We’re all post-Gaither now
What will the world look like after Gaither leaves the scene? I have no idea, I should say, but in a way, we’re already post-Gaither. The thing about the world after Himself is that, given what he’s done to Chrisitian music generally and gospel music specifically, it’s no longer a question of (with apologies to George Jones) of, who’s gonna fill his shoes. Gaither and the Homecoming franchise have fundamentally altered the sense of what a “legend” or “touchstone” (to use commenter JM’s word) is. It’s not about filling shoes. The whole outfit has changed.
Without Gaither, and all else being equal, pontificators like me would naturally look to someone like Gerald Wolfe as the kind person who could occupy an iconic position in the genre (Roger Bennett would have been as well). And certainly Wolfe probably will age into a kind of grand ole master role: someone who reminds of specific legacies but does his own thing more or less.
But post-Gaither, we don’t just expect a certain number items to be checked off on the What It Takes To Be A Legend list: musical ability, charisma/charm, proven success, appeals to a wide range of audiences and types of fans, recognized beyond genre as a leader in the tradition and style, etc. Now we also expect The Icon to essentially make his career (and I’m afraid it will probably be a “he” for some time to come yet) not just about creating music but also about being a kind of ambassador of gospel music to the outside world; not just about practicing the craft at a certain level but translating it and making it accessible, saleable, to a broader audience.
These are, I think, good things. But the question remains: who will it be after his Billness?
Reader gc thinks Ernie Haase, and certainly all available signals seem to be pointing his way. But kingmaking is a tricky bidness. Gaither’s endorsement and the connection to George Younce are undeniably powerful. On the other hand, Haase is almost entirely a confection of the nostalgia industry that Gaither (and to a lesser degree, Younce) created. Just watch and listen to the EHSSQ shows: beyond the choreography, the next biggest chunk of their act has to do with channeling Bill and George in one form or another. Can a kingship be built around echoes, shadows, and namedropping?
I’m really not sure. I’d be less uncertain if Haase had proven sustainability of his own out from under the auspices of his mentors. There’s a great deal of inside-baseball debates about how “real” EHSSQ’s sales and success are; that is, how much of it comes from Gaither’s coattails and the way Gaither’s product fulfillment translates into SoundScan numbers, and how much of it would persist in absence of the Gaither association. It’s hard to say, but I assume at some point we’ll find out.
Personally, my hunch is EHSSQ has staying power of their own, but I’m not so sure about EH as the new BG. Put aside all the X factors and the inside-baseball stuff, and Haase just doesn’t seem to have the necessary degree and kind of charisma and charm, certainly not to the extent you’d expect from The Icon. It’s not about his ability to be like Younce and Gaither. In fact, if anything, I think his showmanship as an emcee would work a great deal better if he stopped trying to be a pastiche of what he seems to think good gospel emcees act like (there’s a lot of breathy sentimentalism, which I gather comes from Gaither, and a comedy style that mostly seems to be an updated brand of George-and-Glennism run through the Gaither sketch-comedy workshop). Instead, he needs to find his own voice as emcee that fits whatever it is that EHSSQ is doing stylistically (though to be fair, this could be said of many sg emcees).
Because if Gaither has done one thing inarguably well, it’s been to create a performance style that reminds audiences of all the best things they recall of the music’s tradition but in a way that’s not quite like anything before it. EHSSQ is on its way in this regard, inasmuch as this dancing schtick recalls the Statesmenish and Blackwoody past while also clearing new performative ground. But it’s not at all clear how well this particular trick pony will age. Haase is a creative thinker who will figure out how to shift his appeal when something in his current mix goes stale. But vocally, Haase is also the weakest (and, if I recall rightly, the oldest) link in his group. If he has any ambitions to be The Icon, Haase needs to find a way to shift his primary role away from singing and toward being an impressario on stage, because it’s much more difficult to consistently deliver top-notch music arranged around a weak tenor than it is to work around a faux-bass like Gaither.
My money is on Mark Lowry. I saw his Be the Miracle Tour a few weeks ago in
I’ve raved on about Lowry at NQC, and there’s not a lot I would say about his full-length shows that would surprise anyone who read my NQC thoughts (which is why I didn’t do a concert review). But it shouldn’t go without saying: the way Lowry uses LordSong and Stan Whitmire in combination with his own voice and comedy is nothing short of ingenious – both clearly a descendant of the Homecoming tour stage style (and so familiar enough to earn audience’s trust), and yet entirely different from it (just as Gaither’s approach with the Homecoming Friends both borrowed and significantly departed from the singing convention style … and Charlie Waller’s GOGR, depending whom you talk to). And most brilliantly of all perhaps (and this a lesson learned from Giather, no doubt) there’s nothing about this set-up that wouldn’t work with other talent, save Lowry himself of course.
All this is very subjective, obviously. I guess it sounds a wee bit convenient that an act I like is also my pick for the heir apparent. But Lowry’s is the first gospel music show I can recall in ages that I’d go back to see the very next night even (or especially) if nothing changed. And I suspect I’m not alone.
I’m drawn to Lowry’s irreverence and his unconventional habits of mind as a religious performance artist. Many of the jokes he tells on a given night would be familiar to anyone who’s heard his act recently, and yet it’s not a paint (or dance)-by-number “show.” Lowry spends a great deal of time more or less free-associating with his audience and weaving the main features of the tour’s script into whatever comes to mind that night. It sounds simple, but to watch it happen is like witnessing … well, a miracle.Email this Post