NQC 2008 curtain raiser
This is NQC’s 51st year, and for the student of gospel music history and culture, it’s hard not to wonder what the next 50 years will bring for this event. Looked at one way, it’s a remarkable testament to the enduring appeal of gospel music as a mass-cultural form of religious experience and expression that the event has sustained itself for half a century with comparatively little change to NQC’s structure and style. True, conservative crowds don’t like change on the whole, so to some extent it’s important to acknowledge the work of inertia here. Lots of folks come to NQC because they always have, and lots of what goes on NQC happens the way it does because it’s always been done that way.
Still, it’s not nothing that in this the 51st year, with the economy in the tank and all those V8 Crown Vics, Towncars, and Coupe deVilles you see in the Freedom Hall parking lot sucking up $4-gallon gas, you gotta admit NQC does something right if, as I am led to believe, advance sales are “substantially up” over recent years and trends.
So from one angle, NQC looks pretty strong. From other view points, though, it’s hard not to marvel at the hidebound reluctance of NQC owners and management to reimagine the event in ways that retain its core appeal - the evening parade of stars in the round - while capitalizing on the substantial shifts that have taken place in mass-market entertainment and event programming in the last 50 years.
But I’m just a guy with a computer and lots of gospel cds, so I’ve been asking around to see how far off base I am here in thinking that the NQC approach may be showing as much as age and wear and disrepair as Freedom Hall.
If you could make any changes to NQC, without roadblocks or obstacles, what would they be, I asked a few people who (because I’ve been wanting to use this line forever) I’ll call sources close to the NQC president. And I gotta say, I was surprised by how immediately and unreservededly the dissatisfaction poured forth. A representative response:
1. Fire Clarke Beasley
2. Leave Louisville
3. Relocate the event in July to a place like Sieverville, TN, and sell bundle deals with Dollywood passes etc targeting families with kids.
4. Sell out the smaller concert venue multiple times daily instead of watching the crowds dwindle down in the monstrous Freedom Hall space.
It’s not really surprising that Beasley’s leadership has generated controversy. First of all, the whole American Gospel Music debacle, an NQC-backed misadventure spearheaded by Beasley, has not endeared him to the money men and other gospel-music luminaries whose interests he manages as NQC’s executive vice president. Secondly, there’s nothing illegal about his cozy relationship with the Louisville visitors and tourism bureau, but it rubs a lot of folks the wrong way, since it gives the impression that NQC continues to return to the Kentucky Fair and Expo Center, and especially the antiquated and unacoustical Freedom Hall, for reasons that don’t have to do with how well the venue matches the demands of the event. Upgrades and expansions to the expo wings have helped … a little. But none of the KFEC spaces were designed for musical performance or concert experience, as anyone who’s ever had to sit off to the extreme side of the stage in one of the expo rooms for a showcase can attest.
So while it’d be a huge gamble to implement items 2-4 on my source’s list of recommendations (or any other similar reform agenda), it’s also easy to see that NQC squanders a lot of programming and event opportunities during the morning and afternoon because there are only so many people who want to go watch and listen to music in a straightback chair in a rectangular ballroom with an ungraded floor. And in turn there are generally only certain types of (often desperate) groups who will agree to perform at such events for more than a few minutes. Thus the festival of mediocrity that most afternoon programming in the expo wings of NQC turns out to be. The events that tend to succeed are, not surprisingly, the headliner showcases that warrant being moved to Freedom Hall.
I’m not sure the Dollywood/Sieverville angle is the right one (for one thing, it’s not entirely clear that sg has ever had or will ever have the kind of appeal that will be a “bring the whole family” sort of draw; then again maybe if kids had access to the diversions of a theme park, that might make a gospel music event seem more appealing to whole fam damily). But the country-themed theme-park approach to staging a series of professional-grade shows in small- to medium-sized theater venues at regular intervals seems to have a lot of possibilities for an event like NQC, whose appeal is, first and last, the ability for fans to see all or most of their favorite performers, with time in between to get some concession-stand junk food and buy some trinkets and souvenirs all within a reasonably walkable (or Lil’ Rascable) distance.
In the meantime, assuming Hurricane Ike doesn’t get in the way of my travel plans, I’ll be in Louisville for NQC, as per usual this year: Thursday through Saturday. I won’t be arriving in time to hear the big Gaither/EHSSQ showcase Thursday, but I trust there will be plenty of freelancers who will send their thoughts along. And as for the rest of it, warts and all, I can’t wait.Email this Post