Concert Review: DBQ, KPNR, Perrys, BFA

Date: Friday, January 2
Location: Fort Myers, FL
Riverdale High School auditorium (which, judging by the temperature where I was sitting, doubles as a meat locker)
Average age guesstimate:

Bill Bailey event, part of a package of concerts for snowbirds that Bailey puts on with these groups in Florida
Opening act:
Bill Bailey. Who else? Artists must just hate this … Bailey pitches his neverending combos of cut-rate compilation discs until the crowd bum-rushes his table in the lobby to snatch up the bargains before a single act sings a solitary song on stage. So the audience goes into the concert with less money to spend on artists’ product at intermission and on the way out the door.
It’s ruthlessly smart.
Attendance: ca 300
$14 advance; $16 at the door.

THE DOVE BROTHERS opened the evening with two or three nondescript mid-tempo songs – stylistically homeless tunes with metaphorically sloppy lyrics (i.e. “call him up and you will see God’s love” - one assumes the writer did not have a video phone in mind here) and band tracks that weren’t loud enough to keep the room full of sound between beats. Had the audience received the group more warmly, this might not have felt so awkward and uncomfortable, like watching someone repeatedly extend his hand in greeting to people who simply stand there with their arms resolutely behind their backs. Jerry Kelso used just about every gag, trick, and gimmick in the book (you know the one: “Vaudeville for Gospel Pianists”) to get some kind of response out of the crowd, but still the DBQ got no love for most of their set. True, Kelso’s schtick does drift into a generic kind of unctuousness pretty quickly (he’s somewhere between Steve Hurst and Andrew Ishee, with some Happy Goodman hands thrown in for good measure), but it couldn’t have helped that the piano was virtually inaudible throughout the DBQ’s set, which made Kelso look like a mime much of the time, or that more than half the audience indicated they were seeing DBQ for the first time when McCray Dove asked.

I didn’t stay for the lightning round after intermission when each group did two more songs, so maybe the sound situation improved later. But the technical difficulties were more symptomatic than causative, I think. Tonight, DBQ’s main set included a workmanlike rendition of “I Can Pray” and of course the familiar, frantic finale with “Get Away Jordan.” It is emblematic of the DBQ’s fortunes in general that even though they were responsible for initially repopularizing the latter song in recent years as a vehicle for the closest thing to dancing in contemporary gospel concerts, their version now feels like a copy, thanks to EHSSQ, rather than the original (or perhaps, the original copy, depending on how much you think latter-day renditions of “Get Away” owe to the classic quartets of old). Like the Inspirations, the DBQ give the impression of offering audiences just about everything they have and know how to do, every night. And such earnestness is undeniably valiant, but it can also be difficult to watch, in the way it’s painful to witness scrappy, undaunted true believers give something their best over and over and still come up short.

KPNR’s set was, as Betty Butterfield would say, typical … just typical. There was a kind of collective swoon when Karen Peck stepped out from behind the curtain, as though a minor deity had materialized before us. I’m no longer surprised to find myself aswoon right along with everyone else … KP has a natural charisma that induces a kind of musical amnesia: just for a moment, in the glow of her gleaming glamor, you forget all those other times she’s walked out on stage just like this, and how she’s smiled and you’ve swooned and she’s smiled again and you’ve swooned anew, only to be jilted by mediocre music that leaves you wishing you knew how to quit her. It’s not so much perfection you find yourself wanting, but a level of professionalism to match the enormous sense of artistic and expressive possibility suggested by her natural giftedness. Tonight’s set opened with “Whispered Prayer,” a song against which I hold an admittedly unfair grudge ever since I listened to it with headphones on in bed one night and thought for a second I was in a bad Christian version of “The Sixth Sense” when all those voices at the end start whispering anguished prayers in surround sound. Spooky.

Back at the concert, there was way too much bass in the mix but otherwise the song was going ok … until one of the people fiddling with a laptop at the soundboard mistakenly cued up the beginning of another track  – some loud upbeat number with banjos and kick drums that stepped all over the emotional center of “Whispered Prayer.” It wasn’t exactly downhill from there. The crowd loved “Four Days Late,” naturally. “Get Up and Walk With Jesus” was a splendid vehicle for Devin McGlamery (he also threaded some super finely woven notes into the ending of “Four Days”). And at one point Peck stepped forward and just started singing an old hymn by herself and, my god, it was enrapturing, a reminder of how rare it is to get to hear a voice – in any genre, Christian or otherwise – that can hold a room spellbound like that. She sings this way all the time, of course, but most of the time it’s in service of songs like “I Want to Thank You,” a wearying laundry list of sentimentalized types from the contemporary evangelical imagination that the singer wants to thank for their faithful witness – the childless couple, the little old godly lady, the avuncular evangelist – set to a score that spends a great deal of energy leading us up to an emotional pitch where most gospel crowds would rightfully expect to be made an honest audience of by an upward modulation. But this song simply backs off and walks away. Jilted again. Sigh.

KPNR just received another Grammy nomination, and insofar as KP can sing circles around most pop divas on the top 40 and every one of the Jonas Brothers, give her a Grammy nomination every year, I say (plus McGlamery has made-for-tv hair … there’s that too). But comparing KPNR’s set to, for instance, the Perrys’, who came on next, the not-so-secret curmudgeon in me marvels that a group like KPNR - rapidly becoming a monument to its own unrealized potential – is repeatedly celebrated as the best of southern gospel.

THE PERRYS: There was a noticeable excitement in the audience about the Perrys’ arrival on stage, and for good reason. The Perrys have perfected being celebrities and just-folks simultaneously, in a way that few gospel groups can manage. It has something to do with how they interact on stage … the three male vocalists often relate to one another during songs with none of the roughhousing hijinks that most men in gospel music rely on (the Perrys are not above all this, mind you, it’s just reserved for Tracey Stuffle and whoever happens to be sitting at the keyboard). Instead, they sing honestly with and to one another, often exchanging knowing looks that seem to be full of a deep appreciation for this music, this moment, and their meaning.

This is of course a key element of showmanship – the ability to give each audience a seemingly unique performance of old material night after night. Yet to watch Joseph Habedank touch Nick Trammel lightly on the arm and then swivel slowly toward him, smiling generously through the harmony of a duet or the male trio at the center of “I Rest My Case,” which dominated the Perrys’ set, it was as if we as an audience had been made privy to something extraordinarily private and personal, like the baring of one soul to another in song. Collectively, they seemed to be creating the object of their own awe, and ours. Meanwhile, Libbi Perry Stuffle stands commandingly in the center of all this, both apart from it and integral to it, a voice of authority and deep feeling, as when she sings the melody of the chorus in “Heaven Awaits” while the other three voices orbit her in contrapuntal echoes. As I reread this, I see that my account is coming off all grandiloquence and poseur, when what I mean to convey is the exhilarating sense of giddy delight at being swept up in their music. Then again, this feeling - verging always on foolishness and naivete - is one signal attribute of those moments I look for in my experience of gospel music, when my more reserved and circumspect self surrenders to the sound and an irrepressible grin overtakes me … so maybe I’m not that wide of the mark after all.

And, too, it’s not that I’m without qualms about the Perrys’ set. The pianist overplays nearly all his lines, so that what may at first appear to be boyish exuberance starts at some point to come off as an unseemly and desperate neediness, a self-indulgent distraction from what’s going on vocally. And speaking of distractions, I don’t know why the Perrys showed overhead slides of each person in the group, complete with his or her name, while they were singing a song, if Tracey Stuffle was going to introduce the group from the stage a few minutes later. Finally: whah whannh whah whah whanh. It is simply too difficult too much of the time to understand the words that the Perrys are singing. Habedank and Trammell, especially, need to get their chins up off their chests, stop singing to the footlights and start enunciating their lines more clearly. They might also find that they’ll have better breath support and won’t need to double over for diaphragmatic leverage if they get their shoulders back up off their lungs so they can fill their rib cage more fully with air. But these are minor quibbles (we all know the lyrics anyway, right?) that the set as a whole easily overcame. What remains in memory is the gobsmacked grin of giddy delight.  

BRIAN FREE AND ASSURANCE: The last several times I’ve heard BFA, I’ve left assuming they just had a bad night, and then another, and another. You see the problem, I trust. Like KPNR, BFA has always relied heavily on the celebrity of the group’s namesake. But KP came up through the mixed-group side of the business, where female vocalists could (and, often, if they wanted a career in southern gospel, had to) sing like a soloist while remaining in an ensemble. BF, on the other hand, came up through the more conventional male quartet tradition, where men make a name for themselves singing stylized parts, and for tenors, that has meant – with very few exceptions – high, nasally, thin singing. It’s more novelty than art, really, and I wonder if one of the reasons BFA has never fully broken through is because the group has struggled for 15-odd years now, as both a trio and a quartet, to build a developed, serious sound around a novelty voice.

It’s one thing to give all the good lines to a voice like Karen Peck’s – rich, warm, full, and expansive. Quite another when the voice is reedy and metallic, clinched and cold. Free did a verse of “Sheltered in the Arms of God” tonight that was marvelous and moving. The track was just acoustical guitar and cello and Free was seated as he sang. His voice was relaxed and unforced, the tones round and resonate, entirely pleasant and pleasing. It suggested what another path might have meant for BF vocally, without all the nasality and compression.

As it was, Free struggled a lot tonight. Listening to him miss the big finish on “What a Beautiful Day”  was like hearing a bad Johnny Cook impression – not a good place for a franchise tenor singer to be in middle age, and yet BF has been singing professionally for almost 30 years. And all voices have limits. So what’s the excuse of the younger members of the group? The baritone stood in almost the very same place he stood last year at this venue and struggled with almost the very same sort of lines in almost the very same ways. And Jeremy Lile … or, I should say, the roaring subwoofer that was impersonating Jeremy Lile all night … Oh my. He had barely to breath into the microphone and the subwoofer kicked in, which combined with already muddy, thudding lows on the track to create a swampy, swirling undertow of roars. Did they really rehearse like this and think it sounded good?

On top of this, BFA’s band tracks gave the impression of being played about a mile away from the stage, and though it’s by no means rare for sg groups to use a vocal stack even behind a quartet of voices, the stack on “For God So Loved” had the same ah-ah-ahhing choir of BGVs that you find on off-the-rack accompaniment tapes. As always, Bill Shivers turned in a solid performance that reminds us of how unfair it is that he’s among the most serially underrated leads in gospel music, and “For God So Loved” went over very well (even if it’s fast becoming BFA’s “Four Days Late”). But the group’s stage presence was no better than its sound.

The combined effect of it all was a professionalized amateurism that benumbs the aesthetic senses, a severe enough infraction by itself. But more troubling is the way this sort of cheapness dumbs down the collective sensibility, dulls our ability to perceive finer grains of artistic achievement and ability, desensitizes us to greatness, or even just goodness, and so wears us down and wearies us into believing that just good enough is as good as it gets.

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  1. Real One wrote:

    . . . wishing you knew how to quit her. I just spit my coffee in the keyboard! My, my, shades of Brokeback.

  2. Grigs wrote:

    I can’t tell if you had a good time or not…lol

  3. GM wrote:

    So, how was the concert? Big picture, was it a good night of SG music? Glad you went?

  4. Grigs wrote:

    “The combined effect of it all was a professionalized amateurism that benumbs the aesthetic senses, a severe enough infraction by itself. But more troubling is the way this sort of cheapness dumbs down the collective sensibility, dulls our ability to perceive finer grains of artistic achievement and ability, desensitizes us to greatness, or even just goodness, and so wears us down and wearies us into believing that just good enough is as good as it gets.”

    I think he’s trying to say that he wished the McKameys and Heirline had been there! ;-)

  5. CVH wrote:

    It’s interesting and not surprising that your reactions ranged from the “exhilarating sense of giddy delight at being swept up in their music” to the sad conclusions you draw in your last

    I’ve raised similar concerns about groups, records and concerts here and it’s so damned annoying because you don’t want to just enjoy a brief moment of ecstasy here and there; you’d like there to be more. There should be more! And you’d also like the overall level of performance (both artistic and technical) to be on-par with the best performances in the arts, not an embarrassing collage of sub-par snafus.

    It’s possible - some performers achieve it on a regular basis. Sadly, it’s not regular enough.

  6. ecrook wrote:

    Four groups.. around 300 people… average price $15…. Someone do the math.
    This on a Friday night… Either the groups are working cheap or the promoter is losing big.
    Does it seem that the average attendance for one night concerts is around 300-400?

  7. CG wrote:

    What’s especially disturbing about your observations (from an industry standpoint) is that with an attendance of 300, averaged at $15 each, there was only $4500 to cover the overhead for this event. I grasp the concept of a group’s product sales, but how in the world does anyone make a living? These are four of the (supposedly) best acts/groups/ministries of SG! Further, this is one of the (supposedly) best promoters in SG!

    Long gone are the days of JG Whitfield and WB Nowlin and their all-nighters. Those were the days when city auditoriums were consistently full (at least in Atlanta/Birmingham/Nashville). Coincidentally, that was also in the days when we were an industry of seasoned entertainers who didn’t take five minutes to preach/introduce every three minute song. We’ve lost our audience/market, but we just don’t get it.

  8. Daniel J. Mount wrote:

    You’re gonna like Joseph Habedank yet. :D

  9. JEB wrote:

    Sounds like you need badly to go see the Dixie Echoes. Perfect! Piano - Bass Guitar - Four great voices… Perfection… No tracks… No stacks…

    What this world needs is more Dixie Echoes’ concerts!

    JEB in NC

  10. Crank Less wrote:

    Glad you enjoyed the concert! If you didn’t enjoy it as much as you do, you may stop going and find something more enjoyable to do. We wouldn’t want that.

    It reminds me of those people that would come on this website saying how much they hated it, yet they would still return.

    Stop whining

  11. Brett wrote:

    Thanks 4 posting. U need to do more concert reviews more frequently.

  12. Irishlad wrote:

    Hey and leave Lilesy and his subwoofing alone. Never heard anyone ever slamming D.Burke(similar range) down. Well Ed Hill once said his voice was ‘pretty’. Hardly an apt description for an aspiring bass.

  13. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Bill Bailey’s Concerts had a full slate of concerts this week starting with Wednesday night of this past week and finishing up Sunday night at
    Happy Gospel.
    Let’s wait and see at the end of the whole week of concerts to see the bottom line which might not be our business and more importantly the spiritual results and blessing of these concerts.
    The concert, in question must have, been an all-nighter considering the length of the article.

  14. quartet-man wrote:

    #12, From what I know of the two ranges, Burke didn’t have near the low notes Lile has. I don’t know that Burke has much more than an E.

  15. Extra Ink wrote:

    There really is something special about the Perrys. I think partly it’s the fact that for several years now, they have kept a marquee voice in the group…Mike Bowling, then Loren Harris, then Joseph Habedank. These are three of the finest male voices we’ve seen in SG music in the last 15 years. Couple that with the singing Libby has been doing, especially over the past 7 or 8 years, and they are simply dynamite. And more than anything, there is a spiritual presence to their singing most of the time….this gives them what Avery is referring to….it’s a confidence on stage, while at the same time they feel like the neighbor next door who invites you over to sample some BBQ off their grill. Whatever the formula is, it’s engaging and delightful. As Avery would say, “More Perrys, please.”

  16. TJT wrote:

    I attended the New Year’s Day concert in Leesburg, FL with Down East Boys, Karen Peck, Perrys and Dove Brothers. It was a full house 800 to 900 folks. Down East Boys did an outstanding job, as well as Karen and her backup singers, The Perrys did what they do best, entertain! Dove Brothers came out and did their set, but they all seemed tired, sick, or just didn’t care. All in all it was a good night. I am sorry Avery was not impressed with the Friday night show. Maybe he should start his own group, and fill the house, since he is so perfect!

  17. jbb wrote:

    #15: You hit the nail on the head. The Perry’s are special, very special people. I would’ve loved to have been in concert with them. What a way to help bring in the New Year. I just don’t think it gets any better than the Perry’s.

  18. Ryan wrote:

    And to think groups choose to “train” bus drivers to run sound, or salary wise choose a pianist over a qualified sound man. Priorities? I guess it’s better to have a piano player and sound bad than vice-versa.

  19. Aaron Swain wrote:

    #16: The Down East Boys are one of the most underrated quartets, IMHO. I was very impressed by their latest project, “The Cross Still Stands.”

  20. Barry wrote:

    I also attended that concert…trying to hear even a little sound from the piano! Had it not been for the Perrys…what a disappointing night of Gospel Music. Once again I think of the glory days when 4 guys and a piano could make the auditorium rock!
    So tired of going to a concert that sounds like the cd you could purchase…

  21. thom wrote:

    I didn’t go to the concerts in Florida, but was with The Perrys on New Years Eve in Gallatin, TN along with Gordon Mote, Lordsong, Charlotte Ritchie, Ben Speer, and the Rangers Trio.

    It was a great night of music that lasted until after midnight, with around 600 in attendance.

    Everyone did a good set, but The Perrys were awesome. Joseph was hitting some high notes that I have not heard him hit before, Nick was solid and smooth, Tracy was singing some dynamite bass, and Libbi was powerful, smooth, and spot on her part. My only nitpicking would be on the new piano player, Brian, who banged every note on the keyboard and over played most of the time.

    Other than that little criticism, it was as good a Perry’s performance as I have heard - just wasn’t long enough.

  22. Glenn wrote:

    I have not always been a fan of the Perry’s, but the last couple of time I saw them, I truly enjoyed it. In the past I just didn’t like the maudlin, extra stuff they did to try and evoke some kind of emotion, but they haven’t done a lot of that lately. They just sing, and boy can they sing.

  23. SGpromogirl wrote:

    I too was in Gallatin on New Year’s Eve- everyone did a great job- especially The Perry’s! They are just plain good and can throw down! “Calvary Answers For Me” was simply amazing! LordSong sang some of their new songs and they were great, but the crowd really got into it when they did a couple of their “Classics” they have awesome harmony….Charlotte Ritchie was amazing…her son Landon was so precious and has great pitch for 5 and they sang their duet together beautifully. Gordon Mote had a great set as well! He is awesome! It was a great evening for sure….I do wish we had heard more from The Perrys though.

  24. TERRY wrote:


  25. Wonderer wrote:

    “As always, Bill Shivers turned in a solid performance that reminds us of how unfair it is that he’s among the most serially underrated leads in gospel music,”

    Good point here AVERY. Makes me wonder he sticks around. Especially with such positions like the recent lead change over at Gold City. Maybe Brian understands his talent and has given Bill part ownership of the group. He seems to be very loyal to BF.

    I think Bill is extremely smooth and can sing with the range of Jonathan Wilburn. He definitely needs some exposure.

  26. Grigs wrote:

    #24, Avery definitely knows who Denver Crumpler is. The TV at the Fineline house was always tuned to Dukes of Hazzard on Friday nights!

  27. NS wrote:

    25. Bill and Brian are really good friends, And it’s not all about recognition. Its about reaching the lost and Bill gets that.

  28. thom wrote:

    Bill Shivers is one of the guys who do a great job but never seemed to get nominated for any fan awards. Joseph Habedank is another one - who should be nominated for Lead Singer of the year.

  29. brad wrote:

    i think bill is a great lead singer and Brian has assembled his best quartet yet.
    the award are to political same people every year.

  30. Grigs wrote:

    A few years ago during the Singing News Fan Awards, a gentleman was yelling “BILL SHIVERS” loudly during the announcements for the nominees for Favorite Lead and Male Vocalist. The person sitting next to me asked “Who is Bill Shivers?” When I told him, he said “That guy who’s yelling might be rude, but he’s right!”

  31. Ron F wrote:

    Hey Guys ,just curious, Does Bill Bailey sing??. If not what is he selling before the concerts??

  32. natesings wrote:

    #31- According to the review, they are compilation discs. I’ve never seen one but I would assume they are CDs with various artists on them, similar to the ones you get when subscribing to the Singing News magazine.

  33. Andrew S. wrote:

    To be completely honest, Jeremy Lile is not a bass singer. It’s like a baritone/tenor/lead impersonating someone like Wetherington, McCune, or Riley. His voice sounds groaty if you ask me.. :P

  34. scope wrote:

    Bill Bailey once told me that he sells the product to help pay the artists, otherwise he probably couldn’t afford to promote the concerts he does. So, our choices are to accept his product table, or have no more concerts to worry about.

  35. Ron F wrote:

    #34 I say go Bill, I promote a couple of concerts a year myself and I sell Bottle Water, Coffee Mugs, whatever I have to; to pay the Bills.

  36. bogged down wrote:

    I understand trying to make ends meet, but I have been to a Bill B. concert when he had one group and he still sold product. I dont understand having 3 to 5 groups on a concert when you KNOW that there isnt gunna be enough people there to cover the cost of paying the building, groups, and promo stuff that goes along with having a concert. I do app. promoters and what they do for gospel music but sometimes I think while there on the phone with the booking agent its like they don’t know where to stop like there at a buffet. I never will buy from a promoter if the group singing has product to sell, not because I do want them to do well for themselves I just see a group of men/women on a bus that live off whatever I give them. Last time I checked its all there gunna get, no other job to get money from, just singing and selling CDs. Just my 2 cents…

  37. Ron F wrote:

    #36 You make a great point. but one of the groups I book every year charges $4,200.00. Now this group draws very good in my area, but still dont you agree that $4,200.00 is a steep price.

  38. Lead1 wrote:

    Is it for a quartet? Professional, full-time with a bus and salaries to pay? I would say that is a very fair price.

  39. jbb wrote:

    I wouldn’t sign my name on a contract guaranteeing anyone $4200 and I agree, that is steep by anyones standards.

  40. Jeremy wrote:

    Just thought I’d let everyone know that southern gospel music is still alive and well in South Georgia. I attended a Bill Bailey event this past Thursday night (BCS championship night) in Vidalia, Georgia at the technical college auditorium. Cost was $10 at the door and an offering was taken. The line-up was Gold City, BFA, Kingsmen, and the Mckameys. Over 1,200 people showed up!!!! Bill Bailey had to utilize an additional small auditorium next door, and the artist rotated from one stage to the other. There were 100-150 people that were in chairs on the stage, and 100 or so standing. The concert was great, and the sound was probably the best I’ve heard, especially considering the artist had to set up the sound in the additional auditorium and they had only a short time to do it. I’ve been to many concerts in my life, and this will go down as a great one. Concert began at 7:30 and ended just before 11. It was a great evening, and I was pleased to see so many people supporting Southern Gospel music. I know it made the artist night to see so many people on a Thursday night come to the concert. Thanks to Bill Bailey, all the artists, and everyone involved. It was a great night!

  41. bogged down wrote:

    # 37 and #39, $4200 is alot of money, but if you think about what your getting it must not be too bad; as you stated that you book the group every year. So that tells me that you make money by booking the group “or” you come out even and still continue to utilize their services. ALOT goes into the price a booking agent puts on a group, from distance to average concert attendance in the area their going to be preforming. And also BTW, thanks for booking a group for a decent amount of money, I wouldnt feel right calling up Becky at BSA or Harper and trying to get a “powerhouse” group and offering them $2000 to $2500. In some situations that could be OK, but not when you know that both you and the group you have hired could do better.

  42. Hannah R wrote:

    # 16: I just heard the Perry’s, Hoppers, and Dove Brothers at the 2009 Praise Him Tour in Monroe, La. The DB were outstanding. I’ve never seen them act like they’re sick…unless they were!!!! They are so “high energy” it’s awesome! You should have seen them sing Didn’t It Rain!!!!! Talking about HIGH ENERGY!!!!!

  43. Rob wrote:

    I’ve been at concerts that Bailey wasn’t promoting and he would show be there. He always gets on the stage before the concert brags on the promoter and groups then proceeds to sell his junk cd’s at cut-rate prices. I do think this is tacky and no place for him at some other pomoters concert taking sales away from the artist appearing. I’ve been at a couple of his concerts will never go back to any again.

  44. TERRY wrote:

    Avery, just left Doves homecomeing you should hve been there. the Doves electrified the audience young and old two nights in a row. You probably would not have liked it though it even got emotional at the end.

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