Great Jehosophat!

I had to go way up into the hills of middle Tennessee, far beyond the reach of my cell phone’s signal, and use both new AND old Highway 53, but tonight dear readers, I can honestly report that I found the toughest gospel music crowd I have ever experienced. Well, technically, the McKameys experienced the tough crowd. I was merely holding down a seat in the midst of the sweltering inertia and affective deadness of these hundred odd souls and their leaden unresponsiveness. Except for the heckler, but we’ll get to that.

Having been sequestered in the Popular Music archive at MTSU all week, I decided the weekend was a good time to stop reading about gospel music and go hear some. Regular readers might find the McKameys an odd choice for me (and I did choose to go), but I figured, at the very last, I knew I wouldn’t hear any vocal stacks with the McKameys. And I for sure am tired of hearing sing-a-long-with-the-stack passed off as live gospel music. So off I went.

The McKameys didn’t get any help from the song selection Peg called (there might have been three mid- to up-tempo songs all night, or maybe just two, but the entire concert titled so heavy toward the turgid that I counted “I’ve Won” as a mid-tempo tune). And at several points in the night, Rueben Bean sucked all the oxygen and the precious little energy in the air right out of the room with his rudderless stories and digressive monologues. At least twice, he just stopped talking and clearly thought Peg was ready to call the next song, but Peg appeared to be as unsure as the rest of us if he was done or not, and she certainly had no tune to call.

But really, any other night, these would have been endearing authenticities that most crowds would have eaten up. Cause it’s the McKameys. This is their thang. This crowd, though? Boy howdy. I would say they sat on their hands, but people were constantly getting up and walking around – in front of the stage, down the aisle, out the door – with the same detached and disconnected manner in which they received almost every song. It was as if everyone thought it was someone else’s responsibility to … you know, pay attention, and stuff.

Peg worked admirably, enjoyably hard. She’s such a show(wo)man, and seriously capable, even if my tastes don’t run in that direction. She preached a little and cried a lot, and waved the bible and her hanky around. She got down amongst us and brought out “God on the Mountain” just three or four songs in to the night, which felt early to me. But desperate times etc, I guess. And friends, I tell the absolute unadulterated truth when I say my friends and I were the only people who instinctively started clapping the way you do when an old favorite kicks off. And we were sincere. Never would I have thought I’d see a day when your very own Avery was among the most enthusiastic concertgoers – at a McKameys concert!

After Peg shouted and wept her way through a couple of encores of “I’ve Won,” a few folks finally lumbered to their feet, but it was a pitiful scene of half-heartedness. It couldn’t have helped the already moribund mood that just a few minutes earlier, some guy in the front interrupted Peg in the middle of her Jehosophat story to tell a joke:

“Hey, Peggy,” he calls out. She pretends she doesn’t hear him and tries to keep talking, but nothing doing. “Hey, PEGGY!” She has no choice but to stop; he’s 10 feet in front of her, though to her credit she never actually engaged with the guy. “If Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton went down in a boat, who would be saved?” Peg – and the rest of us – stare, speechless: “The United States!” More silence. Two beats. Three. And then Peg: “Well, you see Johosephat, he didn’t listen to God and so …” It was that kind of night.

The only person who seemed completely unmoved by this or anything else going on this evening was Roger Fortner. He’s an extremely talented guy, and I don’t think instrumentalists have an obligation to be performers, but his manifest lack of interest in everything going on went way past detachment or coolness to something like a black hole of boredom that was, needless to say, distracting. And it only exacerbated the group’s failure to launch. Sure, he’s seen this show a schmillion times, and I can only imagine how familiar and predictable and artificial it must seem after a while. But crack a smile, raise your chin off your chest, pull your eyes into focus… something to suggest we shouldn’t infer that you find this all painfully unbearable. Because it’s a lot harder to fault an audience too much for not caring if the group performing doesn’t even appear to be entirely on board with its own show.

But I don’t want to end on a bad note because I didn’t have a bad time, really (though not as good a time as I’d have had if they’d have played some fast tunes!). So finally, a word about Sheryl Farris’s return to the group. Carol Woodwards’ virtues notwithstanding, Farris brings her own kind of tactful reserve and, more noticeably, a regularly pleasant vocal style to a group whose singing is often neither reserved nor vocally pleasant. Plus,  watching her try and try (and then, with great good humor, just quit trying) to pick up the words to lyrics she’d forgotten or didn’t know by reading lips was some of the best unforced - and much needed — comedic relief of the night.

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Comments

  1. Not Likely wrote:

    I applaud you. You had me in stitches.

  2. Irishlad wrote:

    Did Peg not kick the shoes off and do a bit of poga dancing likethe British punk groups of the 70’s?From your post i take it they were performing to a bunch of cut-out cardboard figures.

  3. Yeah... wrote:

    Well, that was just a fun read. Everyone who has ever sung has had nights like that one, and when you find yourself in the middle of such an evening, you just have to roll along with it. Without necessarily saying it, you told us that they were - in their own way - pros.

    Having watched the McKameys many times, I agree with almost everything in this article. Peg can be a master, dear Ruben needs to practice what he’ll say, and Roger continually mystifies me. He is likely the most talented guitarist/bass player on the road in sgm. And yet, as I read this, I pictured everything as being exactly what had been written. He’s like that with an audience of thousands that are eating the McKameys music up. It’s a mystery to me.

    Above all, I’m glad that you actually chose to go to hear them, and wrote a reservedly kind review. Plus, it was fun.

  4. Revpaul wrote:

    Did you say “pull your eyes into focus” . . . now that’s really good. Glad you enjoyed the McKameys.

  5. Jesse wrote:

    Too bad about the crowd at the McKameys concert. Trying to sing to dead crowds, and do your best is kinda like squeezing blood from a rock. Ain’t happenin’! I totally agree with you about vocal stacks! When’s this Christian Karaoke gonna stop, and if it doesn’t, do we have to keep paying to hear it?

  6. Wade wrote:

    Dr. DH… well there ya go leaving before the concert was over… the 2nd half turned around and they were shouting like a Kingsmen Live concert at the end!!! lol JK

    So they used NO stacks not even music stacks???… usually Roger has him and a few other others on a mini disc he plays along with. For some one as talented as he is that gig has to have him near blowing his brains out… but he did marry in the group and it is the price ya pay…what other band is he gonna play with EHSSQ??? Couldn’t you see him dancing now!!????lol

  7. Grigs wrote:

    HILARIOUS!

  8. Sensible wrote:

    If I’m not mistaken, Roger plays bass on “Mountain Mover” by the Talley Trio. I’m still wondering if he had that cold blank look on his face when he was popping the bass, doing slides, and making bass chords.

    It’s like that old country video where the guy is a grocery store dork that’s always reserved, but then he hits the night life, puts on the ruffle shirt and butterfly bow tie and bobs that head!!

  9. NonSGfan wrote:

    Somehow, I am convinced that this post is hyperbole at it’s best.

    I am sure it wasnt THAT bad.

  10. kingsman7825 wrote:

    Roger must come from a bluegrass background. The all have that blank stare and show no emotion.

  11. tallent wrote:

    WELL THE CROWD IN SAVHANNA TENN MADE UP FOR IT THE NEXT NIGHT.IT WAS ONE OF THE BEST MCKAMEYS CONCERTS I HAVE BEEN TO.THEY DID A WONDERFUL JOB AND THE CROWD SHOWED THEIR ENJOYMENT.GIVE ROGER A BREAK,HE IS VERY TALENTED AND IF YOU TAKE THE TIME TO GET TO KNOW HIM,HE IS A VERY NICE PERSON.

  12. wackythinker wrote:

    tallent #11 — I think you missed Doug’s point about Roger. He never dissed Roger’s talent. He was only trying to point out that every person on stage should at least LOOK like they’re paying attention.

  13. gina wrote:

    Every group has those crowds now and then, but I feel sure that for every one of those nights the McKameys have, they have 20 of the most enthusiastic anywhere. I recall Peg saying once that they sang for a crowd that was so blessed by the move of the Spirit in their service that the pastor stood and tried to calm the crowd saying, “We don’t do that here!”

    I do have to say that as much of a McKameys fan as I am, I too am baffled by Roger’s indifferent disposition on stage. I guess it is exaggerated by the fact that the rest of the group is so pleasant and happy, but it seems he could smile now and then. I’m not saying anything about him as a person, as I don’t know him, but he sure stands out like a sore thumb.

  14. chuck stevens wrote:

    I too attended a Gospel show last night in Tulsa with the Triumphant Quartet at Frank Arnold’s Church. They were on from the first note. I’m sure on Sunday night after three nights of concerts it would be easy to cut things short and pack it up and hit the the long road home to Tenn. The brought they A game with lots of singing and just the right amount of stage banter with some heartfelt moments thrown in. It was a great service, just right with great Quartet singing. These guys are as solid as they come and deliver a great show. I left entertained and refreshed. The crowd however was very low key, they did stand after a few songs, they loved “White Flag” which was filled with comic moments, and they sang along with the old standards medley they sang as they went out into the crowd and had some audience members sing the “Daddy sang bass, momma sang tenor” parts, But not once in the entire show did they stand on the hand clappers, and it was in an Assembly Of God church. They sang for an hour and a half all together and left the stage with “When the trumpet sounds” which i thought would surely bring the folks to their feet. Had they stood, they might have done an encore, which i was wanting, it is a great straight forward Southern Gospel Quartet song, a good leave the stage song if you will. All in all a great service in Tulsa last night. Sometimes the crowd just aint in it, but i love a group that can pull off magic even when the crowd is in down mode. Hats off to Triumphant!!

  15. MityCats wrote:

    Sounds like a George Younce “Bless me if you can … better than you have tried” bunch. Those are PAINFUL to say the least. When you have that kind of crowd, it’s best to just sing your heart out, leave out the talking altogether, and dust your feet off on the way to the car.

    For the record, it’s “Woodard” not “Woodward”.

  16. KDM wrote:

    Sounds like Roger comes from classic bluegrass stock. Those guys can look like they’re in a coma while their fingers are working magic on their instruments. Don’t know if they’re just really focused on what they’re doing, or if it’s a cultural thing. I kind of think it’s funny.

  17. CVH wrote:

    There’s just no figuring how a crowd is going to go, regardless of how into it the band may be. I’ve played in Assemblies churches that were dead and Presbyterian churches that were borderline charismatic.

    Great report. I only wish the pastor or someone in charge would have had the brains to drag the jokester outside and throttle him with a table project or two. No excuse for that kind of rude behavior or for allowing it to continue.

    Are you sure you didn’t inhale too many fumes in the stacks and imagine the whole thing, like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone?

  18. boothbro_fan wrote:

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!! LOVED this post! Felt like I was really there… Doug, you described Roger perfectly!! I’m not a McKameys fan so every time I see them I have this weird fascination watching Roger to see if I can catch any expression on his face. Reminds me of the Darling Family off TAGS… LOL

  19. gina wrote:

    I don’t know where everyone is making the bluegrass connection. Roger has played southern gospel professionally for a long time. I know he toured with the Inspirations, the Goodmans, Talleys, and others, so we can’t blame it on the bluegrass roots. Besides, even the majority of those performers show some type of emotion at some point in time!

  20. Ed wrote:

    If anybody has EVER seen the McKameys, they would know that the blank stare that Roger gives, is just him. Even in his days with the Inspirations, he was the same way.
    Let him keep that look. He also is shy, but very genuine and nice if YOU speak to him first.

  21. JEB wrote:

    I have a couple of examples that I remember well.

    I don’t remember the date - but it was before Frank Seamans joined Legacy Five. They were booked at Patriot Hall in Sumter, SC on a Thursday. There were perhaps 100 there - and the place would hold 1,000 to 1,500. It was the middle of the summer - yet it felt cold.

    L5 put on a great show! In fact - I was so impressed I bought one of everything… Bad thing was, I already had one of everything. Guess what I gave for Christmas!

    I am 55 and remember going to Ovens Auditorium in Charlotte, NC while in high school to hear the Goodmans and a relatively new group - the Inspirations. The crowd was intensely sparse.

    While the singing was good - I left feeling really bad. If Vestal commented about the crowd and lack of support once, it was 50 times. I wanted to stand up and shout - go preach to the ones who did not come. Shut up and sing! And that is what the Inspirations did. I’ve never enjoyed their singing very much but admire their ministry. They impressed me that night.

    I speak from time to time. It is easy to let the size and response of the crowd dictate your demeanor. The real professionals/entertainers “always” put on a great show - and Legacy Five, Triumphant and the McKameys certainly are.

    JEB

  22. Andy wrote:

    I went to a Greater Visioin concert one time, and there were 12 people there. They took requests from everyone, and i requested Champion of Love. Gerald did it great, he also pulled my friend up to sing bass with them on “Just A Little Talk With Jesus” and “Step into The Water”. They didnt care about the crowd, and honestly, probably the best concert I have ever been to.

  23. wanderer wrote:

    Your comments on Roger’s blank stare got me thinking about the great Chet Atkins. I remember watching Chet one night on T-V. It was a taped live performance and I remember thinking how unfriendly he looked. Years later I saw him in an interview and funny thing. He say with a bit of a grin…”Some people think I don’t look very happy when I play guitar. The truth is, it takes a tremendous amount of concentration on my part to play. I can’t look around and smile at everyone like some guitarists do. I’m very engrossed in what I’m doing and that’s probably why I look the way I do” Could the same be with Roger?

  24. jbb wrote:

    You never know what you will get into, even when you are asked to sing at a church service. We recently were booked at a “christian church” that was just coming out of a revival….We were to sing at 1:30 and at 1:25 the pastor approached my husband and said “the elders have met and they want NO witnessing, No talking, just 30 minutes of singing”. Had we been told that ahead of time, we wouldn’t have accepted the invitation. The sad thing was, there were people there that were really enjoying the singing and would have enjoyed more had we been able to share. We felt like we just performed. We practiced some new stuff and sang our hearts out and had a smile on our face. THe church didn’t invite the Holy Spirit that afternoon, but, we did.
    I am not a true McKameys fan, but, I do like alot of their songs.

  25. Tim wrote:

    #21 JEB. Good post. I think one of my relatives promoted the show in Charlotte. Needless to say, he never recovered financially.

  26. chuck stevens wrote:

    The last time i saw the Mckamey’s in April, for some reason I watched Roger to see what licks he was playing, sometimes Acoustic, but he plays the lead guitar as well, and he adds some real nice flavor that most folks probably never notice because most of the attention is focused on the singing. He is a very talented player. I enjoyed his playing and wanted to tell him so, but never saw him after they left the stage. I would take them over stacks anyday.

  27. gina wrote:

    wanderer - Different story with Roger than Chet Atkins. #1 is that Roger is hardly providing all that instrumentation on the spot. He’s actually playing along with tracks so if he missed a beat, it would hardly stop the program, though I realize it takes some concentration to stop and start appropriate tracks. #2 is that Roger has the same disposition even when not playing (between songs, etc.).

  28. Irishlad wrote:

    In George and Glenn’s autobio, George stated that it took a certain type of mentality to sing the same songs tell the same corny jokes night after night.Maybe RF just doesn’t have that much needed “mentality”,he’s probably too nice and straight of a guy to fake insincerity.Either that or he’s just pissed off with the whole travelling thingy.

  29. CVH wrote:

    RE: #20, Ed: It was probably his days with The Inspirations that did it to him. I’d gnaw my eyebrows off being with those guys.

  30. Yeah... wrote:

    I was with a group that you’d all recognize many years ago, on the way to a concert in the midwest, an auditorium that would seat several thousand. We hit a wicked snow storm, and the last few hundred miles were very slow going. By the time we arrived and did the load-in, it was a blizzard. I’d say the crowd that night was between 200-300 people, and they looked lost in that cavernous hall. After we left, I was talking with the lead singer as we rode in the bus, and I asked him if that small crowd had been hard to sing for. His answer reveals why there are some of the stories we’ve read above. He said “The biggest lesson any singer needs to learn is to never worry about who’s not there, but to try and be a blessing to everyone who is”. I never forgot it. And, it separates out the true pros.

  31. BUICK wrote:

    RE: #30.
    Thanks for that story. Good insights

    Another perspective - just think about that 200 - 300 people who, themselves, also fought the blizzard to be there. And not only were they not going to be paid to attend, they were going to fork-over some of their hard-earned cash for the privilege of hearing the concert. I’m sure your lead singer figured their effort was worth his.

  32. wackythinker wrote:

    I heard indirectly from someone who traveled with the McKamey’s that they never allowed any joking, laughing, or cutting up on their bus.

    The story may not be true, but that’s what I was told. Maybe that’s just Roger?

  33. cdguy wrote:

    Regardint Chet Atkins, during a performace wasn’t the only time he appears unfriendly. My wife tells of the day he walked into their office on Music Row. He was lost, and couldn’t find the building he was looking for, so he stopped for directions. Not only was he unfriendly, he was quite surly. As if it were this office’s fault he was lost.

  34. Yeah... wrote:

    Buick - #31: I forgot, and should add - That snowy night, with such a small crowd in such a cavernous auditorium, all three of the headliner groups went to the promoter and asked him if he’d lost his shirt due to the blizzard. He was devastated. The group I was with - and I believe I’m right in saying - the other two major groups, all accepted diesel fuel money for the trip, but released him from their flats. These things happened a fair bit through the years. I believe it still does today some. And maybe that needs to be told, given all of the negative stuff on here about groups.

    And Buick, you are so correct; the folks who braved a lousy storm got exactly what they deserved to get; as great of a concert as they could have gotten, and unprecedented time to talk with the folks before and after the concert, also at intermission. The “feel” was that we were all in it together, and best of all, the promoter was included in that too. No - best of all, actually, was that the Lord was really honored in it all.

  35. JW wrote:

    #34, “Yeah…”,

    I wish you could mention the group mentioned. I’d drive many miles just to see them based on your 2 stories about them.

    God bless you very much for sharing that.

  36. Leslie wrote:

    You haven’t been to many concerts, singings, or churches in TN. They all sit on their hands and have blank stares. Maybe Roger was just mirroring the crowd. HA HA!

  37. Wade wrote:

    Hey Leslie…

    You should be @ the 1st Baptist I play at…it is not in TN, but real close.

    We played, HOW GREAT THOU ART last Sunday and a guy raised both hands in the air and shouted a little and by the looks on some of their faces I thought they were going to have to pass out new DEPENDS!!!

    When they are ask to come down for an alter prayer you would think some1 was trying to get them to a haunted house!! lol

    TGIF

  38. jbb wrote:

    Saw the McKameys last night on Brian Free’s t.v. show. Didn’t know that Roger sang. At least that’s who I think it was. The grandson, the mother and dad. Peg just screamed and waved her hanky.

  39. Jim Gerdes wrote:

    We first saw the McKameys at the NQC in 88 when “God on the Mountain” was rising. I thought Peg was “over the top” with her kicking shoes, hankies, screaming. In fact for the next couple of years we would go get carmel corn when their set came on. Now, I have come to admire their “basic goodness” and no airs approach. In fact, if I ever really needed a prayer warrior to pray with me, I think Peg would be one of the first I’d call.

  40. Amanda wrote:

    Leslie, I’m not sure what your beef is with TN, but I live in TN and have been to many concerts and singings here. I have never been to a concert or singing like the one Doug described here.

  41. chuck stevens wrote:

    I too knew someone who used to ride their bus, in fact he drove it, and said the hired help did not eat at the same table as the family. They used to have some band members back in the day. I don’t know why he would make that up.

  42. Oldtimer wrote:

    Anyone who has sung any length of time with any group on any level has had these nights. The group that I traveled with ( though we were full time you probably never heard of us) did a New Year’s eve singing at Memorial Auditorium in Louisville, KY. In an auditorium that would seat a couple of thousand there were 100 or so there - looked like 3 in that big place. Of course our group did not know any better - we sang the best we could. JD and his bunch floored me -they did two sets and sang like the place was full. JD even sat in the wings and watched out set ( except for when he went out for - his words - a smoke break.) This was the first of MANY concerts we did over the years with the Stamps. We had a few more duds like this and many great crowds. They always did a great job and were always eager to help us do the best we could.

  43. gina wrote:

    Re: #41 - Well, there ya go! Yet another reason for Roger to smile. Since he married Connie, he now gets to eat at the family table!

  44. jbb wrote:

    #43…That is too funny!!
    Set another place at the table.

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