NQC 07: Final Thoughts

NQC is struggling. The good news is, there’s evidence (as I noted Thursday night) of an attempt to think differently. This being sg, the innovations are often too nearsighted to have much of a felt impact right away, but the innovative impulse is essential if NQC wants to save itself from obsolescence. The bad news, way too much of the music just stinks. NQC could shake itself up pretty usefully if it would cut about a third of the fat on any given evening’s schedule – I’m thinking here of groups like the Pfiefers, DMB, Down East, Rick Webb trio, Specks, Chuck Wagon Gang (you could actually HEAR people snoring where I was sitting during the CWG’s set), Primitives, Skyline Boys, Naomi and the Segos, Palmetto and Freemans. Give these people a showcase and use the time these cuts free up to let groups that people really hang around for have more time: the Booths, Hoppers, Mark Lowry, Doves, Gold City, L5, GV, and yes, even (or especially) the Inspirations.

This kind of move would also make it more feasible to use a LIVE BAND for all performances. I know, pie in the sky. But hear me out. So much of even the good music (Talley Trio and Booths for instance) is robbed of its felt immediacy and emotional relevance by the reliance on canned band tracks. Virtually no spontaneity (though the Booths and GV and others recognize this problem to some extent by using a hired gun at the piano for NQC week). No sense of something comprehensively beautiful being assembled before your eyes and ears. No margin for mistakes and – more important – the often magnificent recoveries that mistaken moves make possible. It makes me tingly and twitterpated just thinking about how exciting it’d be to hear a full live band behind the Booths or the Talleys or the Perrys (my God, can you imagine a live band behind the Perrys?!).

This is not just about personal tastes, though it is that to a large extent. It’s about artistry and craft. Because it’s starting to feel like many of these groups – I’m thinking of groups like Greater Vision and maybe L5 and the like – are succumbing to a certain artistic inertia after years and years of singing with tracks. With every measure perfectly predictable, ever phrase and modulation expertly timed and tracked down to the nanosecond, every tag and turnaround programmed and planned, the edges get duller and the line goes slack as fewer and fewer variables in the live performance are left to the serendipity of the here and now, the lived moment, the unlooked-for epiphany or shout or screw up or burst of genius insight.

It’s probably an unfair example, but L5’s impromptu attempt to stage “Boundless Love” with McCray Dove at the songwriter’s showcase strikes me as a decent example of the certain something that’s lost in the over-reliance on tracks. Tim Parton keyed the song too high and everyone noticeably struggled under the pressure of a pick up quartet. Instead of enjoying the freedom to explore a new dynamic, the vocalists chafed and strained and plodded through and the song, which got the idn’t-that-spayshul applause we reserve for the good sportsmanship award or “most improved” at the junior high talent contest.

For the love of a trapset and bass guitar, somebody leave your digitrax at home and trust yourself to get by without “our band leader, Mr. Sony” and sky high stack in the mix. Perhaps NQC could start small: partner with the SN and make Thursday night “Trackless Thursday” or “Live Music Night” (ok, so I’m not a PR branding expert). The awards show would become infinitely more musical with a live band and then NQC could stage groups in the concerts that followed who were capable of putting on their set without tracks. It’s a thought. But no matter, something’s gotta give. I can count on one hand the number of moments in three days worth of music that I heard something that sounded genuinely live and not just a replay of what I can hear any average cd for sale at our table out in front. Blech.

Other Stuff:

What is up with the classlessness from groups that Joel Lindsey blogs about here (make sure to read the comments too)? Note to group owners: snubbing writers and/or asking for their ID before giving them a copy of the album their music is on is NOT the way to get good music in the future.

Enough with faux clever names: Greater Love, Heavenly Reign, Higher Hope, Perfect Peace. Yeah yeah yeah. Fun with homophones and alliteration. The rest of us know about hooked on phonics too. Now can you please go away.

Souvenirs: How funny that Larry Craig, the not gay, nor have I ever been singing senator from Idaho, shows up in both the SN and the 50th Anniversary NQC Commemorative program all in the same month. Well, on the bright side, at least it wasn’t Alberto Gonzales or Donald Rumsfeld.

Someone mentioned this in the comments somewhere and because I intended to mention it and forgot, I’m gonna do so here: but honestly, Stan Whitmire just sets me free. Ok, that wasn’t exactly what the commenter said; I’m embellishing. But here’s the deal: on Friday, Mark Lowry was on with Whitmire at the piano and Lowry moves into Chris Rice’s “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)” (which is my New Favorite Flavor of the Month) and after the first verse Lowry realizes it’s keyed too high if he wants to live through the series of upward modulations that are coming. So he asks Whitmire to drop it down a key or two. And presto change-o … down a step or so. This is not nearly as simple as raising up a half or whole step or a perfect fourth or whatever. At least it’s not easy to do with kind of reflexive ease and grace with which Whitmire executed the command. Inconspicuous descending modulations require a fairly sophisticated theoretical sense of where you are, where you need to be, and how you want to get there (listen, for instance, to the descending modulation in “It’s Time” from the Hoppers’ Live in the Greenville). I don’t have anywhere to go with this other than to say these are some of my favorite inside-baseball moments, the kind that simply don’t happen with canned tracks, and that infinitely enrich the experience of the music in way that only gifted musicians working in concert together can create. Whitmire/LordSong ’08.

Walk it off: What is up with the endless kavetching over the “long walk” to the exhibit hall. From my nosebleed seat to the exhibit hall entrance, it was a 4 minute walk in the worst traffic. Last year, things were admittedly a bit more inconvenient, what with that makeshift mineshaft we all had to tunnel through to get past construction and over to the new South Wing. But still. Even then it was a five- or six-minute hike for the averagely healthy, and this year the walk let you get outside in the beautiful Kentucky weather. I realize a lot of fans are older and afflicted with various infirmities, but then I also see A LOT of Lil’ Rascals and scooters and wheelchairs and walkers, so that means the real complainers are the able bodied for whom a tenth-of-a-mile walk is unreasonably demanding. Maybe we should all step away from the Erhlers line and the Fried Ding-Dongs stand and the Double Deep Battered Country Fried FishDogs and get back in touch with the old daily “constitutional” of yore.

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  1. Marlin R. Taylor wrote:

    While this is not a direct response to your comments, Doug - with which I wholeheartedly agree - since you bring up the Hoppers “Live in Greenville” CD … I can’t help but note that enLighten34 will be airing that recording in its entirety this weekend immediately following Paul Heil’s Gospel Greats … Saturday at approximately 7:45 PM ET and Sunday at 10:45 PM ET.

  2. Janice wrote:

    Is it really necessary to take God’s name in vain?

  3. my name's not Ross wrote:

    Hey, here’s a thought - go to the iTunes store and get a FREE Download of a sermon by Brady Cooper from New Vision Church in Murfreesboro TN “Law and Order Week 03 What it means to take the Lord’s name in vain” from 08/26/2007, listen, take notes, mull it over - then get back with me on whether half of what you saw in the exhibit hall during NQC week is more or less taking the Lord’s name in vain than the moderator saying “My God”

  4. Trent wrote:

    “So much of even the good music…is robbed of its felt immediacy and emotional relevance by the reliance on canned band tracks.”

    Very true. Quite simply, the over-reliance on tracks is killing the entire genre, not just at NQC. Take special notice sometime when a group goes to the piano; magic happens! The crowd comes to life and the impromptu feel of the moment breathes life into the set.

    Here’s an idea for the NQC board: Hire some great Nashville musicians to come up to Louisville and spend the week playing for groups on stage. Pay them each $2000-$3000 for the week. Bring in people like Jason Webb on piano, David Cleveland on guitar, Steve Brewster on drums and David Smith on bass guitar. These are some of the finest players around. See what kind of wonderful stuff happens on stage that week with professional, live music.

  5. Trent wrote:

    “Whitmire/LordSong ’08″

    I would vote for them over any candidate currently in the field, Democrat or Republican.

    I would like to add that in the “Great Moments of NQC 2007″ one must mention Kim Collingsworth’s performance of “How Great Thou Art” on Saturday evening. I think it’s really neat that she sings softly while she plays; it adds even more colorful flavor to the playing. This was one of the highlights of the week for me. Mrs. Collingsworth is the finest female pianist in gospel music today.

  6. AD wrote:

    A live band is great…however, there’s no way a live band can duplicate the musical arrangements heard on the cd. All of that was in discussion 35 years ago. Fans were disappointed, sometimes, when they saw a group live…not as exciting without the horns, strings, etc. I can think of a lot of songs done by present-day groups that wouldn’t be close to the same as the arrangement on their cd with live musicians.

  7. Glenn wrote:

    I have never heard the Booth Brother’s “Look for Me at Jesus Feet” sound any better than it did the night with just Roy Webb on the piano.

  8. BL wrote:

    Yes, but “Look For Me at Jesus Feet” doesn’t really call for anything other than piano. I agree with AD, songs tend to lose something when you take away the orchestrations. Granted, if the song can adequately be played with a live band and they can make it sound just as, if not more exciting than what’s on the CD, go for it!

  9. Lottie Squires wrote:

    “Cut the fat?” Sweetheart, half the groups you mentioned are the ones I made a point of getting to Freedom Hall to see! I’d like to see the groups that sang three or four times get cut back, so others could have a chance at main stage.

  10. skyline singer wrote:

    Hey Doug, if you didn’t hear our set at NQC, how do you know that we are some of the “fat” that needs to be trimmed from the main stage line-up? Just wondering how you came to that conclusion.

  11. Practical Fellow wrote:

    When I was a kid I was disappointed to hear groups play with a live band because it didn’t sound exactly like their CD. The older I am and the more my musical tastes have developed, I enjoy the arrangements that vocals and a live band can produce. It takes more creativity and demands more artistry from the vocalists and the players, but for true creative-types this is what the live show is all about.

    I like the idea of hiring a group of live musicians to play say, from 6:00 p.m. to midnight one night of NQC. If the groups on the schedule that night don’t like it, juggle the schedule to find artists who are comfortable doing a ‘live’ set.

    One more thing: I agree that NQC needs an overhaul. I think it’s time for the NQC board to search outside themselves for the answers to this problem. Consult people who are younger, have fresh vision, aren’t mired down with Southern Gospel emotional baggage, etc. and get their perspective. Company’s do this all the time: take an existing product, repackage it and reintroduce it to the marketplace and a newer demographic.

  12. Diva0427 wrote:

    I’m totally for a night of “NQC: Unplugged”. And Trent totally got the A-list of musicians that we should ask…but they’ll probably be on tour with Faith & Tim again. :) But even standing in the exhibit hall and listening to the live feed, I was disappointed at how friggin’ stacked all these tracks were. If you’re singing to a split track, lower the bgv’s for Pete’s sake! It just kills me that these groups can get up there and get away with stacks and get all sorts of praise, but then soloists get little or no thought when we/they have to hold an entire program on our/their own WITHOUT stacks!

  13. Dean Adkins wrote:

    Re #11:
    “Company’s do this all the time: take an existing product, repackage it and reintroduce it to the marketplace and a newer demographic.”

    Like New Coke in 1985?

  14. Aaron Swain wrote:

    #10: I saw your set, and I thought it was good. Keep up the good work!

  15. Edie wrote:

    I LOVE the live music idea! Let them hire their own musicians, if they want, but make it mandatory AT LEAST one night of the week! That will be the one night I attend and I will, once again, have a reason to go.

  16. Practical Fellow wrote:

    In response to Dean Adtkins (#13):

    I assume you’re trying to be droll. Good effort…

    New coke changed the actual product itself. I was thinking of something similiar to how Bill Gaither created a format that uses the old songs, introduces the new ones and creates ‘moments’ over and over and over again to the delight of crowds everywhere. You should check out his stuff.

  17. SPD wrote:

    I agree live is better! However what everybody is missing is the fact that we can’t afford live musicians! Churches today are paying less than they ever have and Mr. Sony doesn’t have to eat or sleep or take care of a family back home! As for Trent #4, We pay these guys $1000 to $1500 dollars per musician per day in the studio! That rate is for ten songs! So 3-4 songs per group times 15 to 17 groups on the main stage means that NQC would have to spend 20 to 30 thousand dollars for one night of live music! With those players. Now I’m sure Mike hopper and Roy Webb would work much cheaper!

  18. OldSchool wrote:

    I love todays arrangements and ochestration…BUT wouldn’t a Live/Unplugged night be fun? The old-styles of those famous Band Of Gold, Goodman Band, Kingsmen Band, Hinsons, even the Dixie Melody Boys had a full hot Band…huge sounds. Are there enough E-Mails to get NQC’s attention?

  19. OldSchool wrote:

    Can there be Final Thoughts without something about the emarrasingly cheesy Diamond Awards? Maybe they weren’t even worth a mention. The Female Co-Host was LATE, the male Co-Host didn’t even wear a Tie, wearing whatever he came down for Lunch in. Granted I just wandered in while looking for the Hotel Buffet. Maybe it was just the rehersal.

  20. dd wrote:

    i’m remembering the Bishops live recording years ago. Granted, it wasn’t a European orchestra, but it did have meaty songs. It was a great project for them that has been played and played over the years in my area. As to cutting out certain groups just cause they appeal to one section of people over another won’t happen; because, guess what, people still like the Chuck Wagon Gang. And the McKameys and as bad as i dont wanna say it, the Pfeifers.

  21. burt wrote:

    #17 is absolutely correct.
    A-list Nashville musicians do not come cheap. What’s the going union rate now…$100 per hour x 2 for a session leader???

  22. Edie wrote:

    I remember back in the 80s Lari Goss conducted a full orchestra during the awards…and now we can’t afford four or five musicians???? It’s not THAT expensive.

  23. Trent wrote:

    You may be surprised to find that many Nashville musicians have a Southern Gospel background from their growing up years. Playing the music they grew up with live at NQC in front of 15,000 people would be very palatable to many of them. This is not session work. They wouldn’t necessarily draw their union session wages for playing this gig. I’m sure the pay wouldn’t be the same as an Alan Jackson or Tim McGraw concert, but some of them would undoubtedly be interested in talking it over with the NQC decision makers.

  24. Dan Keeton wrote:

    If you’d been in GA on Saturday before convention with the Chuck Wagon Gang at the Gospel Barn, you’d feel different about the CWG deserving to be on the Main Stage.

    After what I witnessed that day, they deserve, far and above all others, any and all blessings they are given. I have never seen anything like it by any artist in ANY genre of music.

    Anyone who was there or knows what I am talking about, will whole-heartedly agree.

    Dan Keeton

  25. thom wrote:

    over reliance on “stacks and tracks” is one of my pet peeves. some artists are under pressure from record labels to make each live presentation sound just like the CD, the logic being you will sell more CD’s if people can take the exact thing home that they just heard on stage.

    I come from the school of thought that if you have a live band, or a good piano player, let them play where they can be heard. We all know that all that sound of the horns, strings, more strings, and more horns, is not coming from that one little electric pi-nanner. So, turn the guy up so we can hear him playing!
    Do at least a couple songs with JUST the piano and your voices, and show us how well you can blend.
    It’s often difficult to tell who is singing - or if anyone is really singing - when all you hear is a big stack of vocals that sounds like a compressed 12 voice choir blasting out - sometimes it looks like, and sounds like, Everybody on stage is lip syncing.

    Turn ‘em off occassionally and let us hear you do something unplanned and unscripted, ie: “unplugged” - …..or “uncanned” might be a more appopriate term for SG.

  26. DM wrote:

    The sound crew don’t want to take time to set the mikes. They can get more groups on stage with canned music. It is bad when the CWG is a welcome relief. After awhile it all does sound alike.

  27. RR wrote:

    “You may be surprised to find that many Nashville musicians have a Southern Gospel background from their growing up years. Playing the music they grew up with live at NQC in front of 15,000 people would be very palatable to many of them. This is not session work. They wouldn’t necessarily draw their union session wages for playing this gig. I’m sure the pay wouldn’t be the same as an Alan Jackson or Tim McGraw concert, but some of them would undoubtedly be interested in talking it over with the NQC decision makers.”

    Probably so, Trent, but they would be trembling at the thought of a Union representative walking in the door. That’s already true if they play non-Union sessions in Nashville. Taking sub-par pay can get them in trouble, unless I am badly misinformed.

    I love the idea being tossed around here, but there are a few ramifications of such a job that the musicians must consider.

  28. Trent wrote:

    Hey, RR. I work in a union environment (factory), and used to be a union official in the plant I work in. I’m not so sure the union would have any jurisdiction over gigs these guys are playing outside usual & customary session work. If they are playing studio SESSIONS on the cheap or above or below the standard hourly rate, then undoubtedly the union will have a problem with it. If they are playing down at Fred’s BBQ Pit on Thursday nights or if they are playing at NQC on a Friday night, I’m not sure the union has any say-so over that. They may, but it totally depends on how their contract is worded. If there is a clause in their contract that dictates what they play and when they play outside session work, then you may be right. However, I doubt if that is the case. Maybe someone who is familiar with these guys’ contract could share the details of how free they are to work wherever they want (or not) outside of session work.

  29. Edie wrote:

    Okay…so, let’s say it costs $10,000 to have five musicians for a night. (I don’t think we SHOULD pay them less than union scale, by the way.) Even at $10,000, the publicity you could get would make up for it, not to mention giving some much-needed excitement to the event. And…if you did it on Saturday night, you’d have a better chance of getting people to stick around.

    But would it even have to be studio musicians? Aren’t there enough really great musicians in southern gospel already to for a really amazing band? I mean pay Stan Whitmire, Ricky Free, Ben Isaacs and Joel Keys to show up and rehearse with the groups and you’ve got an amazing show!

  30. WhoamI wrote:

    Hate to see ya leaving the DMB man. Best wishes though. I believe you’re one of the finest tenors in the SG genre. Keep on lifting him up.

    Thanks for your time and dedication.

  31. Wayne wrote:

    Has anyone ever been to one of Tim Lovelace’s Jam Sessions? Some of the best musicians in the industry are a part of these. THERE is your band.

    The absolute BEST concert I ever attended in my life was The Cathedrals where it was just the four guys singing, (Glen, George, Mark, and a new guy named Ernie) and Roger on piano. Mark also played bass guitar. There were a couple of songs they used tracks on, but the majority of them were piano and bass…and the Cats brought it! I miss live music.

    Also, I don’t make it a habit of taking the Lord’s name in vain.

  32. jb wrote:

    I read so much on here about “canned music”. Do you just feel that “professional, full-time” singers should not use them? For me, if it wasn’t for the soundtracks, my family would not be able to go out and sing. I do agree that most of the stacks overtake and they sound like a full choir. I really don’t understand why some feel they have to do that because they sound great without them. I was really dissatisfied with the lineup this yr. on Saturday night. We left after the Perrys and headed home.

  33. jani wrote:

    What did you witnessed seeing the CWG? They have been around a long time. Seem to be busy all the time. ALot of people love them.

  34. Dan Keeton wrote:

    #33 Jani
    Lets just say that the whole room was in tears for what they did for one person. For the sake of the CWG and this one person’s family I have not been given permission to share what it was exactly.

    What I will say is “there may be finer singers in this world, but there are no finer Christian People. What I witnessed was un-selfishness and thoughtfulness such as I’ve never seen in this business.

  35. Montana Man wrote:

    Is the Gospel Barn a public place? Was this a public event or a private event?

    If it was a public event how do you justify requiring being “given permission” to say what happened in a public place at a public event? It REALLY is rudeness or perhaps arrogance to suggest that you witnessed something exceptional but to beg off because you “don’t have permission.”

  36. Chris Kynard wrote:

    #35 - what is rude is your insistence that you have some inherent right to know what someone else has determined is better left - at least for the time being - unsaid. I have no idea what Dan witnessed with the CWG gang but if he feels that it would be improper to share it without the approval of the principals involved that is not arrogance - that is integrity, which sadly is something we do not see nearl enough of in this industry.

  37. Crowe wrote:

    I agree with Chris..If Dan feels uncomftorable repeating it than good for him for not telling…..How my world would change if more people would have that respect for others..
    If you need to know, e-mail the CWG or the Gospel Barn..
    Rudeness and arrogance? come on man, get a life!

  38. EH wrote:

    Not knocking the musicians one bit but unless you have some rehersal time which would almost be impossible to do and as far as these musicians taking the time to listen to all of the songs that the groups would be doing to work out the arrangements, I dont think so, all I see is a train wreck……if it aint broke dont fix it, it’s been working for 50 years. Dont get me wrong I love a live band better than the next guy and over the years have become more reliable on tracks like the next guy but I do feel the stacks are piled way to high and do take away from alot of the vocal talent that these groups have.
    Just my two cents worth !

  39. Deb Chuvalas wrote:

    Whatever happened to the glory days of the NQC when it was couth to give new groups a boost and a shot at the main stage. Of Course the politics play out and always seem to win. IE…… Three Bridges were yanked from the Wednesday night program because of a mad talent agency and record producer. Why? Because of a change in personel. Duh! Every group in the industry has had changes. Where the smart people? J. D. Would have put them on to showcase their new and bigger and better sound,. The NQC bores me. They need some new blood. Or maybe just some red blood.

  40. Tele D. Trooth wrote:

    #38, any musician worth the ice in his Diet Coke can read a chart and jump right in. Session players often see the charts and hear the demos minutes before they lay down the tracks; to the songs we hear daily on SG radio stations.
    If the NQC stayed with the musicians most often used by SG artists (Joel Key, Mark Fain, Johnathan Presnell et al) I don’t foresee any train wreck. As a case in point, watch Randy Miller in action at NQC, various showcases, concerts, etc. Much of the time, someone spots him and asks him to set in, and he has no clue about the song, the arrangement or the key. It doesn’t take him long to “get it” though. Give him a chart and hum a bit of the melody, and he can lay down a track that any “headliner” would be proud to sing to.
    Personally I think the spontaneity seems to add to the excitement of a “live band”…imagine turnarounds and modulations on the fly…listen to Jimmy Swaggart’s radio station once in a while and hear how he calls the chord progressions and key changes on the spot, when he is singing/preaching (by the way, I am not promoting JS with that statement, just braggin on his musicians and their ability to roll with the program as it changes).
    I guess what I am saying, from a musician standpoint, is that given a reasonable amount of data (charts, keys, etc) a good musician can “wing it” for lack of a better phrase…and “bring it” as well.
    I think the live band idea at NQC is great. They could even hide a soloist on main stage (gasp!) in all that mix…lol…

  41. Montana Man wrote:

    36 and 37, very simply, “If Dan feels uncomftorable (sic) repeating it…” he shouldn’t have said anything about it. That’s the reason for the rudeness and arrogance comment, and I stand by it. Integrity? Hardly. It’s the childish “I know something you don’t know.” And I do have a life, thank you.

  42. EH wrote:

    #40 I do not doubt the ability that they can jump right in with other musicians that are already familiar with the group, I have no problem with some of those pickers sitting in on a set, but to give me 4 or 5 musicians who may have not played on any of my stuff during a performance as the NQC would be quite frightning. And as to Jimmy Swaggart he may change up a program and call out different progressions but his band is familiar with him and they play together on a regular basis. Folks, it just my opinion

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