Caution: these videos may cause unintended distortion of vision (II of II)

Here’s the potentially negative (but obviously unintended) side-effect of Gaither’s traveling festival of sg legends: the Homecoming Series creates an increasingly narrow and unrealistic sense of what sg is and means as an experience. Yes, the groups and soloists who travel with him benefit from the exposure and increased product sales online and in retail stores, as well as in number of dates booked (separate from number of tickets sold). And, it’s a worth a group’s time to do a series of Gaither dates in which their sets are shorter but their exposure and sales go up so that they can do more and better dates when they don’t travel with him. That said, the sheer pervasive success of Gaither’s videos have now become for many sg fans the touchstone notion of what sg is and how it is performed. But whatever the Homecoming Series is and does, it does not typify an average sg concert at your church or the local county fair. Several factors play into this: first of course, the choreography - go to a Homecoming concert early and listen, for instance, how the canned music played before the event begins is at first (say, thirty minutes out) quiet and low-key, then slowly builds with progressive stylistic intensity and volume until just before the concert. This has the effect of generating an almost subconscious excitement and a just-barely-unpleasant tension that only the real live performance can resolve (this happens in part because as the music gets louder and the venue fills up, people have to talk louder to hear each other, which creates the effect of “a buzz” in the room about what’s to come, even though most people are probably just talking about getting popcorn or something like that). Then there’s the carefully scripted on-stage “spontaneity;” the Vegas-quality comedy skits; the expensive wardrobes; the kickin’ band - it’s as if Gaither has taken all the best kinds of moments in sg concerts and threaded them together in one long carefully composed tableau of uninterrupted perfection: perfect lights, perfect set, perfect mix of old and new, perfect interaction of personalities, perfect instrumentation, perfect looking Marshall Hall, perfect sounding David Phelps. But predictable perfection (or near perfection) is not why most people go to sg concerts, I don’t think. They go for the unpredictable, idiosyncratic quality unique to each group or performer, the unlooked-for moments of grace and transport that defy scripted sets and typecast performances (no matter how awesome David Phelps’ voice is, for instance, I’m no longer surprised by his virtuoso performance, time after time, of “Let Freedom Ring”). I like a clip or two from the Homecoming tapes now and then, but give me the Kingsmen under a tent at an electric co-op annual meeting any time - warts and all - over the unflappable stage-management of Bill Gaither’s Homecomings. I’m not concerned that Gaither’s stardom is largely mortgaged to a bunch of Homecoming “friends.” What concerns me is the inadvertent side-effects his success may be having on the people he uses and the industry he’s sentimentalizing with the Homecoming franchise. These potential side-effects do nothing to refute the reality that he and his name draw people to listen to the combinations of stars and performers he puts together. He’s a superstar for sure and a genius showman and songwriter to boot. But the side-effects do mar his success.

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