Concert Review: Gaither Homecoming

Date: Thursday, February 12
Location
: Fort Myers, FL
Setting:
Germaine Arena
Average age guesstimate:
Snow bird
Attendance:
ca 6000

If you want to understand what is probably the main reason Bill Gaither made such revanchist splashy changes to the Gaither Vocal Band, sit through the first hour of the show on the Lovin’ Life tour. If you want to know why the strategy will probably work well enough, stay for the last 45 minutes before intermission for Signature Sound and whatever version of the sort-of newish GVB is on the bill that night.

Thursday it was Gaither, Michael English, Marshall Hall, and Wes Hampton (Phelps and Lowry will be appearing when the Homecoming tour doesn’t conflict with their touring schedule, or so said BG from the stage). The main impression this new, old GVB leaves on stage is that they’ve ceased being primarily about entertainment and become something more like gospel-music spectacle. This may just be a transitory quality that diminishes with time, but even so, watching and listening to English’s return to the group, I was struck by how much of the appeal involves the fantastic work of one’s gospel memory, the cognitive labor of squaring the man standing and singing in front of you with the guy we last saw – and couldn’t get enough of – with GVB in 1994. It’s a kind of meta-homecoming – one that English himself plays up by introducing his singing of “It is Finished” with a story about being homeless for a while back in the dark days of his grand decline … but you know what, Bill … now I’m home! Applause, applause, applause … Cue track.

Like I said, spectacle. But not an unaffecting one. GVB may no longer represent the leading edge of gospel music (and it’s this reality that most of us who complain about the changes are mourning, I suspect), but the artistic history and creative achievement they represent still commands an undeniable respect despite the diminishments of time and reversals of age and experience that the returning members bring with them.

For the GVB’s big finish, Hampton fed English the words to that masterful second verse of “It is Finished,” and the lyrics brought me up short, especially the lines that say,

These were battlefields of my own making
I didn’t know that the war had been won

I was honestly overtaken by an enraptured kind of awe, not so much by the quality of performance, but by the psychospiritual insight of the image – the way it tries to lyrically render the felt struggle of the enfleshed soul striving confusedly after some form of salvation – and the force of accumulated history brought to bear on that moment.  

The GVB was preceded by SSQ. Maybe they’re just wearing me down (“if you can’t beat ‘em” and all that), but I rather enjoyed most of their set. Sure, Ernie Haase pulled a Phil Cross and tried too hard to create a spayshuul speerchul moment in the set-up to the singing of “Lullaby” from Dream On (given that, as EH said, the song was designed for dads to sing to their children at bedtime, it may not be a bad thing that the song has a very high probability of putting someone to sleep, but this may also make it an inadvisable choice for live concerts).

But the majority of the set was mostly the good kind of flatfooted singing (and those SSQ boys certainly do love them their shoes). The choreography was smarter, more restrained and tasteful, less hammy and High School Musical than in the past. And the song selection – especially “Someday,” “Reason Enough,” “Swinging on the Golden Gate,” and “Since Jesus Passed By” – foregrounded the group’s signal strength: a sound rooted in sg’s close harmony, but updated tonally to reflect the vocal styles of pop, CCM, and Broadway. Too often when I’ve seen SSQ, this aspect of their work has been overshadowed by the jazz hands and hip swiveling and slightly-bawdier-than-church-camp camaraderie (yes, there was butt slapping at NQC). Coming prepared for more of the same, I was delighted to be wrong.

Ok, not totally wrong. Their set closed with “Then Came the Morning”  and this was the SSQ we all know and love, or love to hate: ginormous stacks, complicated lighting, and an ending designed to realign plate tectonics. But this felt more like an obligatory concession to the reality of contemporary Christian entertainment than a hoodwinking. That, or I was just in a forgiving mood. Of course in a perfect world I’d prefer a group as capable as SSQ find a way to get crowds on their feet with less stacking and more acoustical work (this is true of most artist; the best moments of the night were ones like Janet Paschal singing “It Won’t Rain Always,” which never gets old to me), but back on earth, SSQ showed a greater demonstrable effort to be singers than they’ve done in the past. Indeed, it rather showed signs of becoming the kind of instant classic work that once was the domain of the Gaither Vocal Band.

But on balance this particular version of the tour feels tired and worn out. There are entirely too many soloists – Joy Gardner, Ben Speer, Russ Taff, Ivan Parker, Janet Paschal, and Lynda Randle, and that’s not counting Gordon Mote. And the generally crummy song selection makes even the shortest one-song sets start to feel overlong, as though this portion of the show was brought to you by Lunesta.

After the Collingsworth Family, who came on early and did perhaps the solidest and most energetic set leading up to the headliner quartets, the pace of music ranged from mid-tempo to moribund (I can’t be sure, but I think the drummer was taking short naps in the vast distance between beats on the two turgid tunes Lynda Randle sang).

More substantively, the Homecoming tour seems to have gone stylistic flabby in its late middle age. Joy Gardner sang one of those pointless Praise-and-Worship anthems that sets different names of Jesus to music. Sample line: “all powerful omnipresent soon-coming king” (shortly after Gardner left the stage, the local non-denominational community church called and asked for its accompaniment track back). Russ Taff’s song was rather like listening to a radio stuck on SCAN, changing quickly from a black gospel station, to blues/soul, to smooth jazz and then R&B.

Which is to say, where once the tour was a reliably southern gospel affair augmented by some inspo and contemporary sounds, it’s now largely a higgledy-piggledy assortment of songs that make a lot of different noises but never really cohere. Take the Hoppers and “Jerusalem.” The song has never made any sense – lyrically (it’s the “His Name was John” of religious geography) or stylistically (given the song’s celebration of the city as the center of Christian theology, is the Arab leitmotif near the beginning meant to be ironic?) – but in this setting it feels less like the exotic lark or curious innovation that it typically comes across as, and more like a galloping horse with no rider.

And alas, there is very little comic relief in the humor, which is by turns hopelessly past its use-by date (especially the recurring Bill Gaither for President jokes), sophomoric (esp the abundance of jokes having to do with farm animals and scatology), or just overdone (Marsh Hall didn’t even really bother trying not to look bored with the skit in which Gaither plays the old gospel pedant and repeatedly interrupts the beginning of Hall’s cover of an old Jubilaire’s song).

It’s not that this stuff isn’t often funny, or at least humorous. It’s the bottom-of-the-barrel quality to it all (I mean, the sound guy funny-man and the joke-cracking guitarist get more time on the show than most of the soloists). Indeed, I left after intermission, during one of the first quartet standards, somewhere between the second lowing-cow sound effect and the start of the crowing-rooster gag.

So you know … by all means, bring back Mark Lowry, and Michael English, and David Phelps. Seriously. Bring back the show-stealing vocalist who may have lost a little more of his hair but hasn’t lost any of his talent or ability (or so I’ve heard tell). Bring back the fallen icon whose aging body and diminished voice palpably remind us that the pull of gospel music and its redemptive potential vary in inverse proportion to our fallibility and frailty. And please, God, bring back someone who can tell better jokes.

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Comments

  1. TERRY wrote:

    I think I might agree with you on this one,but I’ll see them first hand in april to confirm.

  2. Glenpaynerules wrote:

    Maybe BG can enlist Don Rickles to be the 6th member of the New New New GVB.

  3. Aaron Swain wrote:

    “Journey To The Sky” (the song that Hall does) was originally done by The Jordanaires, not The Jubilaires.

  4. quartet-man wrote:

    Joy GardEner. :-)

    It is probably pretty well known that I love groups better than soloists much of the time. Even with that disclaimer, some of the soloists don’t do it at all for me. Some of the songs Bill picks (especially after others that would be much better choices) just don’t do it for me.

    I still look forward to the New Gaither Vocal Band. As I recall with the “the joke-cracking guitarist” or at least the time I heard him is that the jokes themselves aren’t necessarily bad, he just can’t sell them as well as Lowry can. They could be the exact jokes told by each and Lowry would win in delivery I think every time.

    I may also be in the minority, but I don’t like a lot of the Homecoming Choir stuff. Never have liked a bunch of it. I prefer the quartets and groups or even makeshift ones better. I would prefer to have the GVB do a full concert or team them up with Gold City maybe. Or, he could keep Signature Sound, get the Hoppers back, add Legacy Five and of course Gold City as mentioned before. maybe the Talley Trio and the Greenes or some of these and give more time to the groups instead of so much filler. However, many others might disagree. I am just stating my preferences.

  5. quartet-man wrote:

    That’s what I get for correcting you, I should have typed Joy Gardner. :)

  6. SGfan wrote:

    Now that you’ve come out the closet ( http://www.fgcu.edu/CAS/Files/Vol._2_Issue_3.pdf ), I can understand why a Praise and Worship song focusing on the name Jesus would be pointless to you. However, when you give a review of a concert, it is always good to get names right. It is Joy Gardner (not Gardiner). Also, she has no need to borrow back up tracks from a “local non-denominational community church” when she and her husband direct one of the most well known choirs (Christ Church Nashville) in the country.

    As far as the Hopper’s Jerusalem is concerned, it is a great song. If you learn to read your Bible, you will see that Jerusalem as they are referring to is the vision John saw of the New Jerusalem. It is basically the geographical center of everything that will take place in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.

    Maybe you should stick to opinion of ability instead of theological context. After all, it doesn’t seem you have a clue in that arena.

  7. John wrote:

    It seems to me that if you are going to write a review of a concert, it would seem rather important to stay till the end. Just saying…

    It must be a lonely, sad world that you live in, Doug. If you were a bit more on the brighter side, you might not be so, well, neagtive.

    Is the glass half full, or half empty?

  8. NS wrote:

    #4 I totally agree, I really wish Bill would bring back Gold City, L5 would not be bad either!!!!!! But unfortunately that will probably never happen, but then I thought would never see Phelps and English come back to the “Vocal Band” either.

  9. nonsgfan wrote:

    amen SGfan…

    all of tha critisism…yet Gaither made another million that night.

  10. DMP wrote:

    Siskel and Ebert could have saved millions had they known they only had to watch half of the movies they reviewed. Those idiots thought that a fair and balanced review required staying till the end. Morons.

  11. olaneljonois wrote:

    The concert in Orlando was the first with the full 5 member GVB. They were incredible! It’s plain to see that they are still figuring out who is going to sing what part. None the less these five on a shaky night are still 100% better than 90% of the groups traveling today.

  12. Wade wrote:

    He got his Russ Taff diss in… come talk to us Tori!! Save us from ourselves and the reviewer who leaves at intermission… some of these concerts go 3 hours!!! Come on Dr. DH… I gotta give ya some grief on that and I take up for you much!!

    If you leave again like that I am going to wish you tied to a chair at a Inspo, McKamey, Primitive Qt SANGAN!!! lol

  13. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Sounds likes some of 22% of American will get their with the proposed implementation of the Fairness Doctrine.
    Let’s practice that limitation of free speech.
    I offer this item regarding Gaither’s concert Saturday night in Orlando in response to the take on the Gaither’s concert on Thursday evening.

  14. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    I am going to practice the cardinal sin of a politician.
    Never raise the issue again.
    I made a mistake in my haste to doing comment #13.
    On the first line after “their”, the word “way” should be inserted.

  15. connie siders wrote:

    I haven’t heard the new GVB yet but will in April. However, in listening and watching the GVB Reunion DVDs they sounded awesome. Some of these guys haven’t sung together at all, and some not for a long time. Yet, I found when they sang together, they sounded like they did way back when. With the lineup they have now, they can’t Not be winners. With powerhouse voices like Michael English and David Phelps…you have to expect greatness. Also, Bill seems to be able to make things work.
    All I can say is I can’t wait to hear them.
    The Reunion tapes are #1 and #2 on the Billboard charts for the second week running. A lot of people must think they are great. I think Michael English will be the biggest draw for the GVB…Phelps also…those two together…I can only imagine.

    Connie

  16. WA wrote:

    Gospel Music Fan - #13 - Well said, and I thank you for the link re: The “Fairness” doctrine. We’re in for a rugged four years.

    I also totally concur about reviewing a concert after only staying for the first half. Any Gaither evenings I’ve attended have featured the parts I liked the most after intermission. As soon as I read that Doug left at halftime, the review died in my mind.

    There evidently were quite a lot of solo artists there, and that would have been fine with me. But, I do find it strange that in Ft. Myers, FL - the hometown of Larry Ford, who I feel has the greatest solo voice of this generation - Bill didn’t invite him to participate. Had there only been Ford and Janet Paschal, my night would have been complete.

  17. nonsgfan wrote:

    “larry ford” the greatest solo voice his generation.

    Thats laughable.

  18. Adele Kruger wrote:

    Man, you are a sorry little sad man!!! It must be hard to be so negative all the time. In the end, even if you don’t like any of the concert - they are not doing it for you. They are doing it all for God! Bill Gaither has done a good job (always). Do you have any idea how many people have given their hearts to the Lord just listening to their music? You are missing the whole point! But you go ahead, judging like you do - someday your judgement will come!

  19. WA wrote:

    #17 - Note that I wrote “…who I feel has the greatest solo voice of his generation”. Any comment such as that shows that all personal preferences are subjective, and not at all objective. Music, above many other subjects, is highly subjective.

    Who would you name as the greatest solo voice of their generation?

  20. brad wrote:

    Saw them In Jacksonville Sat nite. Very good show.I just wish he didnt have so many people on the show.GVB only did about six songs.Bill Gaither has done a tremendous job.David Phelps was great
    as always.There is no one like him!
    Where would SG be without Bill Gaither.
    I did think $50.00 was a little steep for tickets.i have over $200.00 in tickets

  21. quartet-man wrote:

    #18
    Yes, they are doing it for God. Yes, many people have been touched by their music (including me.) But when they charge to get in, they open themselves up to comments from those who buy the tickets.

    Of course they need to make money to pay for the venue, the artists etc. but I am sure Bill makes a profit too (and should.) With that in mind, when they put it out there and charge for it, the “customer” is free to rate it. I suppose even doing it for an audience opens them up to that as well.

  22. jbb wrote:

    Wow, $50 for a ticket. Guess Bill’s not in a recession….Oh well, to each his own.
    Don’t mean that to be sarcastic. People are paying it or he wouldn’t be charging it.
    I have the new GVB reunion dvd’s. Not impressed much with it. Now that we all know what is going on with the new lineup, obviously you can see it all taking place on the reunion dvd. That is just my opinion.

  23. Chuck Stevens wrote:

    Were the Hoppers, or Jeff And Sheri, Issacs there?

  24. nonsgfan wrote:

    uumm…lets see….Larnelle Harris, David Phelps, Michael English, Steve Greene..

    The list goes on.

  25. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    The $50 or so price is for the some of the rows closer to stage.
    Its around $39 for each one of those coveted tickets. Add Ticketmaster’s service charges, taxes and shipping/handling charges which brings it up to the $50 or so range.
    I would suggest that all those creative writers will be paying a lot more than $50 next month to see the host of this blog received his award out on the West Coast.
    Its all about supply and demand for the front rows seats.
    Poster #22 stated it well about the people must be willing to pay the going rate.
    Maybe Gaither should produce a second rate show for a reduced price.
    I guarantee some of you all would say why can’t Gaither do it right or why should the secular world have all the first class acts.
    Good thing this old world isn’t perfect because all the bloggers and commentators would have anything to do.

  26. Gospel Has Been wrote:

    Doug you are doing a great job and you are achieving what you want and that is people reading and posting on this site. Gospel music people love to gossip and dig up dirt and smear in the name of the Lord. So keep it up Doug. In my opinion your doing great.

  27. Pedantic wrote:

    #24
    Not sure any of those are in Larry’s “generation”, but (despite my screen name) I could be mistaken.
    Technically, the list can’t go on if you are trying to describe “greatest” - there is one of those, and everyone else is less than “greatest”. (speaking purely of vocal talent, no judgement is made or meant of ministry value, etc.)

  28. WA wrote:

    Pedantic, #27, I agree with your assessment. I read nonsgfan’s list, and they’re all great singers. I’ve heard them all live and, of course, and many CD’s, and thrilled to them all. Phelps is the greatest voice of his generation, imo. And again, as the kind of statement I made is purely subjective, no one can be right or wrong. You’re absolutely correct that saying what we did is no reflection on anyone’s ministry.
    Simply a personal observation, and perhaps lost in it all is my original point, that it was curious to me that in Larry Ford’s hometown, it seems as if he was dissed…numerous soloists, many of them great singers, but not Ford, who’s been a mainstay on so many Gaither DVD’s.

  29. Tusk Molarr wrote:

    Maybe Larry Ford wasn’t home.

  30. nonsgfan wrote:

    Larry Ford, who I feel has the greatest solo voice of THIS generation - Bill didn’t invite him to participate. Had there only been Ford and Janet Paschal, my night would have been complete.

    You said THIS…

    not HIS…

    And larnelle Harris is probably at LEAST almost sixty years old.

  31. Steve wrote:

    #30 You are correct. Larnelle Harris turned 60 in 2008.

  32. David Stuart wrote:

    Can’t wait to see the Gaithers when they come here to Cleveland, Ohio in April! I have my tickets already.

  33. DMP wrote:

    nonsgfan, it’s time to take the meds.

  34. nonsgfan wrote:

    dmp, it’s time to look up good jokes and cutdowns on google.

  35. Mike McIlwain wrote:

    #29, Larry Ford sang at First Assembly of God in Fort Myers on the same weekend.

  36. WA wrote:

    #35 - Larry did indeed, on the Sunday night. He did a taping there (his home church) for a new DVD, along with Mark Lowry, Woody Wright, and Steven Hill.

  37. quartet-man wrote:

    I haven’t been to a Gaither Homecoming for a few years. The last time I saw them I think was when Russ or Marsh was baritone, but before Wes was tenor. However, I intend on going this time around.

  38. Auke wrote:

    I think the ones who bombard Doug on being to negative, are overlooking the fact that all creativity and originality have departed from the Gaither caravan.
    They still sing great,good or have an historic appeal….but when was the last time you were surprised or felt ’special’.
    It’s a factory…a show…and one that needs a overhaul real bad…wish they would invest in that…instead of pimping the gaither.com site.
    So for the 50 bucks you pay you might expect an effort from the artists to do something different and make you feel part of something special.
    Hope the debut CD the Vocal Band will produce in the near future will have all new songs…(as in never done before by the GVB).
    Still Gaither did sooo much for SG/Christian music in general…that alone earns him respect..so all of the above ain’t bashing…just a realistic outlook on creativity and performing.

    Auke

  39. DMP wrote:

    How’s this nonsgfan,
    Google says you are a shameless, self promoting (I’m right all of the time!!!!!), egotistical David Phelps lover that would listen to the ABC’s if he sang it and still claim it to be better than Wes. Better?

  40. nonSGfan wrote:

    Shameless, self-promoting?? That is funny. I havent even said my name once while posting on this site. Little hard to self promote when nobody knows me.

    Also, YES I am a David Phelps Lover…and I WOULD listen to him sing the ABC’s.

    You are sooo right.

  41. DMP wrote:

    You’re right! It feels good!

  42. Heather wrote:

    I went to the Orlando concert, and what I found was my heart. My husband and I, who are far below the “snow bird” age range, sat behind a Pentacostal youth group who seemed barely old enough to drive there. All of us, young, old, and in between, were electrified by the voices and music we heard. Every act leading up to the wonderful premier of the New GVB blew me away, and I will go on record as not having been a Russ Taft or Ivan Parker fan…till that night. The New GVB was beyond comprehension! Mark, David, Michael, Wes, and Bill have reunited and brought back with them life experiences, and you can feel the influence their joys, pains, and suffering, have brough to their music again. I will forever be a Gaither fan…and for the first time, my husband is able to share his love of Christ with me. I dare you to go to a show, and not be a liberal. Just be one of God’s children. You have no choice. As Mark said “You didn’t get a vote. He voted you worthy of His death. You are His”. God bless.

  43. thom wrote:

    …”(given the song’s celebration of the city as the center of Christian theology, is the Arab leitmotif near the beginning meant to be ironic?) – but in this setting it feels less like the exotic lark or curious innovation that it typically comes across as, and more like a galloping horse with no rider.” -

    You Are Too Much! I love the way you write.

    and your assessment of the Homecoming Tour sounds exactly like what I experienced in Nashville last year, sans the re-worked GVB lineup and the return of English, Lowry, and Phelps.
    Too many soloists, too much time wasted with Bill and guitarist talking, etc -
    and I agree with what some other’s have said here - I would love to see Gaither have a couple of other good groups and let them do 25-30 minute sets. Then have the GVB do the final set for 30-45 minutes.

  44. brad wrote:

    we saw them last weekend and would love to hear GVB do more songs.It was 2 hours 10 minutes in to the show before GVB came out then for only about 6 songs.Would love to see Gold City or someother groups with them.Hes used this lineup for so long but where else could these singers sell the amount of product they can with him even if they only sing 2 songs a nite.I will say Janet Paschal sounded great.

  45. dmp wrote:

    Youtube now has a few clips of the 5 member group…

  46. jon wrote:

    All I want to know is, was there lives changed or souls saved? If not, it is all a big show. I’d rather sing and see lives saved, than lives pay for a bear who sings out of his rear end that Bill pushes constantly. “Why should I let you in Heaven?” Lord we sang your name and praised you… “No you marketed bears, danced and performed like circus clowns”…ever have an altar call? Ever tell the unsaved how to accept me?”

  47. dmp wrote:

    Wow Jon. You seem very angry about Gaither. No, I’ve never seen him do an alter call, but in his defense, I never read about Jesus doing one either.

  48. jon wrote:

    you forgot the latter: “Ever tell the unsaved how to accept me?”

    No one is upset…I’m just askin the ? God will be asking us after we leave this earth. Why not ask it here befoe it’s too late?

  49. Auke wrote:

    sure hope they’ll come up with new material…cause these were stacked to high heaven…don’t know about you but i could have sworn i heard Guy Penrod on ‘At the Cross’…or am i wrong?

  50. dmp wrote:

    Yeah, there might be a reason why we can’t pick out the parts…

  51. Wade wrote:

    Jon you are from the vocab of NoN SG Fan…a moron!!

  52. dmp wrote:

    Jon,
    Not all music must drive people to accept Christ. I think there is a real need for music that simply inspires and encourages those who already believe. Let’s face it, SG in general isn’t reaching out to the masses in the main stream. So, if the “big show” encourages and gives people hope, then keep it coming. You can stay home.

    P.S. Well put Wade.

  53. Bart wrote:

    First off, I heard the new GVB sing last friday night, and it was AMAZING.
    It always makes me wonder how all these “experts” got to be that way when I have not seem them singing in front of sold out crowds.
    ANYWAY…all I can tell you is Michael was in great voice. He stole the show with his songs, and the combination of David, Wes and Michaels was astounding.
    Lighten up a bit. I didnt see a disappointed person in the crowd the other night.
    Simple fact is, Michael English is back singing, and witnessing to thousands. What better testiment could we have.
    Sing on Michael, I swear you get better with every year.

  54. debby wrote:

    O.K. Let us sing Wes Hampton’s praises. Yes I love David Phelps, but I have never heard a clearer tenor voice than Wes. gotta give credit where credit is due. I agree it is the life they live. I personally know the Collingsworth family, kudos to Gaither for picking a talented family as well as HONEST christian folks.

  55. Ronald Johnson wrote:

    MIKE & KELLY BOWLING, WITH TERAH CRABB PENHOLLW, SEPTEMBER 25, 2009 IN SMYRNA, TN. CHECK OUT WEB SITE FOR INFORMATION ON TICKETS. GOD BLESS.

  56. Patrick Carey wrote:

    I love the music and the tallent you bring, but , there is one thing missing. With all the people that show up, you are missing one of the greatest chances to lead people to CHRIST. Not all that come are christains, just love great music. Why not take the time to explane what it means to be BORN AGAIN and have an ALTER CALL. I have been to a number of your concerts and not once did I hear you have an alter call. You have all this tallent that GOD has given and you fail in the GREAT COMMISON. People leave thinking how I enjoyed the music, while you count your money and people go to HELL. What will you tell GOD.

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