Blowin’ in the wind; or, the prehistory of a good idea

More interesting background continues to arrive on the origins, seeds, and pre-history of the Gaither Homecoming series. Was it Waller’s original reunions that gave Big G the idea? Was it the happenstance of a studio recording? Or other things entirely? Let’s got to the mail.First, from someone who knows more than a little about sg history, comes this post:

These are the facts:

The first Grand Ole Gospel Reunion was held in 1988. Mr. Gaither attended some of the earlier reunions. I can’t say for certain if he was at the first one, but he did attend some of them prior to his first Homecoming project.

The first time “Where Could I Go” from the original video was performed was at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion. I could pull the video to give you the exact date, but I’m too lazy right now. Mr. Gaither was given time on the GOGR program and had most of the Homecoming crowd on the stage with him. They sang the song and then played the original video on the big screen. They also did several other selections that evening. This was the first time I’d ever experienced Mark Lowry’s humor.

Now, did he get the idea from Mr. Waller? Who’s to say for certain. I do know that the GOGR was going several years before the Homecoming series began, and Gaither attended several of those early reunions. You be the judge.

While you’re judging, don’t forget another possible Homecoming adumbration. Reader DL reminds us that the Rusty Goodman Benefit held at Christ Church (in Nashville) just before Goodman died in 1990 anticipated the Homecoming format and pacing, as have other benefits since then.

But the real question on many people’s minds is the one RF posed and then proceeded to answer:

Would Bill steal an idea? Probably, but the truth is he made it happen while Waller and others were doing regional stuff. No matter how much the sg hierarchy resents and is jealous of Gaither, he kept the music alive and they didn’t. Those guys are so shortsighted that they were content with keeping the music in the South. Gaither saw a bigger market. He also brought back the Goodmans, Jake Hess, and others into the homes of people who didn’t even know who they were. All this talk of his shows getting stale or less popular is hogwash. It’s the new version of the Lawrence Welk Show and people love it.

I like that last bit about the Welk show, because it’s clever … and probably true. Lawrence Welk for a Bush nation. That’s good stuff.

All this being said, though, I’m not sure we’re much closer to the truth than when we started, not least of all because the precise nature of truth in these kinds of creative endeavors is almost always hard to pin down (did Shakespeare rip off Bacon or Marlowe, or were they all working in a common milieu? Was Elvis aping the gospel showboats who pioneered on-stage flamboyance or was he paying homage to his heroes?). Certainly, the Goodman benefit probably helped crystallize a constellation of ideas that Gaither had doubtless been contemplating and working with for sometime, at least as far back as Waller’s first reunion in the late 1980s. Certainly those first reunions of Waller’s were original and savvy innovations with the kernel of a very smart concept at their center. Those kinds of ideas usually don’t go unpursued … by the very nature of good ideas, they develop and flourish organically, taking root in the most fertile soil, regardless of whose plot of ground it is. The wind carries good ideas where it will. Who’s to blame for that? It’s hard to know. So the best we can say, I think, is that musical tributes and reunion concerts arose as a primary expression of gratitude and thankfulness toward the generation of sg stars and legends that were entering old age at the end of the 80s. And the reunion theme, its accessible style of musical pastiche, and its emotional content resonated with whole segments of American culture that were unfamiliar with sg. That this mode of expression was also profitable, well, … that didn’t hurt either.

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