • Greater Vision: GV cleaned up at the fan awards (best song, best trio, best tenor, best male voclaist*, best songwriter, best video) and generally cemented its position as the most popular group in sg. Period. *In an earlier version of this post, I mistakenly wrote that GV took best lead, which of course is not true . Apologies for the error and hat tip, NP.
  • The Perrys: Prose will fail to capture what happened with the Perrys tonight. At the Fan Awards, they absolutely owned the whole place with “I Rest My Case.” Loren Harris’ voice has a touch of Mark-Trammell richness to it that was both strong and reassuring and he gave the kind of performance (as did the Perrys as a whole) that brings fans and performers alike out of the wings and hallways and into the hall. Joseph Habedank’s solid baritone and brilliant stage presence enriched the Perry’s brief stand immeasurably. The keyboard player used some gorgeous passing tones on the verse, which paid off fourfold, and the Stuffles … well, they’re so authentically good, in every sense of the word … so when they were awarded Mixed Group of the year immediately after their supercharged performance, the place went nuts, and the Perrys were overcome. There was a palpable sense among the performers in the hall that the Perrys are a Big Deal right now and becoming bigger every minute - on a meteoric rise, you might say. The universal, spontaneous swell of joy that pulsed through the performers circle and out into the audience only made the buzz surrounding the Perrys more evident. The Perrys acceptance was shot through with their overwhelming gratitude and humility … really, this may turn out to be the moment from this year’s NQC.
  • L5: Tonight, Legacy 5 emerged as the clear heir to the style and stature of the Cathedrals, not only with their performance of “He Forgets” and some of the new stuff from Monuments, but also in taking best quartet, best baritone, best pianist, and best bass. Before you start hitting the COMMENTS button, I’m not saying L5 is the new Cats or singing or performing at the same level (yet). What I am saying is that in many places and in several ways, L5 has very consciously and successfully tapped the same well of creativity as the Cats and begun adapting many of the Cats methods and manners (the Bennett-Fowler comedy bits have a ways to go to be George and Glen, but Roger is a funny, funny man on stage … he set the tone and pace of much of the awards show with his smartly placed and finely delivered humor, and his impeccable timing and ability to think on his feet are a pleasure to watch). It will be interesting to hear if the final mixed version of the Monuments projects does any better a job than the pre-release of capturing this group’s range and depth as demonstrated so ably tonight during the Fan Awards and in their set later. Frank Seamans live far surpasses Frank Seamans in the studio. And Scott Howard takes control of his material onstage in ways he doesn’t in his most recent studio work (which may at least partly the fault of the mix?). Glenn Dustin, too, is smooth, strong giant of a singer on stage … at least he was tonight. It will be interesting to see how L5 stacks up to SSQ, which sings later this weekend.
  • The Crabbs: Jason Crabb can tap his Inner Angry Boy voice any time he chooses if he puts it to the kind of uses he did tonight (and Angie Hoskins Aldridge, please take note: it IS possible to sing around the melody without ignoring it … After the Hoskins set tonight, I’m beginning to think Angie Hoskins Aldridge has never met a melody she couldn’t avoid). The Crabbs have lost a little special something with Terah’s departure, but they can still set the place afire when they want to, as they did tonight with their Fan Awards performance of “The Cross.”
  • Album the year: It’s getting late so I won’t have any answer to which I’ll want to commit tonight, but it’s not at all clear to me how to reconcile the fan award for best song (Greater Vision’s “Just Ask”) with the award for best album (The Inspirations). The two styles of sg share very little in common (stylistically, technically, theoretically) save the broad label of Southern Gospel. Seriously, I don’t know what to make of it. Ideas? Bring ‘em on.

Bonus Standouts and other Worth Mentionings

  • Mark Trammell Trio: A fine, fine group whose recordings - though solid - barely approach the quality of music they are capable of creating on stage, as they did tonight. And Eric Phillips, MTT’s tenor, has as much potential individually as the group does as a whole. Keep your eye on these guys.
  • Brian Free & Assurance: The voices of Bill Shivers (lead) and Brian Free blend magnificently and the ensemble stuff they did tonight was pretty untouchable The bass singer, though, especially in solo work, is muddy, careless and undisciplined.
  • Tim Surrett: Funny, funny man. Nevermind he and Tim Lovelace gave Roger a run for his comic bonafides during the Fan Awards. Surrett mightily outshines his fellow Kingsmen, who are still mostly toiling in a league way below Surrett vocally. The new KM are perhaps understandably anxious about re-establishing their connection to the great name, but the anxiety was really transparent tonight and seriously knee-capped their set, in which they sang almost exclusively from the Jim Hammill/Kingsmen Songbook (nothing wrong with that) but not well (more of a problem). I’m getting comments from people who think these guys sound a lot better than KM of yore, but to my ear they’re still much the same shrill, squeally, uneven KM of so many years past. Maybe I’m being ungenerous or maybe there’s a titch of KM nostalgia coloring things for others? I dunno. (Plus, Ray Reese’s son, Brandon, replaced Mike Hopper as the stage drummer for all groups during the Awards Ceremony … quite an honor for a young guy … and my apologies for initially confusing him with Ricky Free [hat tip, MM].)
  • Brian Elliot (Anchormen Pianist): why wasn’t he at the Pianorama earlier today? He’s a pretty talented keyboard player and, before he fell off the piano bench doing pirouettes (MNP’s word), I would have said he was the most likely candidate to be The Next Roger Bennett (when Elliot’s on and not showing out, his style is very crisp and clean, like Bennett’s was and still is). Maybe he’ll tone it down with maturity and experience. I hope so anyway, because there’s a lot of gold in them thar hands (ok … sorry, … it’s very late for me).

The Grab-bag, an assortment of things

  • Matt Hagee: Son of John Haggee, his new solo project includes a cover of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” the second Josh Groban rip off of the day. I haven’t heard the whole thing, but the clips played tonight call into question the wisdom of Hagee’s covering a tune that is still on the radio and done so well by Groban.
  • Best dressed: Labreeska Atkinson, of Ricky Atkinson and Compassion (and wow .. her voice is really low, but not bad).
  • The Anchormen: they had quite a fine last half of a set. Got the 11:30 p.m. crowd on its feet (without telling them to stand up or by singing a song with “stand” in the chorus, as Mark Trammell did). No small task.
  • Jason Crabb: take a look at the new press photos for The Crabb Family (especially the ones in the NQC program, if you have access to one) … How much makeup and/or tanning can one guy need before a photo shoot? The cosmetics make him look like his own freaky beach-dude cousin.
  • Highest Stack Track of the night: The Hoskins Family.
  • What happened to David Sutton’s voice? In the year since I last heard him, David Sutton has caught a bad case of the heavily covered tones. His intonation tonight was unpleasantly wide and full of distractingly affected diphthongs, only worsened by so much vibrato that his performance teetered on the verge of breakdown at points. Take equal parts Hovie and Vestal and raise the sound a handful of steps … you get the idea. Please, somebody find the old David Sutton.
  • Best surprise: very little of Dr. Buck Morton.
  • Politics overkill: And the award for harshest harangue of an acceptance speech goes to … Jonathan Wilburn, who used Gold City’s sole award acceptance to deliver a mix of hatefulness, red-meat political invective (can’t we all agree it’s time to find a new way to take a swipe at homosexuals that replaces the tired old, gasping, wheezing line about God making Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve?), and an obviously heartfelt but awkward shout-out to his wife … awkward because his tone and manner made it seem like Wilburn was responding defensively to some unstated attack on The Virtues of Good Wives, which of course hadn’t, didn’t, and wouldn’t occur. This kind of unbridled meanness and/or these types of hyper-masculine outbursts are emblematic of a strain of defensive Christianity that runs through sg (and evangelicalism more broadly) and is defined by a sense of being a persecuted majority. The outlook of people with this mindset was summed up by the Inspirations’ Martin Cook, when he said in his is acceptance speech (runner up for worst acceptance harangue) that “all families have a hard time” (well maybe, maybe not, but is that what you really want to focus on in this setting?). He went on to insist repeatedly that southern gospel represents “the America,” but he insisted on it so much that it kind of seemed like maybe he only wants this to be true but really knows it isn’t. At any rate, these needlessly defiant postures and unnecessarily shrill political and cultural stem-winders amidst thousands of mostly hard-core evangelicals only reinforce the perception that sg is the last stronghold of paternalism and meanness (cf R. W. Apple’s famous New York Times review of the NQC a few years back). But wouldn’t anyone working for an effective ministry want to reach as many people as possible rather than alienating all but a narrow base of likeminded believers?
  • The right touch of class: Contrast this political harshness with the gracious, humble statements made by Gerald Wolfe and all of L5’s members, among others, in their acceptance speeches and their sets (Bennett did just barely flirt with an opportunistic political angle in his set-up for the song “Monuments,” which he led into by briefly mentioning Roy Moore and the Ten Commandments flap … “lost that monument” etc … though he did so very carefully, it’s worth saying). They relinquished not one inch of doctrinal, political, moral, or ethical ground for their grace and humility. Wolfe exudes genuine selflessness and happiness just to be onstage doing something he loves. And Roger Bennett summed up the tone of L5’s members set individually and collectively when he said that “God is a god of dreams” - and not, I would have added, a God of vitriol and ugliness, as others’ remarks inadvertently implied. Wilburn and Cook doubtless love what they do just as much as anyone else and are no less committed than any others, but what a shame they didn’t choose the path of brightness and light in this otherwise singularly uplifting event. And I must say, the Awards Ceremony was overall a thrilling, exciting, and fun (as well as funny) affair. September 17, 2004 1:35 AM

NQC ‘04: Roger Bennett’s Chuckle Hut, er … I mean, Pianorama
The southern gospel piano solo is a pretty reliable form: a catchy riff/theme frames and punctuates an old standard of some kind, backed up by predictable band tracks; play a verse in each register, try to stand ‘em with a passage near the middle that uses lotsa sixteenth and thirty-second notes to give the illusion of musical complexity and difficulty, and close big, with a flourish of the arm and a hop off the seat to a (potentially) raging audience. This familiar and expected form, taken with the fact that the Pianorama players are all experienced performers and comfortable as showy soloists, means that the event pivots mostly on matters of style and showmanship. So in the wee-short hour between noon and 1 p.m. this afternoon, things start off with an all-play (well, two actually, but only because the sound guy - who looked from where I was sitting in the dim light, a lot like Wesley Pritchard - didn’t pay attention to Bennett after the first number). This is the chance that all the players - Bennett, Channing Eleton, Stewart Varnado, Andrew Ishee, Eric Ollis, Jeff Stice, and Adam Harmon - get to mug for the camera. Which Ishee and Varnado do shamelessly (taking the early tied lead for Most Shameless Camera Mugging of the convention). Harmon looks way too happy all the time but at least he and his bench-mate (Eleton) aren’t constantly jostling for best camera position as Ishee and Varnado (also bench-mates) are doing (I’m never quite sure if they’re interactions onstage bespeak good-natured peers or fiercely competitive rivals). Obviously the event is designed for a certain amount of this clowning around, so I’m prepared for most of it. But Varnado and Ishee have this regular way - not just at Pianorama but on stage with their quartets - of slowly panning their heads from one side of the crowd to the other while grinning with obvious self-satisfaction, and it’s mildly obnoxious. But soon we’re on to solos and Eric Ollis kicks things off with the simplest number of the hour, a less-is-more arrangement of “More About Jesus.” Everyone could learn a thing or two from Ollis’s deadpan, low-key manner and understated playing style, but almost no one does. And as if to illustrate that point, Ishee comes on for his solo, looking, acting and sounding like a cross between
Dino and Liberace with his uber-pop hijack of the Josh Groban and Charlotte Church duet “The Prayer” (also much hopping up and down and bouncing about on the bench, accentuated with many big-arm movements). All that’s missing are the rhinestones and the candelabra (Ishee already has the cheesy smile at the camera down pat). A bit later, Earl Brewer of the long-ago Harvesters comes out and stands everybody up with some wonderful old standards, and Steward Varnado (who wears an ENORMOUS ring - shades of Liberace again) mixes things up a bit with an unaccompanied medley of old convention favorites (smart move, by the way … so maybe somebody did learn from Ollis). Bennett, the show’s emcee and sg’s unofficial comedian now that Mark Lowry is on his own, jokes his way into his own solo. It’s of course the cleanest, most reliable, tasteful, careful, forceful example of The SG Piano Solo, which is why it’s called Roger Bennett’s Pianorama, I guess. Then there’s some comedy involving a 12-year-old “walk-on” in a garish yellow suit with a red shirt who, in the skit, talks his way into a solo, which of course receives roaring applause but is, even for 12-year-olds, a rushed mess of hashed runs and those standard thirty-second-note licks. Derrell Stewart gets in on the act and receives a solo for his old-straight-man bit. His deadpan is so eerily practiced and the cynicism only half mocking that the audience isn’t sure how to take his jokes, especially when he deadpans about having tapes for sale outside at a table where his wife will be happy to take your money … the joke, of course, is on all the young up-and-comers who, unlike the pianists of Stewart’s era (who were accompanists first and soloists only when the front-man thought they’d earned it), spend as much time hawking their solo projects as playing for groups. Bennett seems to thoroughly enjoy most of this sketch comedy, being the avocational comic himself. He’s clearly learned spades and spades about onstage humor from George and Glen, and most of his material is pretty good stuff (anyone who can make life with cancer genuinely, as opposed to cloyingly, humorous has to be a decent stand up). Things wind down with a “surprise” appearance by Josh Singletary (the redhead from the Wilburns). His solo lacks any discernable melody or an identifiable rhythm for the first half and the melodic line disappears again toward the end, but he’s young and flashy, and with some help from Derrell Stewart’s sight-gags about the matching color of Stewart’s socks and Singletary’s hair, Singletary gets ‘em on their feet. So maybe melody’s are overrated. Jeff Stice closes the solos out, but he disappointingly chooses to play the millionth-and-first rendition of “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” Note to Jeff Stice: Please, get some new material; you’re too good for this song anymore. A final all-play brings the Pianorama to a punctual close and everyone seems pleased. Obviously, the piano solo is alive and well. September 16, 2004 2:32 PM

NQC ‘04: Daytripping
Aside from getting stuck behind a pork transport trailer headed to the Louisville stock yards and forgetting the difference between I-64 and I-65, the trip was uneventful. My NQC pal (hereafter, MNP) scored (or got stuck with … I’m not sure which yet) a loaded Lincoln Town Car at the airport last night, so we’re riding in 100-percent retiree style. We’ve already dubbed it The Yacht, because it glides into berth whenever we park and sails down the road with the easy ride of a party barge. It’s so large that time seems to warp and distort and elongate in it (80-mph feels like 20) - the trip took no longer than usual but FELT like twice the time. Plus it’s outfitted with all these bells and whistles, literally, that tinge its luxuriousness with a faint whiff of mortality. The car’s features and gizmos are all obviously designed with the impairments and decrepitude of older age in mind: A chime goes off if the turn signal is left on too long without being clicked off by regular turns (whose grandpa doesn’t do that?). And this high-pitched squeal rips through the cabin when you back up, progressively approaching the canine-range of sounds as the enormous back-end approaches anything (all warning sounds and alerts are extra loud, too). Then there’s the extra large print on all dials, buttons, and switches. And everything is within extra-close range of, I presume, stiff, arthritic limbs. Still, style of whatever kind is nice, especially given the decade-old jalopy I’m used to driving. Of course my regular car doesn’t have a cd player, and since MNP and I usually don’t see one another except for convention trips, we gorged ourselves on cds. Greater Vision’s Quartets project remains a favorite (though L5’s new Monuments project was a hit, too). We filled out the Fan Awards ballot just for fun (obviously we didn’t send any in), and I took greatest pleasure is selecting Rodney Griffin’s “Just Ask” for song of the year. He’s the Mosie Lister or Albert Brumley (or maybe Bill Gaither?) of his generation. The Ruppes gave us the most opportunities to replay fantastic passages, and to mix things up I threw in a little Richard Strauss (forget the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme … find his “Four Last Songs,” as sung by Lucia Popp). Strauss died young and wrote “Four Last Songs,” a hauntingly beautiful series of meditations on dying, as he swiftly declined: death, evidently, gives a gifted few such clarifying insight that our mortality seems almost worth the loss. September 16, 2004 2:38 PM

NQC ‘04: A few words about the short ties
So I’ve been doing some research about this short-tie business that SSQ has thrust to the forefront of Big Burning Issue of sg chatter. Out here in the southish-heartland of things, we haven’t seen much of this short-tie craze (but then again we get everything about five years after the coasts so go figure). Never deterred by isolation or cultural insularity, your intrepid reporter did what everyone who wants to know more about a subject does: I asked my friends. Several friends of mind are Official Fashionistas (ok, they buy high-end clothes for a major upscale department store, but close enough), and I’ve asked them about the short-tie fad in the fashion world. Here’s the response I got from one of them (with editorializing and opinionating included):

I’ve seen it and I hate it! I noticed it in Esquire and Details when I was flying to NY last week. They come down to the belly-button, leaving about 3-4 inches between the bottom of the tie and the top of the pant. They could be cute, but if you have any semblance of a belly, it would not be a flattering look. I have a feeling that it will be a flash-in-the-pan sort of trend. Let’s hope!

There you have it. Or not. Either way, the SSQ guys have 1)obviously been doing their fashion homework (man, … practicing dance moves, spiking their hair, reading Details AND Esquire? … these SSQ guys must be really exhausted all the time) and 2)been studying up on ways to create buzz, edginess and the hipster appearance. All politics is local and all publicity is good publicity. September 15, 2004 9:39 AM

NQC ‘04: GVB-less
The real test of how important the Gaither Vocal Band absence will be at this year’s NQC won’t come until Friday night, which has historically been GVB’s night, insofar as the hall absolutely fills up to the point of busting right before GVB’s set and then promptly empties out (relatively, of course). But for now, a few observations. First, I think it is a big deal, symbolically and practically, that GVB is not at the NQC. For a lot of fans who can’t or aren’t inclined to pay the big-ticket price of the Homecoming roadshow (or don’t live near enough one to make attendance feasible), NQC is the one place they get to experience the thrill of and unique mania that surrounds GVB (no one else in sg right now can drive a crowd as wild as GVB just by showing up - though SSQ is trying awfully hard to do this), to see and listen to the latest addition to the group, and, of course, to hear David Phelps blow the roof off the place. And the GVB is a big player in sg, one way or another. So yes, their absence ought to be noted and certainly mourned. That said (and this is the second point), no one who pays much attention to the structuring dynamics of sg can be too surprised at this turn of events. Not because there’s some kind of openly bad blood between Gaither and the NQC board (I won’t be the first person to note how unlikely it is that the NQC board disinivited GVB - because doing so would have been supremely stupid - but it’s a point worth remaking). Rather, Gaither has been quietly but progressively distancing himself from the establishment infrastructure of sg as an industry for years now, basically setting up a parallel, self-contained musical universe of his own that doesn’t need and isn’t beholden to any event or any person in traditional sg. Third and finally, I’m not sure it really matters in any measurable or lasting way that GVB is absent (and probably will be in the future) from the NQC. But even if it did, how would we know? Would anyone really not go to NQC because GVB wasn’t there? I seriously doubt it. And if that’s the case, the issue seems to have been distorted into a crisis when in fact it’s more like a blip. September 15, 2004 8:59 AM

NQC ‘04: “To start off, I’ll have a side of heart disease”
Seriously, Jerry Kirksey’s first NQC post of this year on the Singing News website is … wait for it, “Eatin’ at the NQC.” Yup, that’s right: the editor of sg’s most influential publication looked around the NQC, thought of everything he might possibly choose to talk about in his inaugural post from this year’s convention, and decided that the most important thing he had to say was “you won’t starve to death in Louisville, KY.” Uhm, ok. I can’t say this is exactly shocking, given that Kirksey went on with something like half-starved, wild-eyed intensity a few months back about how Jesus was not a low-carb eater (yes, but Jesus walked everywhere and didn’t eat at places like Kirksey’s “favorite Bar-B-Que joint, Marks Feed Store”). Still, the Singing News website regularly includes reports about sg types who suffer and often die from heart disease, which statistically is almost definitely related in some way to diet and exercise habits. So you’d think Kirksey might make the connection between this particular trend in the news and the kinds of radically unhealthy eating habits he enthusiastically recommends (a typical Kirksey meal is, evidently, barbecue of any kind, batter-slathered deep-fried catfish, or pizza and buttermilk pie for desert). If Kirksey keeps it up, he won’t just be editing the news, he’ll be in it, though not, of course, for having starved to death. September 14, 2004 0:11 AM

From the department of “whatever happened to …”
Unforgetful reader SGL writes to ask:

Whatever happened to “THE WORLD OF GOSPEL MUSIC”? This well designed, good looking, slick website promised to be the greatest thing to come down the pike since the wheel. Now it seems to be just another abandoned SG site with no updates since April or May of this year. I remember when the site first went online. [On the message boards] I questioned the dedication of those producing this “great, new innovation is SG media.” I was quickly chastised as one who had no vision and failed to think “outside the box.” I was only expressing my opinion. After all, I’ve seen so many great ideas in SG go by the wayside when the innovators either get tired of the actual work involved or fail to make the big bucks fast enough… so they move on. I notice there are no more big banner links to TWOGM at sogospelnews.com. Wonder what happened?

Yes, I wonder, too. All the more so because of how vigorously the worldofgospelmusic’s advocates were insisting on the site’s revolutionary quality. I braced myself and worked my way through as much as I could stomach of the 11-page thread about the website that SGL refers to. The only way to describe it is a festival of acrimony. And the acrimony disappointingly comes mostly from sogospelnews’s owners, Susan and Deon Unthank, representing the Any Criticism Must Be Squelched team, against a handful of opponents who futilely insisted on trying to convince the Unthanks that just because the Unthanks clearly had some kind of interest in the success of this new website, that didn’t mean they needed to swoop in like hawks with their talons bared every time someone said something about the new site that wasn’t full of sweetness and light. It would be ungenerous of me to reprint some of the many outlandish things the Unthanks said (about, for instance, how the site was going to change things in a big way - you can read those for yourself). But it would be interesting to know what exactly happened to the site and why its administrators (who haven’t yet responded to the email I sent them via the website) have abandoned the site instead of taking it down or updating it. Maybe by leaving it up, the site’s owners and supporters can still say it’s a work in really slow progress - revolutions take time, I suppose - rather than owning up to how badly they oversold the site to begin with? I dunno. Anybody who does know (or who has any ideas), let me know. In the meantime, SGL (barring any Lazarus-like resurrections), consider yourself vindicated. September 13, 2004 5:08 PM
NQC ‘04: SG blogging goes to Louisville Ok. It’s official. I’ll be writing and posting from Louisville Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (with some bleed over into Sunday, most likely). Since I’ve never done this before and don’t have any pre-existing models to go by as far NQC “blogging” is concerned, I’m not sure how it will go. Perhaps it’s not a good preliminary sign that the remarkably unknowledgeable desk clerk who answered the phone at the hotel where I’m staying referred ominously to a “little black box” I would use to get internet access in my room, so maybe John Ashcroft will be monitoring my posts … unless of course Les Beasley has managed to pull off the greatest coup in NQC history and snagged the attorney general to sing a rousing rendition of the sg-esque song Ashcroft wrote while wandering around the fields of his Springfield, Mo., ranch: “Let the Eagle Soar” (I’ve heard him sing it, and it wasn’t terribly pretty … if any eagles were soaring, they were almost certainly flying away from Ashcroft’s microphone). Anyway, if you’re in Louisville and have internet access, maybe you’ll check me out and let me know what you’re seeing from your seats. If you’re not in Louisville, I’d love to hear from you too - before, during, or after. What do you want to hear or know about? Is Jeff Steele still wearing that toupee? Which performers will interact with the little old preacher lady who inevitably finds her way to the foot of the stage, and which ones will pretend she’s not there? Will people in the nosebleed seats be able to hear what’s going on onstage or not? Has that filthy, grungy, scary Denny’s to the south of Freedom Hall managed to escape the health inspector’s attention for another year? How many minutes will lapse from the time Peg McKamey takes the stage until her shoes come off? Which pianist will embarrass himself the most by mugging and hamming for the cameras during evening performances? How crowded will the Mercy’s Mark, Integrity Quartet showcase really be? Will anyone manage to single-handedly electrify the hall more stunningly than Gerald Wolfe? Will it really matter that GVB isn’t there? Which performance will knock the top of my head off? These and many other mysteries sure to be solved, or at least interestingly searched after, later this week. Look for posts keyed “NQC ‘04″ throughout the week. The first is below. September 12, 2004 9:30 PM
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NQC ‘04: A few words on this year’s convention lineups
First off, some things that thrill me about the Thursday-to-Saturday lineup: Greater Vision (it’s astounding that their appearance hasn’t historically been a given on the weekend), the Perrys (a serious contender for the Next Great Mixed Group; this bunch has really got their act together), the Booth Brothers (one of those brothers is wound a little tight on stage, for my taste, but they know how to play a solid set), and Mark Trammell’s new trio (which should have been on the lineup last year). What doesn’t thrill me is some of the other, often baffling, inexplicable choices. I assume that if pressed on the issue, the NQC board *might say that, like the nominations for the Southern Gospel Music Guild awards nomination, “selections are based on a variety of statistics related to the individual or group, including radio chart data and product sales, according to SoundScan” and some vague notion of fairness (though of course the NQC will NEVER be pressed for an on-the-record, for-attribution justification of its often high-handed, regularly imperious decisions). And I’m sure there are intense, maybe sometimes heated, certainly always serious discussions about who gets to sing when and for how long (that is, these things are not taken lightly). But no matter how many sophisticated market-data calculations have been developed as a pretext for each year’s weekend lineups, it’s difficult to understand or even penetrate the (il)logic that, for instance, puts Chosen Few on the Friday night schedule but leaves Mercy’s Mark off the week’s evening lineup all together. This isn’t a comment on Chosen Few so much as it is an example of how distorted things can be at the NQC (I mean, does anyone really believe that Chosen Few has the all-around bonafides that Garry Jones brings to Mercy’s Mark the moment he steps on stage, no matter how new the quartet is?). The best I can figure, there must be an Official Edict at NQC that says groups must check off certain boxes before they can get on the NQC stage: release a full-scale recording, travel fulltime for over a year, get on the radio, and so on. But like all formulas or equations used to give subjective selection processes the appearance of objectivity, this one doesn’t hold up under the scrutiny of common sense and the bright light of reality. It makes no sense to use inflexible formulas to determine if a new group gets on the schedule (or claim that formulas are the way such decisions are made), while at the same time using an apparently random or unsystematic process to determine which established groups will sing on Friday or Saturday. Case in point: The Hagee Family has been on the Friday or Saturday night schedule for at least the last handful of years, yet the Nelons are once again off the weekend schedule this year, as are the Lesters, and Palmetto State. Huh? To be blunt: the members of the Hagee Family are serviceably mediocre singers and amateur performers, at best. What the Hagee Family’s repeated primetime billing demonstrates, I think, is that even if there are formulas or equations notionally used (and I’ve only proceeded on this assumption because it’s the best explanation I can come up with that doesn’t impute mendacious motives or bad faith to the NQC board), such a selection-calculus masks a more fundamental subjectivity that skews the determination of the weekend lineups. Does anyone really believe the Hagee Family would be on stage if John Hagee’s ministry (his conferences, his cruises, his seminars) didn’t regularly give good work to big-name sg groups? Don’t bother answering that question because none of the sg news media will ever get serious enough about their jobs to press for accountability among the industry’s powerbrokers and string-pullers. Which means, I guess, that I better enjoy the thrilling moments, store them up, and rely on those precious memories while I cringe my way through the hard times at NQC. September 12, 2004 9:05 PM

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  1. Mavis Stokes wrote:

    A Christian must not have written this insulting piece . You must get your musical ability to critique from some bar room . What a lot of talent you were finding fault with . I did not get on Face Book for you to tell me this kind of thing . I have ears . These are all great people .

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