NQC coverage 05

NQC 05: Final thoughts
It’s been a harried week trying to catch up with all that I missed while in Louisville last week, and I’m still not sure I’ve managed to get enough sleep yet. But I’ve finally found some time to ruminate on this year’s convention. Some final thoughts on NQC 05, then:

I heart NQC
It probably shouldn’t go without saying that NQC is a highlight of my year. I imagine that a lot of people who read this site on a regular basis imagine (and least one person in the past has said) that the particular way I encounter and interact with music keeps me from “enjoying” it, or that I don’t even know how to. I would hope it would be somewhat self-evident that if I didn’t thoroughly enjoy myself and gospel music, I wouldn’t spend the time it takes to write thoughtfully and meaningfully and (I hope at times) entertainingly about it. Our minds are all hardwired in different ways, and mine happens to be of the sort that listens carefully and somewhat technically, yet at the same time I try not to be unreceptive to the kinds of indescribable experiences that can overrun our ability to explain or dissect or understand in a technical nature. In the best cases, it’s not necessary to try: the best music, the most talented artists, trample the intellect and stampede straight to the heart, the soul, the spirit - leaving us speechless, and rhetorically impoverished before a kind grace that is, I think, central to why tens of thousands of people return to Freedom Hall every year and put up with the acts they hate in order to hear just a few moments, a coupla fleeting bars of glory from those artists who seem to be transcribing the voice of God into song. I offer this, then, as a headnote and an epilogue to everything I’ve said and written about NQC. For all its weaknesses and shortcomings, it is still an imitable event, occupying an irreplaceable spot in the life of evangelical musical arts and religious experience.

The Future
Enough rhapsody. Apropos my Saturday night thoughts on the future of sg, I wanted to follow up a bit, specifically about the apparent lack of a Headliner Quartet in sg right now. As I’ve said before, there are aspects of both L5’s and SSQ’s work that suggests to me they have the potential to be the kind of big draw that the Cats were in their day, that Gold City once was, that the Kingsmen achieved in the 70s and 80s, that the Stamps and Blackwoods and Speers once represented. But this kind of status and style doesn’t happen over night. It takes years to come to fruition.

When talking about L5 or SSQ (or Mercy’s Mark, the underdog for whom I’m most rooting at this point) as possible heirs-apparent to the Cats, it’s important to keep in mind the gestation period for greatness. Any number of examples would work (the quartets above, or Greater Vision or, even, I think, the Perrys of today, who are fast on their way to being a The Biggest non-Gaither Act Around). But let’s stick with the Cats. In the early 70s, the Cats weren’t very Catlike. It took at least a decade for George and Glen to find the right combination of material and personnel and stage presence that gelled into what become the Mythic Grandeur of the Cats. We tend to superimpose onto the Cats’ early work a sense of the greatness they later achieved, but that revisionist history obscures rather than elucidates our understanding of our own time and gospel music’s development cycles more generally (cycles that still hold true today, more or less, as far as artistry and style go).

That historical lesson suggests that rather than looking for the young group that most sounds and acts like the Cats now, we should look instead for the groups that seem to possess the makings of or ingredients for Catlike greatness. It’s not that L5 and SSQ and MM or any other group right now shows the promise of becoming or sounding just like the Cats did. What they do have though is the same incipient sense of self-possession, of an inner compass guiding their work that suggests they imagine themselves evolving along a development arc encompassing years, rather than the McCray Dove model of getting people on their feet every set at whatever expense to taste and decorum (note: I’m not saying Dove doesn’t have a years-long vision of himself and his group; he does and he’s said so to me in emails several times. It’s only that his on-stage manner and “make them throw the babies” approach to every stand seem to undercut such a vision).

Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t hold groups like L5 to a high standard now. To the contrary, if anyone should be held to high standards, it’s these groups with the most potential to really elevate the music and the tradition. But it does mean that with a group like L5 (or SSQ, when I get the rare chance to hear them), I tend (this is not a rule) to focus on the broader trends in their sets and downplay the dropped note here or the pitchiness there, since I think they’ve long ago proved (unlike the Doves, say) that they are capable of toting the musical mail in ways that don’t rely on sophomoric stunts (RAIN RAIN RAIN RAIN! — [ fall down in feigned exhaustion]) and theatrical gimmickry (belching the ABCs as a bass solo … and yes, this is as good a time as any to wonder if anyone, David Bruce Murray included, can honestly say all those subterranean sounds David Hester makes when Dove forces him to act like an earth mover are in tune - indeed, I wonder if anyone can tell me what ideal tonality would be in these instances, since it seems to me the purpose is not to sing but to try to impress the easily duped and the musically indiscriminating. I understand some people like it. Fine … but liking it doesn’t mean the Doves earn themselves a get-out-of-singing-school free card).

Gaither, naturally
In re trends in gospel music. It occurs to me how easy it is to forget that while NQC is still a huge deal and does matter quite a lot, it’s just one week a year. Gaither, on the other hand, sings to more people in a typical month of Homecoming concerts than pass through the NQC gates all six nights combined. And that’s to say nothing of the added bonus that in Gaither’s case he’s singing to new people each night and not largely the same set of repeat ticket-holders that attend NQC week.

More broadly considered, it’s a curious irony of the Homecoming Antiques Roadshow phenomenon that Gaither’s brainchild, so often associated with the old style, has done more to push sg to the center/left of the quartet traditionalists than any other single force. Under the guise of paying homage to the very tradition it has considerably dismantled or at least challenged, the Homecoming series has dramatically and lastingly reshaped the general perception of what non-black gospel music is and sounds like and looks and acts.

Point of view
NQC diehards may look at the world from inside Freedom Hall and say that gospel music orbits NQC, that sg takes its cue from the signals sent at the convention (who’s hot, who’s not, who’s promising, who’s on the way out). But the more realistic perspective is the one that looks at NQC alongside the other shaping forces in gospel music. To speak of events only, such forces would include the Crabb Universe (Crabbfest, Crabb Cruises, Crabbs on Benny Hinn, Crabbs on TBN, Crabbs at Brooklyn Tab), Mark Lowry (I think everyone is underestimating his popularity and the importance of his new Senior Trip concert strategy) and, of course, Gaither. In this context, the NQC that takes a “let them come to us” approach does so, as we’re already seeing, at the risk of alienating the likes of SSQ, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Gaither Vocal Band, and Booth Brothers, among others. It’s not a matter of musical styles it. It’s the supply-demand math that clearly says an event like NQC cannot hope to thrive if its range of stylistic choices is more heavily weighted, as the Gaither defections have made it, toward the Dove Brothers, Inspirations, and McKameys end of the musical spectrum. There were just a few moments this year when I shivered at the thought of NQC becoming a glorified Singing in the Smokies.

What to do?
I don’t know. That’s why I spent the week after NQC sleeping and putting together a blathery redux on the convention while the real movers and shakers are counting their take from last week. Anyway, NQC’s attraction is its affordability and its variety. Take away one and the other becomes far less appealing. What’s more, even if the price stays the same for the foreseeable future, the Gaither defectors will erode the variety and make the same ticket price seem like less of a value. Rather than looking for the Next Big Innovation to revitalize NQC, the convention board needs to eat some pride, get over itself and find a way to bring back the defectors. Until groups like L5 and First Love and Mercy’s Mark reach Greater Vision’s or the Perrys’ cult-like status, there aren’t that many other plausible scenarios that involve NQC filling those hundreds of empty seats I saw each night I was there. And if the alienated Gaitherites can’t be wooed back, then I guess you could always rename NQC A Week with Dove, Cook, & McKamey.

I wanna be Martin Cook!
RF’s comment last week about the political and ideological factors that draw fans to the Inspirations put me in mind of this email from insightful reader RK:

When I look at the sg fan base in general, I believe that many of them look at The Inspirations and see themselves:

–Overtly and unapologetically Christian
–Not influenced by “worldly” trends or the popular culture
–Conservative in appearance and political views
–Simplistic in presentation and style
–Perhaps not overly talented, but overflowing with good intentions

As the generational and cultural gap in sg grows wider, the more you’ll see a gravitation toward groups to whom fans can more closely identify. That doesn’t mean that more talented and stylish groups than the I’s won’t be appreciated by the older, more conservative set; it just means the I’s will remain on a plateau that doesn’t require musical excellence or a stream of knock-your-socks-off recordings to maintain.

Yes, many of these same people that vote for I’s now used to religiously vote for the Cats–icons of style and supreme musical talent. That would seem to be a real disconnect, even in a country that willfully went from the grand patrician FDR to hardscrabble Harry Truman. However, with no clear “heir to the Cats’ throne” in place (especially given Gold City’s turnover/decline), and votes being split among the younger groups, the road to an I’s plurality vote is paved.

Look at it like this: the Cats’ represented everything that many aging sg fans wanted to be: graceful, respected, and faithful…yet fun. The I’s represent what most of them really are: slightly aloof from the rest of the world, uncompromising and unchanging as the years go by, and a little off-key…but trying hard.

To paraphrase Don Rumsfeld, you don’t vote on fan awards with the fan base you want; you vote on fan awards with the fan base you have.

RK, I think, is right. Musicologists and musical-arts theorists sometimes talk of the “experiential potential” listeners associate with music, by which they mean (I think) the possibilities and ideal sense of self that people identify with music they like. If this sounds fuzzy and obtuse, it is. And I think it’s especially dubious when applied to religious music, which evokes a whole range of psychological and spiritual feelings that exceed anything so vague as “experiential potential.” Still, it’s a useful concept when talking about the personal, ideological and political factors that RK identifies because it helps begin to explain why music that is so unmusical and bad is still so darned popular.

Lyrics vs melody
Despite the old adage that there’s no accounting for taste, Reader JP wrote in to offer a theory that tries to do just that.

I was also in attendance from Thur - Sat at NQC and was eager to read your comments. When I did I wondered how it was possible for someone to perceive things as differently as I did as compared to you. I think I have figured it out.

My wife commented to me that the most important thing to her was the melody of a song. I replied that to me the most important was the lyrics. I think you are in the same category as she. Otherwise, how could you have selected Lord Song as the highlight of the convention? I agree that musically it was a fine effort (although this is a Quartet Convention - who cares what the trend in SG is going to be - they are not a quartet, mixed or otherwise), but the lyrics to the Lord of the Dance song made absolutely no sense. Doesn’t’ it say something about Jesus dancing out of his tomb? I asked some friends sitting around me what they thought, and they also didn’t get it. I considered it a low spot of the convention.

This difference in approach would also explain your aversion to the Inspirations. Musically they aren’t as talented as some others, buy you know what? I can hear and understand every word, and that makes them a group I thoroughly enjoy. I would put the McKameys in the same category. Their songs as so meaningful I don’t care if they sound like a bunch of hillbillies, which they will tell you they are. You also get all the words from GV and that makes them another of my favorites. Apparently there are more like me and that’s why groups like the Inspirations remain popular.

Conversely, although I want to embrace the Perrys and BFA I find myself straining to understand their lyrics - especially on the up-tempo stuff.

I’m not sure I wholly agree. Any perusal of my project reviews will show, I think, how much emphasis on put on well-turned lyrics. But there’s enough truth here to warrant putting it out there.

Rename the songwriter of the year
At least that’s my conclusion after reading this right-on letter from TM:

Neither Kyla Rowland nor Joel Lindsey will ever win a Songwriter of the Year award from the SN faithful, though both Kyla & Joel are deserving… The average SG fan only knows a handful of songwriters, all of whom sing with groups they are familiar with. The non-performing songwriter (or in Rowland’s case, the songwriter performing in a virtually unknown group) is not consistently in front of enough people for the people to remember their names. Sure, they may make the Top 10 list, but almost never win the thing.

It’s a shame that the typical SG fan is so unaware of who writes the songs, but really, I submit that most of them just plain old don’t care. I think we would be surprised to see the results of a poll asking fans who writes the Kingsmen’s songs or the Perry’s songs or GC’s songs. Most fans, I think, would guess that they all write their own music.

First off, I should say that insofar as NQC and the SN could do a much better job (which is to say, do anything at all more than the nothing they’re doing at the moment) to help fans and readers get to know the some of the less visible people who write the songs fans love, there is still some theoretical hope that a day will come when a Rowland or a Lindsey will win the songwriter of the year. But realistically that won’t happen because the SN doesn’t have a vested interest in making the effort and, as TM notes, fans just don’t care. So why not rename the songwriter award to SINGER/songwriter of the year? That would acknowledge the reality that only those writers who also perform tend to win the award.

Corrections, clarifications, and miscellanies
Leaders of Tomorrow: You may recall I noted that the turn-around for “Boundless Love” at the LOT showcase was keyed too high, and I blamed pianist Stewart Varnado. I have since learned that originally, the song was supposed to use a track, but Daywind put together an ad-hoc band of Varnado, Ricky Free, and Randy Shelnut Jr to play the song live. Seems the DW folks wanted the same arrangement and keys as the track, keys that were obviously too high for Facello. The band evidently offered Facello lower keys in rehearsal. But Facello, it seems, insisted on the original higher keys, saying that he could do it (well ok, but that doesn’t always mean you should). Interesting trivia, Facello was singing the same note that Danny Funderburke had to end on.

John Hagee was at NQC, preaching on Friday morning. My bad.

And now for my Roy Pauley moment … Besides Brian Free and John Rulapaugh, who else would you class in a quasi-traditional vein of Bill Shaw and Rosie Rozell? Seems like there is at least one more whose name I’m forgetting, but I can’t recall it for the life of me. And note, I’m not talking about tenors like Facello, Haase, and Seamans, who sing the lines well but do it with a much less traditional inflection.

Did the Florida Boys really sing two songs with nearly identical arrangements to Southern Sound’s renditions? Save for a 2nd of the chord that FB’s left off and a 5th that SS added on “This is the Day,” I hear that’s the case. Anyone know, or care? September 21, 2005 5:32 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Saturday Night Roundup
Things wound up somewhere between Thursday and last night, which somehow seems about right. Off we go.

The Big Stuff

LordSong: THE performance of the night, to my weary ears. They opened with an acappella arrangement of “Lord of the Dance,” highlighting Kim Lord’s deep rich lower register, where her tones don’t lose a bit of power or clarity. The song moved us swiftly but effectively through the emotions of the passion without a dropped or missed note. “I Want to Live it All” and “Day 3″ were the heart of the set, followed by another accapella number. Few groups could pull off two acappella numbers (no group I’ve heard can sing the kinds of arrangements LS does, with these abrupt modulations that demand a near pitch-perfect sense of where and what your next note is). And few groups could close with a song like “Wandering Heart,” from SoulFood. Such a ballady meditative song takes vocal self-possession on a scale that I’m not sure any other group brought to the mainstage this week. The only word I could think of to describe their sound is oceanic … beautiful, full of a power both awesome and restrained, with swells of force interspersed with delicate undulations. Or something like that. Anyway, at the risk of sermonizing, I think LS is where the future of sg is, on the bleeding edge of harmonies and chord structures, styles and sounds that look back but move irrepressibly ahead. If sg is to thrive, it will be because it finds a way to define itself so that a LordSong is as much a part of the tradition and style as the Doves or Greater Vision or the Perrys. To reconceive of sg this way is to emphasize the GOSPEL of southern gospel, a wide ranging musical tradition that embraces all comers who pay their way with talent and attention to the legacy they’ve inherited. The only other option is to emphasize the SOUTHERN part, that is, to throw up walls and circle the wagons and narrowly conceive of the music as comprising a small group of traditionalists. Why on earth anyone would want to venerate a tradition in a way that excludes the likes of LS is beyond me. But a year like this - one with not Cats, no Speers, no Gaither, with attendance down (at least 3% I’d guess) and old favorites struggling to hold our attention - this is clearly a phase of transition that places the industry and its artists and creative types and businessmen at a crossroads. To those who think an active embrace of the LS style will erode the integrity of the old ways, it is useful to remember that people like LS and First Love and the Crabbs self-identify with the same tradition that the Doves and PSQ presume to speak for. More important, cultural and religious and artistic traditions can only deepen and strengthen in scope and influence when they comprehend a range of styles and experience and perspectives. So while we wait for the next George and Glen and Bill and Brock, it might not be a bad idea to invest a little in a range of promissory notes that may well yield a return we can only begin to imagine right now, in these days of flux and uncertainty and rebuilding. Sermon herewith endeth.

MIA: No Lesters.

BFA: The most well put together quartet of the evening. In a week full of weak tenors, it’s a real treat to end the evening with Brian Free. “For God So Loved” roused a drowsy crowd, and “Long as I Got” positively killed. Good for Free for turning around “Long as I Got” a fourth time even after Andrew Ishee stormed the piano trying to kick off the finale before BFA had finished mopping up the floor with their set.

The Nelons: It is, of course, deeply satisfying to see this great name in gospel music back on the mainstage. Like the Stamps, the Nelons occupy a soft spot in my heart, and hearing Amber Thompson, Kelly Nelon’s daughter, perform with a maturer command of her voice and the stage was gratifying. I’ll never mind the breathy talk-sing thing (a la Karen Peck) that Thompson has a tendency to overindulge. And her pitchiness on the accapella number, which was less well sung than one might have wanted, is overlookable (well, to be honest, their rendition of “I Need Thee” was cheek-raising). Thompson needs a few years to master the finer points of crowd control, but she is, … well, on her way, as the song says. Here’s the deal: The audience so obviously wanted to love the Nelons, but the Ns don’t have the material necessary to consecrate the goodwill that their fans extend. As I’ve noted a while back, Jason Clark (who is writing most of their music these days) seems to imagine himself not only as the Nelons patriarch, which is a dubious role for him to arrogate to himself, but not nearly as dubious as his trying to play clean-up hitter at the set’s close. Whatever he may be, he is not a clutch man who can deliver the kind of performance for the group’s final song. And meanwhile, Kelly Nelon stands almost passively by at the edge of the stage through most of the set, like a spectral figure, really, watching wistfully but disconnectedly on, as if she has but an incidental relation to the group that bears her name. It’s sad, to tell the truth, watching her and then thinking of what a presence she once was.

Pacing: It’s a good thing that the producers are trying to hustle the evenings along on time, but tonight too many groups got kneecapped by a hair trigger curtain (wow … parse that mixed metaphor!). The Florida Boys especially suffered (more evidence for the anti-conspiracy file). The track was into bar eight before Darrel Stewart ever got the piano. The FBs are still strugglingn logistically with their tracks, but this was not their fault. Why is it so hard to look for a signal from a group’s front man?

Kim Hopper: She sang a song from her solo project tonight, “Peace.” When the Hoppers took the stage, I thought at first that Hopper was lacking some of her power in the ensemble, but the solo revealed that her voice is rather becoming more sophisticated and supple with age, more keyed to nuance in a lyric and a melodic line than on blow-your-head-off notes from the diaphragm .

The Perrys: I had to step out for the Ps set, but MNP stepped in for me with some helpful notes. It seems the Ps come out of the gate red hot, as per usual. “The Perrys know how to bring it home,” MNP jots down at this point. Libbi Perry Stuffle nails her reprise of “God Walks the Dark Hills,” which gives way to “His Name is John.” MNP liked it (I’m ambivalent). “Calvary Answers for Me” was what she had been waiting for, but she was disappointed to here “such a powerful, beautiful song” muddied up by Loren Harris’s playfulness with the higher notes, pushing the words to the back of his throat in order to mess around with the melody. This was precisely the problem I noted in “Wish I Coulda Been There” last night, but MNP says tonight she was listening for and could hear the words on this song. No matter, the crowd loved it. The Perrys are an institution now, I think.

The Crabbs: Jason says he was “throwing the band” at us, tonight, which was fine. Justin Ellis, the pianist, is astounding. When is he going to do a solo project? Or has he already? Anyway, his keyboard work tonight sounded like a set from jazz at the bistro. “Could you Come Down to Me” was the highwater mark of the C’s set - with Gerald Crabb looking on in the artists’ circle (Kathy Crabb was sitting on the other side of the stage). A far cry from those early days when Gerald and Kathy would drag two keyboards and eight guitars, a box of harmonics and all manner of mike stands and chords and sundry children on stage and let fly their Kentucky fire. I can’t say things are worse these days. In fact, the Crabbs are pretty much untouchable in their way. But it’s as if Gerald and Kathy created something that has almost entirely escaped their grasp in its ascendancy. And this is the melancholy pleasure of so much terrible success.

Bonus Standouts and/or Other Worth Mentionings

Florida Boys: They know the scope of what they can do and they do it well. They are hilarious and endearing and of course Gene McDonald is unstoppable.

Hoppers: My theory about this as a potentially final year for Claude and Connie strengthens when Michael Hopper sings part of the first tune on stage, a NQC first, I think (and thank god he’s cut his hair again). It’s like he’s being eased into a role or a familiarity he expects to rely on later. But the H’s turn in another rambling set. More to the point, there’s a bunch of strange emcee misfires, with Claude and Kim talking over one another and not being able to decide who’s going to run the show. This happened at a showcase earlier in the day with Connie and Dean. Maybe it’s intentional, but if so, this act needs work. Worse, though, the material is just stale. My kingdom (better yet, Claude Hopper’s) for a Shannon Childress.

Triumphant: Good to see them on the mainstage finally. They are a big favorite and they worked hard the entire time. Their sense of gospel theater is well developed and they clearly enjoy the Vaudeville aspect to their work. That said, David Sutton has gone from sounding out of whack to giving the impression that some kind of permanent damage may be done to his voice from this Johnnie Cook thing he’s got going on now. More generally, the Ts are barky, a barkiness that is strikingly similar to the Kingdom Heirs, their crosstown theater rivals in Pigeon Forge. The Ts, combined with I heard and saw of the KH this week, make me think that maybe there’s something in theater work that is inimical to restraint and considered withholdings of a performer’s prerogatives to sing every last note possible at the top of his lungs. “Everybody’s Gonna Have” was well received and they extracted each bit of theatricality from the song. But it’s not the theater that’s distracting. It’s the constant in-your-faceness that gets to be a little obnoxious (I mean, honestly, can you listen to Clayton Inman now and say he sounded like this with the Singing Americans?). The group (like KH) seems to have only one setting: BLARE! Even the Crabbs back off their mikes and do some quiet color work now and then.

Gold City: Daniel Riley opened the set with an assurance that GC wasn’t going anywhere (people had expressed concerns, he said). The set tonight was better than last night’s. Steve Ladd’s first verse of “Something Beautiful About the Cross” were less shrill, but by the second verse of “Something Beautiful,” Ladd is back to his old tricks, nearly out-Hodging Hodges. That said, Tim Riley’s absence from the greater Louisville area seemed to put the guys back on their own feet. The set was more coherent and had a felt dramatic arc to it, and Channing Eleton was afire all night. “He has good hands,” MNP says with characteristic understatement. The on-stage interactions were more natural and effective. And the improvement in the sound, I think, could be attributed to this ability to speak and sing for themselves tonight.

Grab Bag

PSQ: Nothing tonight did much to change my sense of them a few months back when I saw them live (which I don’t mean pejoratively), except that Andrew Ishee simply must be tranquilized or something. The constant preening for the camera and the self-regarding grandstanding is neither funny nor endearing. It’s just stupid, because he’s not a kid anymore and at a convention so full of fine pianists who concentrate on playing well and not hamming it up, his antics reflect badly on him and his group. I have nothing to back this up, but I bet at least a few of his bidness partners in PSQ wish they’d contractually bound him to stay put and keep his eyes on his work before they gave away the ability to fire him for his immodest showboating. Can we trade him to the minor leagues?

Mike check: I lost count how many times Brian Free had to tap his mike before a sound guy got a clue and turned him up. This kinda amateur hour crap is so exhausting.

Name that tune: BFA’s “We’ll Say Goodbye” sounds eerily like GC’s old tune, “Be Not Afraid.”

Observationally: There’s nothing to make of this, but the last two nights at least, the Inspirations’ Matt Dibler has set through large chunks of the evening’s set with his wife in the artists circle. This is not typical of most artists. I find Dibler’s attentiveness kinda charming.

Shocking news tonight: McCray Dove, I gather from MNP, was in high histrionic form tonight, falling down and being carried around like some rag doll in a hallelujah ho-down.

September 18, 2005 1:48 AM [comments]

NQC 05: Leaders of Tomorrow Showcase
This was a Mike Speck concept that got expanded to fill the space left by the Elvis Showcase was cancelled at the last minute. It’s a choir of 40 or so under-30 artists. And after a prepared sermon from Mike Speck, including a geography lesson listing every country, state, and city that sg has ever been heard it (well, almost), and then indulging his favorite sermonic device (the list … lists of God’s goodnesses, lists of states where sg is popular, lists of all the ways Christ has redeemed us), we get to the show.

It’s a fun 90 minutes, more or less. On the less side, there are a few outbreaks of IAG arms-race singing, in which, say, Lauren Talley (who has uncanny control of her voice) and [some woman whose name I can’t recall]* and one of the McCraes got into an improvisation showoff, or show down, or something, in “Running the Race.” And, this being a Daywind production, there was entirely too much face-time for the Crabb kids (a bit of shamelessness, when you think of it … making these other artists play bgv contract singers behind no less than four Crabbtastic songs). This wouldn’t have been a bad thing if there hadn’t been a stage full of voices that could outsing the Crabbs coming and going - most notably today, Katie Van Horn Peach, whose verse of “Who Am I” was the most artistically pleasing handful of bars I’ve heard sung all week. She is unsurpassed among her peers, indisputably the best new voice in southern gospel. No nasal, no IAG. Just simple tones place impeccably, supported by an elegant sense of timing and a simple artistry that went unmatched today and so often goes unmatched on sg stages in general. And it was moments like Peach’s that made the showcase so pleasant. Other highlights:

Amber Thompson leading a quartet in “I Shall Wear a Crown.” Her voice is growing up and her stage presence is coming along.

A kid-sing led by Avery Wolfe and Autumn Thompson. That Wolfe kid has the hand gestures and the stage smile down pat. Even Greater Vision, anyone?

“Midnight Cry,” which was most notable for the accompaniment work of Justin Ellis, whose fluid introduction of some gorgeous chord structures and jazz-inflected lines give him the most inimitable hybrid style, a style that can, I think, only arise in a genre like sg so mortgaged to its neighboring stylistic traditions. And does it concern anyone but me that this kid’s favorite pastime is monkeying around with bus engines? I mean, a hobby is a hobby, but if I were the Crabbs, I’d have his fingers insured by the digit and keep him as far away from an impact wrench and high-compression engines as possible. Look, dear boy, but don’t touch. The song itself could have done with a coupla fewer vocalists. There were six or seven guys up there all tromping on each other’s lines and generally having their own IAG catfight.

“I’m Getting Ready,” sung by John Rulapaugh, Tex McCune (there, I called him TEX), Paid in Full’s lead, whose name my exhausted mind cannot conjure (Littlejohn, maybe?), and Josh Singletary.

“Grace,” with Amber Franks (who could learn a few things from Katie Peach, though she, Franks, did have her eyes open some, which was gratifying), Jessica Beauvais Harrison, and the Hoskins Jim Mahalick.

“Boundless Love,” if only to watch the young ‘uns scream their way through an old standard. Anthony Faccello got screwed on the turnaround, which Stewart Varnado seems to have keyed too high, and then Mike Speck, mercilessly, called for a fourth encore. Thank goodness Mercy’s Mark’s set was last night.

The set closed with “Our Generation,” a schlocky tune by Marty Funderburke and someone else whose name I’ve misplaced, a kind of We Are the World for sg. The song tries too hard to convey the sense of torch-passing and tradition-tending. The real problem though is that it was just generically out of place. For an event so focused on classic tunes, it was odd to have this poppy ditty as the closer. Woulda seemed more consistent and appropriate, to say nothing of more entertaining, to hear some old Rambos tune, to name just one range of possibilities. That is, show us your commitment to the old songs, don’t tell us about it.

*Correction: Originally, I incorrectly had Jessica Beauvais Harrison singing “Running the Race.” My apologies.

September 17, 2005 3:13 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Live Blogging
Kudos to David Bruce Murray for living up to his useful and informative pledge and live blogging the internet feed of the convention after he got home. Too bad there aren’t readily available press rooms in Freedom Hall where we could blog the thing from the hall itself. Anyway, there are inherent risks in reacting to a live performance fed across an internet stream (DBM heard things I simply don’t think existed and I seem to have picked up stuff that was not available to him), but I like the format he’s using and the approach he’s taken. Another valuable perspective. September 17, 2005 3:13 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Where is John?
John Hagee, that is. Not that I’m asking as a way to wish he were here. But did he and NQC sever their relationship? No Hagee chapel services. No Hagee Family on the Friday night schedule (full disclosure: I still take John Hagee Memorial Refreshment Breaks). And is Mike Speck the New John Hagee? Judging from his copious sermonic dialogues at today’s the Leaders of Tomorrow showcase, he’s certainly aspiring to the role of SG Pastor. September 17, 2005 3:13 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Play-pretend piano; or, sit there and look purty
Here’s a theory: perhaps those guys who sit at the piano with certain groups and pretend to play that I noted the other night are there for the benefit of the television audience. I’m thinking that last year some of this went on too, and it makes a certain amount of sense when you think about it. The fan awards are now being broadcast on INSP television and the SN would want the show to look like a real upscale thing with live instrumentation, except that of course most acts use tracks and a lot (like the Talleys and GV and Mark Bishop) don’t have live accompanists at all. Enter a spare pianist and bassist here and there to make all the groups like they dun it up rite. Just a thought. September 17, 2005 3:13 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Keeping it Real
This showed up in my email yesterday. I don’t know any more about it than what you read here (really, I swear, except that it came from an email address with the name Les Hopper on it, and I have my suspicions about where it may be coming from), but for the most part this strikes me as an idea after my own heart. Some of the snarkyness is a little over the line at times, perhaps (and no, I’m not talking about what they say about me, which is just about right, I think). But if you don’t cross the line now and then, sometimes everyone forgets where it is, or that there is one at all.

Southern Gospel Real Awards

The Real Awards are voted on by a panel of 18 people who are ardent followers of southern gospel music; some are professionals, some are amateurs and some are fans. We feel these awards are a true barometer of our industry without the influence of record label voting, magazine censoring or personal bias.

Isaacs - Heroes (WINNER)
Signature Sound Quartet - Great Love
Perrys - Life Of Love
Talley Trio - The Message
Mercy’s Mark - Mercy’s Mark

Friend Til The End - Isaacs
I Will Find You Again - Perrys
Long As I Got King Jesus - Brian Free and Assurance
Nail It To The Cross - Whisnants (WINNER)
What A Day That Will Be - First Love

Dean Hopper
Loren Harris (WINNER)
Anthony Facello
Jim Mahalick
Bill Shivers

Amber Franks
Janet Paschal
Katy Peach
Libbi Stuffle
Jeanie Cameron (WINNER)

Crabb Family (WINNER)
The Hoskins Family
Jeff & Sheri Easter
Karen Peck and New River

Doug Anderson - SSQ
Scott Fowler - Legacy Five
Jim Brady - Booth Brothers
Joseph Habedank (WINNER)
Marsh Hall - Gaither Vocal Band

Sonya Isaacs - Isaacs (WINNER)
Lauren Talley - Talley Trio
Kelly Nelon - Nelons
Amber Franks (LordSong)
Misty Freeman

The Perrys

WJBZ - Knoxville

First Love and Mercy’s Mark (Tie)

Signature Sound Quartet


Marcia Henry

1. Crossroads Distribution (Those people are EVERYWHERE.)
2. Mosie Lister (Still classy - still great!)
3. Bill Gaither (oh, come on — admit it!)
4. Spring Hill’s album covers (We may not like your music, but you LOOK fantastic!)
5. Ben Speer’s Stamps-Baxter School of Music (Keep it coming, Ben)
6. Wayne Haun (No other producer comes close. Period.)
7. Templeton Tours (GREAT Christian entertainment alternative)
8. The best piano players in the world!
9. Daywind Music Publishing (Gerald Crabb, Kyla Rowland, Wayne Haun, Marty Funderburk and Rodney Griffin - need we say more?)
10. HARMONY!!! Quartet…Family…the BEST HARMONY IN THE WORLD!

Mark Trammell Trio - Beside Still Waters
McKameys - Fresh Manna
Integrity Quartet - Home Free
Primitive Quartet - I’ll Have A Reward

You’ll Never Run Out Of The Blood - Heirline
No One Can Wear My White Robe But Me - Sons Family (WINNER)
In The Twinkle Of An Eye - Inspirations
It’s Over Let Eternity Begin - Hoskins Family
I Catch ‘Em, God Cleans ‘Em - Gordon Mote

Gerald Wolfe (WINNER)
Jason Crabb
Ivan Parker
Arthur Rice
Michael Combs

Kelly Bowling (WINNER)
Connie Fortner
Angie Hoskins
Nicole Watts Jenkins
Chris Freeman

THE MUTED MIKE AWARD (”Well, it’s on the track - why should I sing it too?”)
Reva Hoskins (WINNER)
Ruben Bean
Christy Steele
Claude Hopper
Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet

THE “OH, ARE YOU STILL HERE?” AWARD (Dedicated to persistant mediocrity)
Karen Peck and New River
The Steeles
Kingsmen (WINNER)
Kingdom Heirs

MILK AWARD (Most Likely To Milk Something To Death)
Perrys - Goodman Fixation
Dove Brothers - Faux tradition
Rick Goodman - Graveyard Tour (WINNER)
Legacy Five - George and Glen
Young Harmony - Dove Award Nomination

Jessy Dixon
Dove Brothers
Michael Combs
Young Harmony (We’ve never heard you, but we have a feeling.)

Young Harmony
Sons Family
Southern Spin Entertainment


Ernie Haase

Ernie Haase

Chris Freeman
Faye Speck (What is THAT about?)

Angie Hoskins
Mike Speck

Ivan Parker
Depp Britt


Marcia Henry

Jeff Easter (with Bill Gaither being the kissee)

AND ON A PERSONAL NOTE…(Things our staff just wanted you to know.)

Tex McCune - You rock!

Deon Unthank - A “review” is supposed to tell us something about the

Melody Boys Quartet - While newer, flashier quartets talk about carrying on tradition, you do it consistently and with integrity. Keep up the good work, Gerald.

The Hoskins Family - 1-800-CALL-JENNY

Kelly Nelon - Girl, you can still belt it! Now, go find some songs.

Florida Boys - You sound better than ever! Now, go find some songs.

Nicole Watts Jenkins - (See Hoskins Family Comment)

Rodney Griffin - Quality IS better than quantity, ya know?

Solid Gospel - Payola is payola. Even if you do call it a “New Project

Paul and Sheila Heil - You make us proud, week after week.

Southern Spin - A press release is supposed to be about the artist, not the PR company. Besides, listing 37 groups we’ve never heard of doesn’t exactly instill confidence in us regarding your abilities.

Singing News - When even Jesus wouldn’t make your cover if he were here, maybe you should re-think things.

Guy Penrod - We think you should be able to wear your hair any way you want to. Really we do. Well…technically, we do…but we kinda wish you’d rethink things. At least cut off the split ends. Thank you.

Daryl Williams - (See The Hoskins Family Comment) (See Rodney Griffin Comment)

Averyfineline.com - We love you, we really do, but we don’t have 12 hours a day to read you. Could you please be a little more concise? Just a little and we’ll be grateful. (Also, we know everyone is going to think we are you and, for that, we apologize.)

Martins - Get over yourselves and get back on the road.

Michael Combs - We know you sell a ton of records, but don’t confuse that for anything resembling quality, integrity or musicianship.

Dave Wilcox - See Hoskins Family Comment

Kathy Crabb - You really shouldn’t buy your friends (but if you need some new ones, we’re open to negotiation.)

1. Lack of live music.
2. Tony Gore’s website/product table/yard sale.
3. Rick Hendrix Promotions/Management/Publishing/Songwriting
4. Singing News Magazine (Could there BE a lower standard of quality?)
5. Inspiration Park
6. Anything or group associated with Eddie Crook (Hmm…well, I guess there COULD be a lower standard of quality than the Singing News.)
7. Solid Gospel’s playlist
8. Restaurant of the Year Award
9. The Vestal Bear
10. That Kirk Talley “healing” testimony/internet special e-mail.

September 17, 2005 10:36 AM [comments]

NQC 05: Some more about awards
Last night (well, early this morning really), it occurred to me that one of the more troubling aspects of the fan awards is not that the Is win this and Greater Vision wins that blah blah blah. Rather, it’s the signal some of these awards send to young artists and creative types at the margins of the mainstream power structure. Take Rodney Griffin’s seven-year-running award for songwriter of the year. It doesn’t matter if you think another writer deserves the award because Griffin has become the designated winner in this category or because there are writers out there whose craftsmanship is surpassing much of what Griffin is writing these days (Joel Lindsey and Kyla Rowland come to mind off the top of my head, in this latter category). Similarly, it doesn’t really matter if you think someone else should win pianist of the year because Roger Bennett now walks away with it year after year with a kind of reliable predictability (even though in the last year, for instance, he was on the stage almost not at all) or because there is a crop of pianists whose work is fresher and more worth acknowledgement (and ftr, now, I’m not of the camp that thinks pity votes for the sick are something we should make a habit of, though it’s also not clear that that’s what happened in Bennett’s case this year … I mean, he wins year in and year out, in sickness and in health, so go figure).

What it comes down to is the function of fan awards, what “Fan Favorites” mean. Are they ways of recognizing settled expectations or rewarding the best and emerging talent? Obviously, I’m in a minority who thinks the latter, and for that reason, let me be clear: I should probably give up caring so much about something so fickle and flawed as SN fan awards, but I really do wish that the fan awards could be a way of consistently affirming the best and brightest at this moment rather than crowning our most senior and tenured artists with yet more laurels and accolades. So for instance, in Avery’s Perfect World, a Matthew Holt (of the Perrys) would win pianist of the year, because he is a stupefyingly gifted young (like 17, young) pianist who toils in virtual obscurity and could use the boost to his career and his committment that wining the industry’s highest prize for painists would be. Instead of saying to young artists, we value your contributions, the fan awards say, stick around 30 years and maybe you’ll be great one day (I’m not advocating instant fame here, just a little A&R via an awards plaque). And in Avery’s Perfect World, a Rowland or a Lindsey (with songwriters it’s not so much finding the young ones but the ones whose work is establishing the leading edge of stylistic rigor and greatness in the genre) would win, because songs like “His Response” and “I Will Find You Again,” “Damascus Road” and “Calvary Answers for Me” are the tunes that bring people to life, as opposed to a song like “Faces” that people are, I think, responding to primarily because GV sings it, rather than because of its intrinsic writerly merits. All of which is a longwinded way of saying that awards might more ideally be used to encourage and seed emerging talent and to ratify a developing standard of creative excellence rather than reaffirming that people like Greater Vision and (boggling as this is to me) Archie Watkins (who, btw, sang an acappella rendition of “Amazing Grace” last night for the Inspirations opener … as MNP might describe it, that was a real cheek lifter). September 17, 2005 10:04 AM [comments]

NQC 05: Your letters
First up, a reader takes issues with my reasoning about SN fan awards:

I have enjoyed your posts the past couple of days, yet I feel compelled to put to rest a couple of your luscious conspiracy theories. As your reasoning goes, if the Inspirations win Favorite group over GVB, it’s obvious that there are post-voting shenanigans, since any real fan would just know that the Inspirations don’t deserve the award. Perhaps you understand music and writing better than arithmetic, but this is a math issue: a plurality of the SN subscribers live in North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia. These subscribers vote for the familiar. So, does the SN Fan Award represent true national balance? Not really, but it does fairly represent the active paying subscriber. As for the GC band not winning favorite band, since there isn’t a band anymore, how can they win the award? Frankly, the SN did the classy thing on that one: had the GC band won, it would have been an embarrassment to the group and reinforced to the fans that the group had just gone through a down-sizing. I don’t know if the GC band won (I doubt that they did) but if they had, the SN did the right thing by not giving it to them. Since so many people have a conspiratorial view of the SN, they don’t appreciate it when the SN does something right. In this case, they did.

As I told this reader, I actually don’t think the SN rigged the vote or undertook any shenanigans. I’m just baffled by the drastically different blocs of SN constituencies that cohere around such drastically different kinds of music (or “music”). It’s like there’s one group of fans (with taste or ears) who vote GV their favorites in one category, and then another group of tone deaf partisans who vote for the Is. Ok, fair enough, but what I don’t understand is why the Is or GV (that is, one kind of music or another), don’t sweep the whole thing. Why are the fans in the tradition of GV not voting for a GV-like quartet (L5, say?)? And why aren’t the fans in the tradition of Is voting them their favorite ALBUM AND THEIR FAVORITE GROUP? It’s the flip flop that confounds me, the I’s-win-in-one-category-one-year-and-in-another-the-next-but-don’t-sweep-any that baffles me. But, my point here is that I think it can be baffling without being nefarious. I mean, you only have to walk through the exhibit hall to realize there are some real strange types of folks involved in sg. It’s probably worth noting, as a friend did to me, that the same weird voting patterns appear in other genres, like CCM. Generally speaking, human beings don’t behave in consistently rational ways, and being a fan of southern gospel doesn’t make you any more or less rational in behavior … taste in clothing, though … now that’s another matter.

Next up, a quick though from a reader about the NQC board’s request that artists stay relatively still while on stage to facilitate to taping for televised broadcast:

Maybe the NQC should hire Gaither’s film people…they don’t seem to have a problem capturing an exciting stage performance on film.

Zing. … Thirdly, a thought on conventions and scheduling:

I think your correspondent has a point about summer conventions being more attractive to families. Several church denominations, including my own, have had this argument back and forth for years…fall vs. summer. Our church finally alternated, and when the summer conventions drew so much better and got the youth so enthused about mission projects, well, from this year on, all of the conventions will be in the summer. Maybe the sg types should think about this.

Moving along, a Canadian correspondent offers some more thoughts on awards and sg group think:

Love your reports and readers’ comments. But I really have to wonder about SGM’s future when Inspirations (whom I first saw in 1973) are favorite of some SGM fans (those who subscribe to the Singing News). When I discovered SGM, the big awards were the Doves and they went to groups like the Imperials and Oak Ridge Boys. Later when Doves put emphasis on non-SGM gospel, the SN fans voted for groups like Gold City and Cathedrals.

Maybe now the SN subscriber base is older or smaller and thus less representative of SGM fans in general. Or more likely the overall SGM fan base is shrinking and the fans of conservative styles (in all behavior) now dominate.

The fans also voted for Gerald Wolfe who is a great MC. I’m not a big fan of the trio but at least they are a quality act. However, I think the fans who like the Inspirations would like the conservative Wolfe and his group. I remember reading once that Wolfe planned to vote for Pat Robinson for President. Ceertainly neither the Inspirations or GV are challenging “the way a SGM gospel singer should look and behave.” That attitude of many SGM fans was a big factor in why progressive groups like the Oaks and the Imperials moved on to other fields of music.

I guess I’m saying that it’s possible a good number of SN subscribers are not voting for a specific singing style but rather for the “politics” of the singers. Or then again maybe I’m reading far too much into this as the Oaks (while progressive in looks) are among the biggest Bush backers around.

Finally, an NQC attendee weighs on the Tims Incident with EHSSQ from a few nights ago:

I would like to say to you that the “Tims” incident looked awkward from my vantage point - the suite where I sat. Adding insult to injury, Paid In Full were given a mere 10 minutes after Jeff and Sheri featured an extended set that included a Charlotte solo and a Morgan Easter (sweet child) feature. I know the guys are on the newer artist list, but one more uptempo song (about the length of the “Tims” dancing act) would have helped PIF push their set over the top.

September 17, 2005 10:04 AM [comments]

Friday night roundup
Things were much improved tonight, with a solid two hours of thoroughly listenable music with just a few exceptions (I’ll let you figure out when and who that was). Here we go. (I’m basically doing this without having even glanced at what else is being said around the web; so any lack of context or appropriate references to others is just a symptom of its being 5:14 a.m. at the writing of this .. and no, MT, I haven’t been to bed yet.)

The Big Stuff

Lauren Talley: By far the knock-your-head-off moment tonight was Lauren Talley’s performance of “That Name” from her new solo project. I was impressed with this song when I heard it a few weeks back in the middle of Nowhere Illinois. In Freedom Hall, it was grace incarnate. At the risk of repeating myself, Talley has the ability to sing what is usually an unpleasant straight tone with a fullness and pleasant quality unmatched in gospel music. And her low notes are full and robust, redolent of pathos and depth that only Kim Lord is capable of surpassing, to my ear. For some reason, Talley was pitchy again tonight in the ensemble mix (”that’ll lift a cheek off the seat,” quoth MNP after one of Talley’s more horrendous misfires), and I think I can say with confidence that I’ve had enough of her interpretative dance with the mike stand on “The Healer,” which was reprised again tonight. She may have been the Diva of Dix, but at NQC, one diva (the reigning and evermore histrionic Kim Hopper) is plenty. If Talley would work on lining out her intonation in the ensemble moments as much as she works on her choreography during “The Healer” (and she has it down to Ginger Rodgers perfection), she’d be ready for the CCM circuit. As it is, she’ll need a few years. But that ought not to take away from the magnificence of “That Name.”

Legacy 5: There was nothing explosive in their set tonight, but it was the most polished and consistently solid 25 minutes of the evening. And this, even though they got off to an odd and confusing start. Roger Bennett walked on stage and started talking, which meant we were laughing (have I mentioned that he is a funny funny man on stage?). But then there was this odd moment when he called Rob Hiner on stage, blurted out some woman’s name and told her to meet Hiner somewhere, without word one more explanation. Huh? Anyway, L5 did some stuff off their new table project, which is pretty decent (we listened to it in the car on the way to Freedom Hall tonight; I could do without the sentimental dead-preacher song and the national anthem, both at the end of the lineup, but I understand why they’re there … and on the whole the thing is playful and accomplished, for what it is). The big thing from the new project was Tim Parton’s arrangement of “Angels Rejoice,” whose hook is a little Latin riff nearly identical to the first few bars of the Sex in the City theme song. Cha-cha. L5’s live sound is rich, wide, deep and full of nice expansive tones that come easily and pleasantly. Glenn Dustin, the bass, still gets pitchy now and then (he went sharp rather conspicuously tonight), but L5 has things covered at all registers. Most notable perhaps is Scott Fowler’s steady improvement. I have always been and continue to be a little uncertain about the proposition of him as a lead singer after all those years as a first-class baritone with the Cats. But he’s progressively and determinedly enriching (but also lightening) his tone as he ages. It’s less covered and more textured at the edges than it once was - perhaps this is best demonstrated on the title track of their new project, “Heaven” something or other (gimme a break; it’s 330). What’s a real shame is that Frank Seamans is leaving. He’s a fine fit for their tenor slot, and his personality and stage presence are perfect for what L5 needs and uses. Let’s hope this isn’t the year everyone looks back to and wishes L5 could sound like that again. They are auditioning tenors this week … so we’ll see.

Anyway, the point here is that L5 is taking the slow steady progress path, as opposed to, say, EHSSQ’s skyrocket method. L5 doesn’t have any real “Lazarus Come Forth” numbers in their repertoire. But they do have a solid songbook of tunes that are recognizably theirs, songs they have trademarked (”Out of My Darkness,” or their next single to radio, “Roll Away,” both from Monuments) alongside standard tunes they have made their own. Add this to their excellent comedy, and they have a perfect storm of potentiality.

Kingdom Heirs Take Two: The good news comes in three parts. 1)Arthur Rice’s verses on “Forever Changed” were first-rate stuff. 2)The KH band did NOT play “Joshua Fit the Battle.” 3)Tonight was not as ear-piercing as last night. The bad news comes in the same unfortunate way it came last night: Billy Hodges is nearly unlistenable at times. If the KH set tonight wasn’t as frightful as last night, it was only because Hodges wasn’t a featured soloist. But still, things were hobbled by the same underlying structural problems that Hodges’s razor thin tone creates. MNP prescribes this time-tested vocal-coaching technique for tenors with ZERO breath support, like Hodges (MNP can reel off a Mozart mass with the ease most of us bring to chewing gum, so she knows from breath support). Faced with a note out of your natural range, put a bidness card between your lips and gently hum the note. Now take the card and away and place the tone with your full(er) voice. Ideally, this helps you find and sing the note with (a more) proper breathing technique. So let’s hope Billy Hodges has a few bidness cards lying about.

The Crabbs: Though the Perrys have the Goodmans Tribute out, the Crabbs are the true heirs of the Goodman’s style. Tonight Jason Crabb and his siblings (plus their white-hot band) had their way with the audience from first to last and it all had the feel of the gods (or the god’s country cousines) descending among mortals to amuse themselves for a few lazy minutes. The Crabbs have the look and the feel that the Goodmans gave off … I don’t mean they look and act like the Goodmans, but they remind one of the Goodmans as the G’s look (to this twentysomething) in those old live video clips that Gaither archives … there’s a kind of hillybilly chic about them, a slightly gaudy fashionability they clearly feel comfortable, yet nevertheless it wears with just a hint of its newness the way it did with the Goodmans in their sequins and ruffles and tails and powder blue (for instance Terah Crabb Penhollow tonight even had a neo-beehive and a big flowing gown much like Vestal wore in the late 60s). I should say I find this noveau-Nashville-riche style deeply satisfying, because it’s so deserving, in both the Gs and the Cs case. But at any rate, fashion notwithstanding, the Crabbs also echoes the Goodmans in other ways: there’s the twinkly piano (the C’s pianist is the master of the arpeggiated passing tone), the smokin’ band (it’s unclear to me how any other band in sg can be a fan favorite if you’ve heard the Crabb band, and that’s not just because it’s a six and at times seven piece outfit), the country inflected sound that creates a feeling that seems too powerful to have come from western Kentucky and yet precisely the only place this kind of sound could have come from. The high point of the C’s set was Mike Bowling singing that old Hinson’s song, “I Can Go Free.” Listening to this song, I realized that this is exactly what people must have felt like when the Goodmans and the Hinsons and Hemphills were in their heyday. In other words, this is something that won’t last, and we shortshrift it at everyone’s peril.

Greater Vision: If the Crabbs are sg’s new Goodmans, Greater Vision is the convention’s new Gaithers. This is the group that the hall fills up to hear. This is the group that could belch a chord in harmony and have the place on its feet. The set opens tonight on the heels of a very respectful and tasteful prayer from Jerry Goff for those suffering from Katrina. The unapproachable Stan Whitmire was playing a little tinkly-winkly music behind Goff as he prayed, and this music segued seamlessly into “Till The Storm Passes By,” which Gerald Wolfe delivered in high style. It feels repetitive at this point to rave on about the charisma and showmanship that oozes from Wolfe’s very pores, but his brilliance as a stage man is worth talking about again and again. By the time they got to “My Name is Lazarus,” I was sure that what we felt there tonight must have been not unlike what happened when Lazarus was resurrected. It’s not a matter of liking or disliking GV’s music. It’s the kind of appreciation for a craftsmen that transcends any particular taste. Plus, Gerald Wolfe was the first person tonight to mention the fly problem on stage.

Quickened pace: I complained last night about the pacing. Tonight was much better, in large because a lot of the emcee work was contracted out to the group immediately preceding an act. No stupid insipidity (at least not as much, though Goff got off plenty of secondhand sectarian jokes). Just a lot of “here’s the next group” and off we go. That’s how it should be. Reggie Sadler did the best job, introducing Gold City by saying: “you’re gonna leave richer tonight than you came because we’ve struck gold … welcome GOLD CITY to the stage.” Now that’s emcee work … corny sure. But original.

Bonus Standouts and/or Other Worth Mentionings

The Ruppes: They got a short 15-minute set and only really sang two songs. But it was a real treat to get to hear them all the same. Their big number was that old song “The Healer” (not the same as the Talley’s), which used an industry choir full of the likes of Gold City (Jonathan Wilburn clearly had no idea what the lyrics were to the lines the choir was supposed to sing), LordSong (natch), KPNR, The Hoppers and many others. But the real story is Brenda Ruppe. I’ve commented before about her ability to weep and sing (or for that matter weep and do just about anything else … and I’ve decided that Joseph Habedank has a similar uncanny ability to cry on command … it’s remarkable). Tonight, though, I realized that it’s not so much her ability to multi-task in high lachrymose fashion. It’s the weepy quiver to her singing voice that can *suggest tears. This is what really sends people over the edge when the Ruppes lean into a lyric or bear down a particular line. And then Brenda will look around the room as if searching for the one person who needs to hear her words … if you’ve not seen it, it’s worth looking for.

Mercy’s Mark: Thanks to Phil the Producer, MM got bumrushed onto the stage long before the Ruppes’ far-too-massive choir had finished filing off. So MM’s first appearance on the NQC mainstage was hobbled from the first by that deadly awkward silence while people find their mikes and the tracks get loaded and the humming in the monitors seems to be stage-whispering your certain professional demise with every speck of white noise in the mix. Give it to them, though, they opened with the acappella arrangement of “Great is thy Faithfulness” from their first cd. Things got ugly at the end (Garry Jones went flat, I think). And perhaps this is a good place to include reader TT’s complaint that MM is a poor standard for intonation: (he’s responding to this comment of mine) Mercy’s Mark in tune??!! I’m going to blog about this sometime, haven’t done it yet, but I caught MM in concert and was appalled at how out of tune they were, esp. bass man. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe it was a bad night, but I’d hesitate to hold up MM as a standard for intonation!

I think TT’s a little harsh (I know, pot and kettle but still …), suggesting that one bad night or a few dropped notes throws MM in the same category as the Inspirations. But his point is worth making, in the interest of full disclosure. Anyway, I thought it was a gutsy thing to do such an intricate number out of the gate. Takes a lot of artistic chutzpah. It’s just that 10 minutes is not any time to do anything. So the set was kinda flat and ho-hum. Plus they needed more band tracks in the mix. Better luck next year, I guess.

Kingsmen: Another band that clearly outclasses KH band and their paint-by-number approach. The problem is, the Kingmen amped their band so loud, you couldn’t hear the vocals. And that’s too bad, because for once the KM have a tenor who, though nasally and thin, is mostly in tune.

Buck Morton Tribute: So the one night Buck Morton doesn’t emcee, there’s a ten-minute (10!!) Buck Morton Tribute. In the words of Betty Butterfield, “mmmm hello?” What on earth are we doing paying tribute to someone that nobody comes to hear or see on the mainstage, when the likes of George Younce died since the last convention and nary a word of official tribute was paid to him? Tacky. [Note: Obviously, I took a refreshment break during the Buck Morton Tribute. I see from DBM that Clarke Beasley announced last night that Morton is … yes … retiring. Still, why does a bad emcee’s retirement warrant what Younce’s death didn’t? September 17, 2005 10:14 AM]

The Hoppers: Theirs was a solid set, save for Dean Hoppers blathery interlude of padded chatter, which was about the Hoppers’ heritage. Because you know they’re on their Heritage tour, which trumpets their forty-year “heritage,” a HERITAGE Dean is proud of. So proud he uses the word HERITAGE! (drink) at least eight times in less than five minutes. Yes, we get it. Now please start singing again. This set had the feeling of a finale to it, like this may be one of the Hoppers last years. I don’t have anything to back that up, but still … there was less emphasis on singing and more emphasis on impressing upon us the burnished legacy … no wait wait … HERITAGE that surrounds the Hoppers (if this is their last year, I won’t be sad to see “Shoutin’ Time” put to rest). The set had a recycled feel to it, down to the repeat of “Jerusalem.” There was no miscued choir this year, but there was the same strange video playing, a video of the Hoppers singing the song at various concerts in the past. The Hoppers were clearly singing the song live tonight, but the video of them singing in perfect sync with themselves undercut the live effect. Odd. Anyway, Kim Hopper is Reigning Diva Numero Uno. I’ve never seen more hair swishing and hand gesturing and fist pumping, except maybe on one a Celine Dion’s annual prime-time “farewell” tours … or … well, maybe in Lauren Talley’s ballet during “The Healer.” Is sg big enough for TWO divas? Oh my.

Florida Boys: They still haven’t managed to top their own performance from three years ago, when they walked on and KILLED with an acappella number and some of the funniest one-liners from Les Beasley ever. But tonight was notable for Gene McDonald, who is far and away the most skilled and sophisticated bass singing sg today. “I Can’t Even Walk” was full of mid- and upper-range tones from him that were positively glowing with the naturalness of a baritone but the power of a bass. And for all you conspiracy theorists out there who think the NQC board, headed by Les Beasley, has some intricate plot to sabotage outsiders, take note: the FBs got seriously knobbed tonight. The band track (which FB and esp pianist Darrel Steward don’t seem too comfortable with yet) was muffled and distant and mikes were spotty.

Gold City: I regret to inform you that GC no longer commands the room like they once did. That’s not to say there aren’t things to like here. Most notable, Daniel Riley is developing from a good vocalist into a commanding lead singer, capable of uniting a group around a real trademark sound. Then there’s Channing Eleton, one of the most versatile and stylistically accomplished pianists in gospel music, cut from a cloth similar to Stan Whitmire’s (well trained, not flashy, which is to say tasteful, … a quiet workhorse) and always overlooked come awards time. But there’s much cause for concern here, too. First there’s Steve Ladd, the tenor, who has a touch of the Billy Hodges. More troubling is Tim Riley’s appearance virtually out of nowhere in the middle of tonight’s set. Riley’s pop-ons (this is the second year in a row since he “retired”) are charming yet problematic. He commandeers the stage and the room with his massive showmanship and proceeds to sing a song that both points up how much the regular bass Bill Lawrence fails to fill Riley’s shoes and generally makes us all miss the GC that we once knew and heard and loved. One can understand Riley wanting to remind gospel music of GC’s stature and legacy (or is it heritage? Has Claude Hopper copyrighted that word yet?), but if the quartet is to have a life after Riley’s retirement, Riley first must figure out his role: is he going to go the route of Les Beasley, an impresario who stays on stage in a diminished but still visible capacity? Or is he going to step out of the spotlight and let his son take ownership (symbolically, managerially, and visibly, if not financially and legally) of the group and so let GC begin to reconstitute itself around whatever the future holds for them? In the time it takes me to ponder this question, the crowd’s on its feet, going nuts over Tim Riley’s song and raging about GC in general and who knows how to take it all. If I book GC or buy their cd, will I get the group that just lit the place on fire with Tim at the helm, or will I ge the group that took the stage 20 minutes ago, with the tenor swallowing all his notes and the group generally requiring Old Tim to tighten up their act?

KPNR: This is the second year in a row she has showed up and done a medley in the middle half of her set. This is fine and was well-received. But it’s a strange choice. Does she not have the material to sustain a 20-minute set without pulling out snippets of “God Likes to Work” and “Four Days Late”? Well, no, actually, she doesn’t. And that’s just too bad. It’s also too bad we couldn’t hear anything Devin McGlamery sang.

Perrys: I put them in the B list only because I don’t have any more words of praise to offer them. They are wholly and fully come into their own. That they are as undeniable a force at midnight, closing a Friday night, as they are in the middle of an awards show with the place’s rapt attention, bespeaks more than I even can. “His Grace Will Lead Me Home” is a slower, downbeat tune that ought to be really hard to pull of in a live setting like this, where it’s difficult to get, much less hold, thousands of people’s attention. Yet with one note (if you know the song, it’s the notes on the words “always had a song” in the chorus), the song pays for itself a million times over. “Damascus Road” had the hall lit up at 12:06 a.m. And though you couldn’t understand a word they were singing on “Wish I Coulda Been There,” the crowd ate every bit of it up (not least of all because the song is of the rare breed of well-written fast tune that *feels as much as it sounds, so the words, though something we ought to be able to hear, aren’t absolutely indispensable to its success).

Grab Bag

The New Group watch: Mike Bowling is, evidently, starting a new group soon. Jason Crabb says details will be forthcoming. Anybody know more? Meanwhile, Tony Peace is, I hear, starting the Tony Peace Quartet. That’s about all I know. Members should be announced shortly, I think.

The award for the best piece of treacly relgio-political theater goes to the Pfiefers, or should I say the Drum and Pfiefers, for their screaming loud patriotic paean to veterans, which mostly relied on unsubtle images of 9/11 and some video voiceovers of George Bush in High Church mode. There were even pre-recorded fireworks.

MNP line of the night: “Does any other group sing as many songs on the one of the chord as the Inspirations?”

Most genuinely sweet moment: watching Roger Bennett’s son, Jordan, play the bass during L5’s set, his first time to appear on stage at NQC. Seeing his obvious mixture of pure exhilaration and total anxiety about performing on that particular stage, seeing him torn between wanting to rock out and paying attention to the charts on the floor in front of him, seeing him sneak a smiley glance at his father over on the piano now and then … it was just really nice. One of those moments that was undiluted by too much experience in the world and the cynicism and knowingness and skeptical distance that comes with a career on the stage.

The PG-13 moment of the evening: Kim Hopper, referring to L5 tenor Frank Seamans: “… and their tenor, Frank Seaman.” Eek.

Less is more: the Talleys were using some video stills of the crucifixion with “His Life For Mine” that looked like they were culled from a Sunday school primer for intermediate adolescents. Sometimes, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This was that kinda moment.

September 17, 2005 5:18 AM [comments]

NQC 05: The pianist as stage prop
Sitting so close that I could see the copious swarms of flies that flock to the warmth of the klieg lights on stage (which presents artists with the unfortunate challenge of NOT swatting the bugs and acting like it’s hunky dory down there when it’s actually pretty disgustingly unpleasant at times), I got to see up close how often groups like the Talleys and GV or soloists like Mark Bishop use prop pianists: they have accompanists sit at the piano and “play” along with their tracks, presumably as a way to make a live set that’s full of canned band tracks and tracked vocals sound more … well real. But I was surprised how many of these pianists aren’t playing a darn thing (yes, I can be shockingly naïve). Stewart Varnado didn’t appear to play much of anything during his song with the Talleys. Ditto Stan Whitmire with GV’s “Faces” (though often I know Whitmire DOES play through the mix during GV’s longer sets). Same thing with the pianist from, I think, Safe Harbor, who played for Bishop. I don’t have much to say about this. Hard to get too worked up about when stracks and canned instrumentation is so prevalent. Just an observation. September 16, 2005 2:52 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Questions Answered
1. Duh. “Only Through the Blood” is on GV’s Faces. Maybe I should have reread my own review. Sigh. Thanks for the help.

2. About Mark Bishop’s stodginess:

You wondered why Mark Bishop stood in one direction for his song. All artisits were instructed to sing ONE direction for one full song, then move one quarter turn clockwise for the next song. This is for TV filming. The camera crew needs to have some consistencies so they can get the shots they need. Artists that move all over the stage do not get good camera shots that are best suited for TV. Most artists are not honoring the request, but Mark did. On slow tempo songs like his, he could probably move slowly and not bother the camera crew, but groups with multiple singers moving all over the place make it real difficult. By the time the floor cameraman on stage gets to the singer, the singer moves and the camera man has to try and follow him. As soon as the camera man gets into place, the singer is off to hype the other side of the room. That’s why they asked artists do stand still for each song. Ernie Haase, though, obviously did not care.

Fair enough. I still think Bishop seemed a little disconnected, but this makes a lot of sense too. As a recovering idealist, I hate to see television production constrain the spontaneity of the live event, but it’s probably less surprising that the choreography of broadcast media is coming to NQC than that it’s taken so long. September 16, 2005 2:51 PM [comments]

OT: TD Jakes
Getting ready for lunch this morning I flipped on CNN and caught the Reverend T.D. Jakes’s sermon at the National Cathedral’s Day of Prayer service for Katrina victims. What beautiful eloquence. Jakes brought insight and the moral urgency of Christianity’s deepest preoccupations with the well being of the dispossessed and impoverished to these times of crisis. We must, he proclaimed with quiet authority, descend from our beasts as the Samaritan on the highway stooped to minister to the broken man at the side of the road. We must, he declared, begin to see our neighbors as those who do not look like we look, or live as we live, whose lives are freighted with the weights of burdens and hardships we are blessed to never know. For it is our comparative wealth and ease that will be required to lift up those around us who have fallen beside the way. And only then will we know what Christ’s mission of mercy to those on the margins of society really meant, what it fully embodied. Jakes’s is an oratorical style - a kind of natural highness that both edifies and uplifts - that we have not known in our national discourse for many years now. It was a call to action we so need to hear. September 16, 2005 2:51 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Emails of the day
A radio management type writers:

NQC sounds like a real blast. I think many radio folk realized the truth about NQC’s fan awards a long time ago…I mean, how can a national award be handed out to a small market DJ anyway. Suffice it to say, I no longer pay attention to the fan awards. It just gets my blood boiling.

It’s sad that NQC is the industry’s premier annual event. If the general (non-sg) public see what the paper in Louisville saw, its no wonder the industry struggles to gain fans.

You know, if I hear of NQC from a secular point of view (not necessarily realizing it’s a Christian event), I’d probably be expecting a bunch of barber shop quartets. I’d probably also find the cheesy suits…well, cheesy, and the lousy performances for what they are.

From your description of the industry’s biggest night of the year, it sounds as though southern gospel should start taking to heart Nick Bruno’s comments on sogo when he calls on the industry to start acting like a business. A business would not put up with recurring sound/emcee/performance problems year after year. A business also wouldn’t put a festival like NQC in the middle of September. By that I mean that if sg were to play it right, NQC would be a summer affair. Kids are out of school. Young families could more easily schedule vacations and venture to Louisville. The fan base could more easily grow. And, the median age would be more likely to drop by a decade or so.

I think what’s so frustrating is that it wouldn’t take much to get the ball rolling on bettering the industry. But, anytime you upset an apple cart, you’ll make those who rule the roost angry.

You know, GV and the Perrys are two great groups, but I think it says volumes about the industry when you look at who did not win (Crabb Family, Gaither, Booth Brothers, Poet Voices, etc.).

Given the fiasco with the category misplacement, then correction in the fan awards nominations earlier this year with Janet Paschal, I got to wondering what the NQC did with all the votes for Gold City’s band. If memory serves me, they disbanded the band after votes were due in.

And then there’s insightful RM:

I must take you to task again for your assessment of the Inspirations. You have every right not to like them (I thought your comment about Cook playing with his knuckles was hilarious; I loved it, and I know what you are saying). I do believe that you are among many fans of SG who hear fingernails running across chalkboards when they are singing. HOWEVER, these are fan awards. The fans have spoken. More people voted for them for quartet of the year than for any other group. In 2005, they are THE favorite quartet in the business. Some people like dark chocolate, some people like white chocolate. Some people like ham, others like steak. I like ketchup, I detest mustard. But the bottom line is that more people like them this year than any other group.

Your comments about their inabilities to sing well are also off-base. Who says they can’t sing well? What standard or chart or premise is being held up against them to measure them by? […] They are what they are–which is, mountain singers from North Carolina. I love their brand of singing. They are NOT anything like Greater Vision or the Gaither Vocal Band or the Booth Brothers, nor do they aspire to be. They have no desire to be like them, to sound like them, to enunciate like them. They are what they are…..and people love them. It’s really that simple.

Your comments on the Perrys are right on. They are my own favorite group, and are quickly becoming the favorites of so many others. I think the ingredient in their mix that has transformed them can best be summed up in two words: Loren Harris. He has singlehandedly marched them down the field into the red zone on every recording they have made since he joined the group. Now HERE is a voice that the fans have injusticed by not selecting as male vocalist of the year. Again, a different type singer than Gerald Wolfe, but much more pleasant to the ear, in my opinion.

Finally, I want to comment on your emcee comments. I couldn’t agree more. Did Buck Morton play in the film “Weekend At Bernie’s”? Someone, please take him out of our misery. I can stomach Jerry Goff pretty well, because he is such a good speaker, but dear Bro. Morton needs to resign.

I think there’s a lot to this, though I don’t really agree that we have to throw standards of excellence in musical arts out the window because different people have different tastes. As for the “premise” that I’m use “to measure them by,” at the bare minimum, I think gospel musicians ought to sing in tune. HOW they sing in tune is another matter entirely. That is, if the Is would do nothing different but sing in tune, I probably would still not like their music much more, but they would be more musically legitimate to my ears. Thanks, RM. September 16, 2005 2:51 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Revisiting Thursday night on Friday morning
I woke up this morning remembering something I should have said and forgot last night: The Whisnants. Their set last night was the first chance I’ve had to hear them live in a good while, and they turned ina solid, coherent, and professional 20 minutes. “Nail it to the Cross” is a pleasant and at times powerful tune, and their new single, a peppy thing whose title I’ve forgotten, will not raise the dead (in a good or bad way) but it is a nice change of pace from the anthemic ballads they’ve been trafficking in for the last few hits (”Nail it” and “Even in the Valley”). Eric Ollis is a gifted accompanist as well. September 16, 2005 10:17 AM [comments]

NQC 05: Mike Speck, redux
Thanks to JH for giving me the kind of context that I my addled mind couldn’t muster last night:

Hey man…enjoying the commentary on NQC. Just wanted to clue you in on the Specks…Mike Speck actually DID find “Testify” and recorded it a year or so before the Talley Trio. His version is where they found the song. Granted, TT is who made the song a hit, but had it not been for Speck, they probably would have never ran across it. I won’t go into his work in church choir music, as I am sure you are aware of it. He does take a lot of groups hit songs and turns them into choir songs. They don’t do a lot of concert dates and do mostly church work with choir’s, therefore, a lot of the songs in their repertoire is cover tunes.

This is well said, I think, insofar as it explains the slightly complicated relationship that Mike Speck’s choirmaster role puts him in with mainstream acts. He IS quite a force in the world of choral music and church worship, and though rereading what I wrote of his performance last night, I can’t find anything that I think needs retracting, perhaps things could be resituated slightly by my saying that it’s probably better to keep Speck and the Specks on the afternoon choral showcase schedule (he’s got one today or tomorrow I think) than to inflict his decidedly un-sg approach to sg on an evening ticket-holder. Thanks, JH. September 16, 2005 10:17 AM [comments]

OT: Random thought at 3:11 a.m.
Do you think dentists are in cahoots with hotels that leave little chocolates on your pillow? I mean, I don’t often stay at places that have such fineries (and it wouldn’t have happened now if the Hampton Inn across town hadn’t lost our reservation) so I’m remarking as much on the silly luxury of chocolates in foil on my bed. But really … isn’t about the worst thing you do for your teeth eat chocolate and then sleep? September 16, 2005 2:13 AM [comments]

Thursday night round up
This is one of those times when I especially feel the inherent risks of transcribing nearly immediate reactions and thoughts into print. Tonight was virtually uninterrupted mediocrity, and yet the skeptic in me wonders if the length of the awards show (it didn’t end till nearly 9, meaning the last act was still singing to a few dozen people when we left at 1215) or too-high expectations or the heavy doses of new or subpar acts have shaded my perspective. So with that qualification and ambivalence on the record, here we go. [Note: usual disclaimers apply here: I’m writing this after over six hours of nonstop listening, after a day that began nearly 20 hours ago and included an airplay ride next to a spastic aviophobe who alternated between hysterical fits of limb thrashing, psalm reading, and low anguished moans about our certain deaths. Errors of all kinds are all mine; please point them out, and I’ll try to correct what needs to be as promptly as possible.]

The Big Stuff

UnInspirational: The real jawdropper tonight was the Inspirations taking home Quartet of the Year. I know all the theories out there - the conspiracy theorists who say the SN stacks the deck in favor of the Is winning something every year, the cynics who say Crossroads, the Is label, tilts the scales in favor of the Is, the true believers who say the Is deserve recognition of this enormous kind because their so committed and genuine and good and saved and so on (and certainly Martin Cook, the group’s leader, seems to fall into this latter category, as he spent a good deal of his acceptance speech congratulating himself and the Is on their commitment to sg) - but none of this undoes the fact that the Inspirations sing lousy music and sing it lousily. People who like it are fully entitled to their taste and obviously these people are legion. But to like the Is is to be at variance with the principles of technically and artistically sound music (and that doesn’t mean only stuff I like. I dislike plenty of music that is artistically and technically excellent, as do most people, I think). For that reason, something is dreadfully wrong with sg’s top of the line awards show and flagship event. That is, it is difficult for me to reconcile how a musically first-rate group like GV can win song of the year and album of the year this year and the Is win Quartet of the same year. How can a majority of sg fans listen to the Is album and GV’s, decide that GV’s is superior, and then turn around vote the Is their favorite group, passing over groups more in line with the style and musical quality of GV? If you’re favorite album sounds like GV, how can your favorite quartet sound like the Is? Or go back to last year: how could the same fans who voted the Is project album of the year vote another Greater Vision tune as song of the year. It boggles the mind. And just when I think to myself, that I’m being too hard on the Is, that I should lighten up and really try to listen for something that transcends or cannot be comprehended by the kinds of categories and factors that are central to what I enjoy in music, the Is take the stage at the awards show and sing “I Will Praise Him.” It was emblematic of the performance in general that Martin Cook sounded like he was playing the intro with his knuckles. Which I guess means that in my next life, I want to be born with the ears that let me hear Gerald Wolfe and Archie Watkins with equal, indistinguishable pleasure. I want to hear music in such a way that the McGees and Mercy’s Mark can be legitimate competitors for Horizon Group (Thank goodness, MM won). Cause that seems to be how most of sg’s voting fans hear things. Everyone, I guess, but me and RF, who writes:

Why do fans love the Inspirations? No intonation is the key subject here. I’ve listened to one of their sets (really, only part of one-I couldn’t stand more than two songs) and they really are so unprofessional. What is it that makes fans go for them? I’m sorry, but I can’t figure it out. Old age has it’s advantages, but there is not one singer in the group (including Mike Holcomb who the best of the bunch) who even could be first string among L5, Gold City, and the rest of the nominated quartets. I really don’t understand.

And the fan awards. Just boggles my mind. Maybe we’re in deeper trouble than I thought. Any time Jason Waldroup beats any number of tenors, Jonathan Wilburn beats Arthur Rice, Mark Bishop beats Ivan Parker, and the NQC04 video beats any Gaither video, we’ve got a problem. In my eyes anyway. And giving the Rodney Griffin award-er, songwriter award to Rodney Griffin ignores a lot of good writers, but who cares anyway? We are stuck with the fan base we have.

Stuck fer shur. This email came in as I was writing this entry, so I left the “boggles the mind” line to demonstrate the symmetry of our thinking here.

Second Verse Same as the First (or at least, same as 2004), Part I: The Perrys. Had it not been for their illuminating performance of “I Will Find You Again” during the awards show (and the first verse of one song that Mark Trammel sang), a person would be hard pressed to know this was a night of professional music. But the Perrys not only sang masterfully, they also cleaned up on awards (at least fans got it right in this case): Favorite Female Vocalist, Favorite Alto, Favorite Mixed Group. They should have won song of the year for “I Will Find You Again,” as well, but that’s another story. As I watched and listened to the Perrys perform just that one song tonight, it was clear they have ascended to some new plateau that only a handful of artists in any genre reach - an ease and familiarity with their form, a grace and force intermingled in nearly perfect admixture, a personability and charm all their own. In short, style - easy to recognize, difficult to explain, impossible to imitate. I’m still waiting for the Perrys style to translate into the Perrys sound sustained across an entire project, but for now, it’s enough - more than enough - to enjoy another year full of special moments for the Perrys.

Second Verse Same as the First, Part II: Greater Vision. I should say up front that I’m largely unmoved by “Faces” the song (as well as the project, which you can read my take on here, if you missed it or forgot). And after watching GV take favorite song and album for “Faces” and Faces, respectively, as well Rodney Griffin take songwriter, Gerald Wolfe favorite lead and male singer and Jason Waldrup favorite young artist, I’m more convinced that GV’s popularity is running off a kind of nuclear power, a situation in which they win awards because they’re popular and they’re popular because they win awards. But the general ho-hum nature of so much of the music this evening made Gerald Wolfe’s arrival to the stage An Event. Possibly this could be because we were sitting so close to the stage (seven rows back, actually). Still you could nearly feel the charisma rolling off him. When he accepted his first of many awards, he took a moment that was all about him and his greatness and deflected it into a funny, warm, endearing tribute to the Perrys and Libbi Stuffle, who had just one Female Vocalist of the Year. In so doing, he captured the sense in the room that though the Perrys had left the stage, the experience was still being felt. That ability of Wolfe’s to take the emotional temperature of a room of 20,000 people and then craft the words and the approach that is pitch-perfect is not the least of the reasons why he remains so popular. And it testifies to his charismatic showmanship that he can sell a tune like “Faces” to a hardsell case like me, but there I was, enjoying the song even though I don’t really like it. Plus for the first time, I heard tonight how really pleasant Rodney Griffin’s voice can be.

The Kingdom Heirs: Their set went from ehhh to AHHHH! And not in a good way. For an A-list group that is arguably the most visible representative of sg to the outside world via their roost at Dollywood, their performance tonight was an embarrassment. Not that they aren’t performatively tight, by which I mean they handle themselves on the stage like the pros they are … falling into v-formation as soon as a song kicks off around a particular vocalist, balancing one another throughout songs in the placement and positioning, and that kinda thing. And people like their easy way of interacting with each other on stage. The biggest problem is their music, and their music’s biggest problem is the tenor, Billy Hodges. In the ensemble, he is thin and nasally but given his own lines, he morphs into what I imagine would be the human equivalent of a dog-whistle. His voice is full of weak, wavery, diffuse tones that change sporadically and unpredictably at different registers. There is little evidence of much breath support and he has far too little control of tone placement. Watching and hearing him, I got the feeling that passing air over his vocal chords at anything other than full voice was a tonal crap shoot for him. And this is too bad, not least of all because the group as a whole seems to be suffering. Perhaps it’s the assembly-line approach to performance (three shows a day, five days a week at Dollywood). Certainly that schedule could create the risk of theater fatigue. Whatever the reason, they always go for the big finish, the full voice, or the growly-voice special effects on solos, or the easy yuk … anything like that rather than work to build something subtle and more stylistically considered over the course of a set. I guess you could say they can be unsubtle all the way to the bank, and they did get the crowd on their feet all the while Hodges was threatening the audience’s inner ear stability, but knowing what the KH are capable of makes the new lower standard they work with disappointing to watch.

Overextensions: last year sets seemed to move much quicker. This year, there was no sign of anyone even trying to hold awards recipients to time limits on their acceptance speeches, many of which dragged pointlessly on (Sheila Heil) and on (Jonathan Wilburn) and on (Elaine Wilburn). Thus everything else got pushed back and back. If you’re willing to fine people for exceeding their time limits when they sing, why not fine them for going over on their acceptance speeches?

Gassy: Gas prices are on the minds of sg types these days. The high price of fuel got at least three references from the stage: Wolfe, who half-jokingly used the price of gas as his way of excusing Ernie Haase’s absence when Haase won tenor of the year (they had a date already booked, Wolfe said, as if Haase and Co. didn’t know when NQC was, and had to keep it .. and with the price of fuel what it is, you can’t afford not to … etc). Nevermind Haase probably isn’t feeling any too welcome at NQC these days. Then the bass playing French brother in the KH mentioned it by way of explaining why he thought groups were cutting loose their bands (take that, Gold City). Maurice Templeton also made some reference to the topic, but I forget the context, and I can’t read my own writing.

Bonus Standouts and/or Other Worth Mentionings (Though I should warn you, we’re light on the standouts or bonus anything good tonight) Mark Bishop: It was great to see a soloist on stage at the fan awards singing his song and that his song was up for song of the year. About time soloists started to get some NQC smain-stage recognition for the central role they play in the life of the music and the industry. But Bishop in particular seemed adrift and disconnected from the audience through his performance of “Can I Pray For You.” He never once moved from the spot he was standing, nor turned around to face anyone other than those fortunate folks he was looking at when he took the stage and started singing initially. For performances in the round, moving about is a must.

Buck Morton and Jerry Goff Have to Go: Here’s another instance when I was just thinking to myself earlier today on the plane down here “Be nice to Jerry and Buck. Give them another chance. They’re institutions. People love them. You’re too impatient. Just because you don’t like their humor or style from the stage doesn’t mean they ought to get the boot.” And then Jerry and Buck take the stage and turn in two of the most clueless and inane evenings of emcee work on record. First there’s Jerry Goff. And actually, if anything happened to my opinion of these two tonight, it’s that I’m less a fan of Goff than I am Buck Morton, who has typically been at the top of my list of NQC personalities who needs to suddenly discover he wants to spend more time with his family and turn his duties over to, say, Brian Lester. But Goff … man. As I get older, his humor seems more and more insipid but, more problematically, inappropriate. “We know his humor and she’s a blond,” he says when Mark Bishop and Karen Peck take the stage. To which Peck should have said, “You know Jerry Goff plays the trumpet … and that’s about right for a nattering blowhard.” I used to think that Goff’s mixture of recycled Bapticostal jokes, his arrogant references to his wealth (his Mercedes or his wife’s diamond’s ALWAYS come up on stage in his jokes and banter), the diminishing way he refers to his wife as Little Jan … I thought it was all a performance in the way that Grandpa Jones played the aw shucks bumpkin … derives from some kernel of truth about himself but mostly is a conscious crafting of a persona. But up close, where I was sitting tonight for my first time, you can see Goff’s reactions and his body and facial language and his interactions with people away from the spotlight … see how before and after he tells these jokes and delivers his self-made lines, he clearly appears to think he’s presiding over a regular comedy roast. He thinks he’s really funny. And when really funny people like Roger Bennett are on stage, Goff sits there with a wincy grimace of a smile fakely plastered on his face, as if he’s politely enduring the comedic stylings of an amateur who has not paid close enough attention to Herr Doctor Goff’s mastery of the craft of comedy. Honestly.

And then there’s Buck Morton, who didn’t know who the second act of the night was, seemed to have fallen asleep for thirty seconds or so after Safe Harbor’s set, and appeared to think that Freedom Hall, where he was standing centerstage, was somewhere else entirely (”over there” in Freedom Hall, he referred to it). Huh? This is not a matter of taste. These guys have overstayed their welcome, and with so many capable replacement who could let Buck and Jerry enjoy the glory of a laudatory retirement, there’s no reason for them to still be mucking up the works like this.

The Tims: Tim Surrett and Time Lovelace, of course. They really do think the whole spikey hair and short tie thing is REALLY funny. And some of it is. A great deal of their routine during the awards show had to do with lampooning EHSSQ’s trademark hair and ties. It all culminated in a bunch of sg men ganging up on Tim Lovelace and applying styling gel to his hair, so that he arose from the dogpile with bedhead … all to great effect, of course. But if it hasn’t already, this lampooning of EHSSQ, especially in absentia, is going to stop seeming only funny and start to seem a little weird.

The Specks: Who knew such an unremarkable group could do so many things wrong? Not only did they sing wildly out of tune, which would seem hard to do given the sky-high stacks that were behind them, but they also solidified their place as sg’s Cover Band, singing other people’s material and then trying to act like THEY were the ones being imitated (thus after singing “Testify,” which the Talleys popularized, Mike Speck says words to the effect of, “we made this song famous over 10 years ago” … royght). And then there were all the songs that they managed to make sound like Gospel Karaoke. Thank God Stan Whitmire was playing the piano. That way, I get to say something nice about the set (the piano was fine stuff).

Attendance: seemed way down. Ten years ago, you had to work to find an empty seat even up high at the peak of the evening. Tonight there were hundreds of empty seats.

The more you know: Who knows about the Collingsworth Family? I heard tonight that they have a phenomenal piano player and that they sell product hand over fist (like tens of thousands of units a year) without a label. Wayne Haun has, it seems, produced their latest effort and it is not a skimpy, barebones kinda typical table-project affair, from what I can gather.

Speaking of Wayne: What a treat to hear Libbi Perry Stuffle rave on and on and pile praise and love and thanksgiving on the Ps producer, Wayne Haun. Smart, solid, creative and responsible producers like Haun are hard to find (not just in sg) and Haun is of the creative class (along with a few songwriters) who ought to by most people’s estimation have high-tailed it a long time ago to a coast and made money scoring film and television and producing the next American Idol winner. It’s refreshing to hear artists publicly praise the people behind the scenes who are central to the artistic life and creativity and the music. To hear someone like Perry Stuffle say “I don’t know a thing about music … maybe I should, but I don’t … and when I don’t feel like I can do anything more, Wayne is there to say ‘you have one more song in you’ and to inspire me …” … well, that’s just really nice. Sometimes the rarest praise is the best kind.

Hotcakes: From what I can piece together, the Perrys sold some serious amounts of their Goodman tribute project today. As in thousands, maybe. That’s more than a lot of groups sell all year. Thank goodness they got plenty of copies to the exhibit hall on time.

The Poor Stamps: For some reason, I have a semi-soft spot in my hardheart for the Stamps. Every year they take the stage, I root for them, I want them to have a good set, or at least a better one than the year before (the worse case of which involved Ed Enoch walking the group off the stage nearly mid-set, they were singing so badly). Tonight was no exception. I hoped and was disappointed. They got rushed onto the stage only to stand there in awkward silence waiting for their track to play. Then they had mike problems. And then their pianist kept playing their songs at a funereal pace. At one point during “First …. Day …. In …. … …. Heaven ….” it got so bad Enoch told the pianist to speed it up from the stage. The pianist didn’t, though. And the whole set dragged on in miserable interminability. For everyone, on and off stage.

MTT: Mark Trammel Trio still sounds to me like their struggling to find material that’s worthy of them, but Trammel himself took hold of the first verse of “More Than You’ll Ever Know” tonight and brought a few clarifying moments of crystalline beauty to a late and messy evening. A true master, that one.

Grab Bag

Sitting in the chairs on the floor up near the stage? I’m not a fan. I was skeptical when I bought the seats (we have season tix up the in the nosebleeds but usually pick up whatever is available closer down), and my worst apprehensions were confirmed: cramped, hot, and hemmed in. I didn’t realize how much what I like and love about NQC derives from getting to see it all unfold from a perch up high or at least away from the stage enough to see people coming and going, moving around, watching little dramas unfold here and there. We moved after the fan awards, up to the nosebleeds. You can take the boy outta the nosebleeds, but you can’t the nosebleeds out of the boy .. or something like that.

Most surprising solo of the night (in a a good way): David Hester’s “One More Miracle.”

Best oneliner of the night: Elaine Wilburn opens her acceptance marathon …I mean, speech: “Forty two years ago when we got married I didn’t know there was southern gospel music.” Woman next to me, muttering to self, “That’s because there WASN’T!”

The Clothes line: Jerry Kirksey was sporting an American flag tie. The tenor for the Stamps appeared to be wearing some kind of Dracula cape/frock thing. Interesting. Connie Hopper is the classiest dresser. Period.

A Question: On what project did GV sing a song that I think is titled “Only Through the Blood?” It was playing as background to one of their many trips to the stage during the awards and it sounded like something I don’t own and would want to.

Best phraseology of the night: Mark Trammel, for “the hounds of heaven.”

Best line from MNP: 1)The McKameys weren’t totally offensive. 2)In reference to the Specks (and for all you music theory nerds): “did she mean for that to be a seventh?”

Highest glissando per measure count of the night: Dove Brother’s pianist.

September 16, 2005 1:54 AM [comments]

Probing reader NG writes to make a good point and take me politely to task for my unDovelike behavior:

It’s interesting that the folks in this thread who listened to the NQC on radio cited the Doves as the top performers Monday night while you put them down again. I think you’re way off the mark. When knowledgeable fans of quality quartet singing like John Crenshaw rate a group highly it’s a pretty good indication to me of how good a group is. Of course, I’ve seen and heard the Doves personally many times and haven’t seen or heard a bad performance.

My response was that perhaps he’s right. Perhaps. At any rate, though, my real problem is with the DBQ’s antics (both the non-musical silliness and the musical nonsense … i.e. the Davie Hester growling around as he did Monday night in registers that are tonally indistinct as a way of suggesting some massive range that strikes me as more akin to belching the ABCs than singing bass) that I take issue with. If they’d cut out the histrionics and make singing (rather than the hyperactive oh-so-cute way they sing their songs) the focus, and if they’d stop trying so hard to oversell (and so, oversing) their material, they’d be drastically improved. I still might not prefer their music even then, but they’d be more professional and musical to my ear. But then there’s no accounting for taste, mine or others (actually, I think that’s a bunch of sophistry, … there is all manner of ways to account for taste, but it gets at some of the irreducible differences of preference that are at work here).

Tonight’s Dove Brother’s set struck me as serviceable but no where near the caliber of performance that a group ought to turn in if it’s going to be the Best Quartet In Sg. Taste aside, it’s hard to put DBQ up against L5 or Mercy’s Mark on matters of intonation (that is, being in tune during a live set) and see any way that DBQ comes out Numero Uno (Eric Dove was the chief offender tonight in this regard). But then, tonight with the Is on top of the sg world, I’m beginning to think up is down, flat is round and out of tune is oh so nice and purty. September 16, 2005 2:07 AM [comments]

NQC 05: Swan maybe could replace Buck, no?
Sounds like a game of wildlife bridge. Anyway, that’s Dennis Swanberg, who’s been doing some emcee work this week and who (if he’ll tamp down the racy jokes) maybe could join Brian Lester as the other half of a new generation of emcee partners for NQC. September 15, 2005 2:56 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Grin and Vestalbear it
You thought I was kidding about a life-size Vestal Bear a la Barney? Well so did I. But I think it may be realer than any of us thought. See for yourself. September 15, 2005 2:52 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Tickled Pink with coverage
Give it to the Pinklets, aka the Northmen: within less than a day, they had a press release about being covered by the press, which may mark a new spiral in the publicity worm hole … publicizing someone else publicizing you while publicizing an event that is well publicized. Longtime Pinkmen watcher BB has this background:

The Pinklets aka The Northmen are one of the cheesiest quartets to fall of the tater truck in a long time. At previous years NQCs, they were spotted wearing what looked to me like circa 1982 prom tuxedos. Their promotional material is full of pictures of them in what I call the “Ta-Dah” pose…a “look at me” stance that went out of style back when there was a real Blackwood in the Blackwoods … arms outstretched looking as if they just accomplished something miraculous and worthy of acclaim…you know the look. At any rate, The Northmen have been kicking around the edges of SG for years and singing primarily (I kid you not) at campgrounds for the camper’s worship services. To the good fortune of Christian campers everywhere, their affiliation with Eddie Crook has afforded them the opportunity to get away (for the most part) from the campground circuit and concentrate more on concerts, church services and children’s parties. In addition to pink , they also come in Righteous White and Blood of the Lamb Red as seen here.

Blood of the Lamb Red. Oh my. September 15, 2005 2:51 PM [comments]

NQC 05: Timmed off
I’m sitting in the airport, waiting for the cattle call on my Southwest flight, and I just checked my email to find several messages from people regaling me with versions of the Tims Incident last night during Ernie Haase and SSQ’s set. The Tims in question are sg funny men Tim Surrett and Tim Lovelace. The Incident seems to have involved the Tims getting on stage during SSQ’s set to perform some, ahem, humorous hijinks related to SSQ’s infamous hipster taste in haberdashery (”stupid comedy short-tie routine,” one correspondent said). The upshot appears to be that SSQ’s only set at NQC was pretty well thoroughly disrupted. The group, by all accounts I’ve heard, recovered well, as one would expect of such professionals, but a few folks reported seeing the SSQ guys visibly upset after the whole episode was over. From afar, a few questions come to mind: was this planned (the visible irritation suggests not, but of course I don’t know)? And if not, what on earth were the Tims thinking? I mean, I assume they were trying to pick up where things left off last year, when during the fan awards, Ernie Haase got on stage while the Tims were emceeing the awards show and clipped their ties off about halfway up in response to funny one-liners the Tims had gotten off at the expense of SSQ’s short ties. But emceeing a light-hearted good-time awards show is substantially different than artists working a set at an event like NQC. And (assuming this was unplanned) didn’t The Tims, performers themselves, think maybe surprising a group in the middle of some of their most important work might be taking things a tad too far? Did the chucklehut bumrush put SSQ over their time limit? And if so, were they penalized for it (groups get money deducted from their honoraria for exceeding their allotted minutes on stage)?

I had hoped David Bruce Murray was right when he reported sensing a general improvement in the professionalism of the sets this year. But one has to wonder now, especially if this Attack of the Tims turns out to have been an uncoordinated, unilateral attempt at downhome humor. If the NQC board is serious about arresting the slow but marked trend toward indiscipline and sloppiness that one might at least speculate is partly responsible for the decline in attendance and the defections of some groups on the weekend over the past few years, the board would do well to fine The Tims for stupendously bad judgment and to make it clear, on stage (if need be; and it may well be necessary, given the apparent blockheadedness sg types are capable of), that if professional performers aren’t able to balance their role as legitimate entertainments (which of course includes plenty of humor) with their responsibility to exercise enough artistic judgment to behave professionally, they won’t be welcome on the main stage. But of course nothing of the kind will happen. Instead, we’ll spend the next year wondering why more and more A-list groups like SSQ are opting out of a full week at NQC and working with a reliably professional gig like Gaither. It’s really not that big of a mystery though, is it? Like I said, Six Flags over Jesus. September 15, 2005 11:59 AM [comments]

NQC from a distance
Taking off two days early this week means a lot of work now, so posting will be light till I hit Louisville. For now, I’ll rely mostly on others. First up, David Bruce Murray captures what I imagine is a common frustration among sg afficianados, justifiably lamenting the really bad taste of so many sg acts. In this case, the offenders are a quartet that should be called The Pinklets (these guys are dressed so badly, the shock and awe of their garishly festooned coordination had already reached me yesterday afternoon via email and text messaging, long before the Louisville Courier Journal plastered them all over the newspaper today).

Next up, western reader PM, and he’s not happy:

Once again, the incompetent boobs running the Solidgospel (I think that’s who one would blame in this case) live feed at NQC borked the evening. Don’t they know there are people that wait all year to hear this? You know, us unfortunate people that cant afford a family vacation to Louisville.

For what was almost an hour they were playing ‘old NQC memories’ over the live feed. Makes the whole event look deplorable from the outside. Seems every year there is some live feed audio issues. Don’t they know they have a whole year to work this out, instead of working it out the week of the convention?

I caught some of the feed last night on WGNA Good News AM. There was some “NQC memory” time-wasters there too, but mostly it was a good, reliable feed. I tuned in about the time the Doves took the stage and winced pretty much non-stop (except, that is, when I had to jerk the earbuds outta my head or risk my skull exploding) right up until the Dixie Echoes took the stage. But then an odd thing happened. The DEs set was really nice. A much more relaxed and easy going pace, with singing as opposed to the screechifying and sophomoric antics that I heard more or less right up until that point. It’s sad that when I think of male quartets, I categorize them by the two or three groups that focus on, you know, the craft of music … and then all the others. Which is to say, a NQC performance by a randomly selected male quartet in sg today is more likely to give the impression that this is Six Flags over Jesus instead of something with as musically portentous a name as the National Quartet Convention.

And now for something completely different: The First Ever Most Useless Use of an E-Letter by a SG Group. … And the winner is … Karen Peck and New River, for this stupendous waste of bandwidth, sent yesterday to subscribers of the KPNR newsletter via email:

Hello everyone,

We’re here at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Ky. We’re looking forward to a great week.

Love y’all,
Karen Peck and New River

Finally, the SN has photos … oh wait … the server is down (at 12:54 a.m.). Try back again later, I guess (nope … still down at 1:10), assuming they can get their act together during … what do you call this? Oh yeah THE MOST IMPORTANT FRIKKIN WEEK FOR THE SELF-PROCLAIMED VOICE OF SOUTHERN GOSPEL! Honestly. … On the “not totally discouraging level of incompetence and unprofessionalism side,” though, it is only Tuesday. So here’s hoping the quartet histrionics cease, the radio feeds wise up and save the Stroll Down NQC Memory Lane for later, and that the SN figures out how to get what appears to be their dial-up modem and two old floppy-booted Apples fired up again. September 14, 2005 1:11 AM [comments]

NQC ‘05
I’ve been trying to think of something appropriately earnest and ponderous to say about the approach of NQC, but I can’t seem to think of anything to say beyond what I already said last year. So for your dose of the semi-treacly avfl, go back and reread last year’s reminiscence.

As for this year, it’s time to start asking the most important questions:

Will Triumphant’s Jeff Stice play Joshua Fit the Battle as he piano solo yet again.

More to the point, will Stice’s old band with the Kingdom Heirs play the song too (and will Dennis Murphy get in on KH’s comedy act with his “denny as kenny” schtick?)

Who will make the most egregious distorted use of Hurricane Katrina to score crass ideological or cheap political points?

Will the Inspirations take away song or album of the year again, and thereby create the conventions Best Moment of Cognitive Dissonance?

Is this the year when Gaither’s absence becomes such an accepted fact of life that more people shrug it off than not? Or will the increasing defections of A-list talent on the weekend (The Booths, EHSSQ, the Easters) become more pronounced and obnoxious to NQC fans?

Will Peg McKamey kick off her shoes during a weekend set or not?

How many more years will we have to endure “Doctor Buck Morton” before Brian Lester is installed as the permanent emcee alongside Jerry Goff (Goff can be inane and fatuous but in the uninterrupted way that Morton is)?

Whose performance will knock the top of our heads off? What will be The Moment of NQC 05?

Don’t get some of my references here? See my coverage from NQC 2004. I’ll be blogging from the convention Thursday through Saturday. In the meantime, any Monday through Wednesday conventioneers should send in their dispatches from the field. September 11, 2005 7:55 PM [comments]

NQC on the cheap
Generally, scalping tickets online is a profitable gig. Generally. Except, of course, if you’re scalping NQC tix. And I’m not just talking about the Kentucky law that prohibits tix to be resold for more than face value. People are actually losing money on NQC ebay resales (which I guess disqualifies it as “scalping” right?). One sale that recently cashed out involved 12 tickets (two tickets for six nights) for $152.50. NQC sold those tickets at $24 each so the list value of the 12 tickets was $288. That means the seller, who said he had surgery and couldn’t attend, is out $135.50. Ouch. Reader NG, who alerted me to the sale, said years ago he got great tickets near the front from an e-bay sale for an average of $10 a night when the list price on the tickets was $22. September 8, 2005 8:59 PM [comments]

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