NQC 09: Saturday night
I’ll save the wrap up for a separate post and deal here mainly with the fan awards and what of the evening’s remainder I caught. Comments especially welcome from anyone who stayed for what came after BFA tonight.
THE BIG STUFF
Fan Awards: In general, a show with big, 40th-anniversary ambitions, but a pretty low-key/ho-hum affair on the whole, depending on which direction you tilt in absence of any real scale tippers. The Booth Brothers dominated again this year, but the second verse of anything is rarely as good as the first. And after a while, their dominance started to feel a wee titch awkward. Michael Booth seemed to recognize this, telling a story about how people loved Jeff Gordon when he started winning NASCAR races … at least until he started winning too much. “This too shall pass,” he concluded sardonically. Probably some truth to this. Taking nothing away from their achievement, which is honestly earned, their wins felt as much like a statement about the dearth of award-worthy music and personalities in the industry right now as it did an affirmation of the Booth Brothers (though of course it is that too). Indeed, this sort of described the general trend in the awards: If you can infer popular sentiment from fan awards (arguably true at best), this year seemed to be largely about sticking with known quantities (with the exception of Triumphant, which won favorite quartet and bass for what I think may be the first time?).
The Isaacs: The rise of canned band tracks has so accustomed us to hearing sophisticated, mostly flawless, digitized accompaniment at NQC, I get the impression audiences are much more likely to under-appreciate the phenomenon of witnessing virtuoso live performances of the sort the Isaacs always turn in. Plus, with the Isaacs particularly, there’s so many marvelous things going on simultaneously – Ben Isaacs’ bass runs, and Sonya Isaacs’ lovely harmonic ornamentations, to name just two I caught tonight. The Isaacs are about the only group I know that can end with three really slow songs (“Does Jesus Care,” “Mama’s Teaching Angels” and “It is Well”) and close huge, with nothing but a trio of unaccompanied voices at the very last. By far, they were responsible for all the very best moments tonight, and the single best sustained musical experience of the evening. I write a version of this sort of thing every year about them, and I’m sure it must sound like I’m phoning it in, but honestly experiencing it live never feels like a rehash.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: as in, can we get a little for everyone’s time – fans and performers alike? The Fan Awards ran way over (just because INSP isn’t cracking the whip anymore doesn’t mean artists and emcees ought to get to ramble on unchecked), and subsequently the rest of the evening was nearly an hour behind by the time I left around 11. And on top of that, the line-up post-Fan Awards was eclectically tedious: Primitives (dirgy), Hunters (they did back flips, literally), Dixie Melody Boys (amateurish), and Janet Paschal, who – it pains me to say – delivered an unremarkable series of songs that never came together into anything approaching a coherent set (get a live piano player, or bring a Gaither friend to harmonize with or something). Shows that run long on time and short on engaging talent disserve the artists closing out the night, of course. But most of all, this kind of thing shafts audiences, who have to choose, at the end of a long tiring week, to sit through music that rarely rises above the quality of a regional showcase in order to see the finale, or leave and miss major performances way down the evening’s bill (tonight: Perrys, Kingdom Heirs, and the Hoppers-Booths-L5-GV finale). FTR, I chose the latter. But even granting that I didn’t leave in a good mood, it was hard not to feel like those of us who tried to stick it out after the Fan Awards – and I really tried – were being played for suckers.
BONUS STANDOUTS AND OTHER THINGS WORTH MENTIONING
Death by emcee: I’ll talk more about personalities in gospel music in a separate post, but for now, it’s enough to say that Dennis Swanberg’s moment is over. Larry the Cable guy has pretty much cornered the market on the whole cornpone country voice thing, plus the stuff he says in that contrived country voice is, you know, often funny and stuff, contrivances of voice notwithstanding. Swanberg, on the other hand, just makes a lot of noise and expects us to laugh because it’s noisy (you may not really be a comedian if everything you say relies on the sound of the voice in which you say it). Baptist food jokes, comments about how this or that male performer needs to “take care of that little red-headed wife of yours” or “help your woman up the steps there, man,” … Billy Graham and John Wayne impersonations. This is his act: boorishness, impersonations and countrified affectations. It makes Tim Lovelace’s innocent tediousness seem desirable. Why can’t, say, Michael Booth and Gerald Wolfe and Lauren Talley just share emcee work and spare us the “entertainment”?
Political salvation: Last night we discussed a theory that one way southern gospel artists can reliably resuscitate a struggling set is to associate a song with some hot-button political, ideological, social, or religious issue. And tonight, as if to cement the conclusions we were arriving at, comes then Brian Free and Assurance. Their tracks failed completely when they walked on stage (honestly, how does this happen at what NQC itself describes as the largest event in Christian music?). As a result: they pretty much lost the crowd. Happening to a different group, or a different emcee, this might have been the kind of curve ball that calls forth reserves of showmanship and creativity and rewards both artist and audience with something unexpected. In the event, BFA struggled to get a foothold even after their tracks came back. So was it a coincidence that in the middle of the set Free called a twenty-year-old anti-abortion song and preceded it with a fervent pro-life political statement? Hard to say, but it certainly salvaged the set for them.
Non-sequitur: The music used to walk award winners on and off stage during the Fan Awards was … interesting. It sounded like nothing so much as a cross between the theme songs for Quantum Leap and Knight Rider. The most effective approach would seem to be using clips from the winner’s own repertoire, but if you have to use generic music, it should probably at least be stylistically more like than unlike the music to which the show is devoted.
Unquotables: Listening to “I Know It was the Blood” tonight, I decided that the next time a songwriter hast the urge to quote or borrow from a hymn while writing a new song, Resist. That. Urge. Just to see what happens. “I Know It was the Blood” is a perfectly fine upbeat tune, but one wonders what kind of much more interesting and effective bridge might have been if the song didn’t ubiquitously borrow from “Victory in Jesus” in such a predictable fashion.
Quote of the night I: “Lord, I’m tired of being the trouble child of sound check.” Libbi Perry Stuffle, accepting her award for favorite alto and discussing the frustration her hearing problems cause her professionally and personally.
Quote of the night II: “It’s favorite songwriter, not best songwriter.” A friend of mine, reacting to the Songwriter of the Year award.
Resale: It’s always amusing to me to see good Christian folks trying to resell convention tix outside Freedom Hall. As far as I know, it’s not illegal, or if it is, there certainly seems to be no enforcement, or even the threat of it. But still, you can just see the overcast of uneasiness in the eyes of most resellers. Stay strong guys. Maybe next year if Dennis Swanberg isn’t on the Fan Awards, the street value of your extra tickets will go up a bit.Email this Post