NQC 11: Wednesday night

Well nigh onto two decades now, I’ve been making this journey to Louisville, and for the last seven years, I’ve been copiously documenting the full immersion experience of listening and processing and posting online for the long three-day weekend (Thursday-Saturday) that my schedule typically allows. Regular readers will have doubtless become accustomed to the tiered system I’ve used to organize my listening experience in that time.

But of course one’s relationship to these type’s of events never remains stable. In 1993, the first NQC of my memory, I was a teenage fan boy by turns fascinated with and horrified by the prospect of a life as a gospel music professional (and obviously “the horror! the horror!” won out). Today, NQC is much less a fan experience than a professional research and networking opportunity for me as an academic who researches and writes about evangelicalism and music; just tonight I was able to make valuable use of John Ashcroft’s hackery appearance by meeting up with a fellow academic who also studies gospel music (and/but in Canada! h/t CU).

Which is a long way of saying, I no longer feel the desire or need to bring a pitch pipe and a stenography machine with me. I’ve done all that – a job for the young, if ever there was one – and I’m getting old. So what follows is far more impressionistic and less systematic than the treatments to which many of you have become accustomed. My aim is not to be comprehensive but to capture the impressions that I retain from a few key moments.

The Freedom Hall Sound: It still sucks, of course. And the sun also rises. The baffling nature of this particular suckage, though, is the way it can persistently be wrong through an entire group’s set (i.e. Signature Sound) and then seem miraculously to right itself for entire sets thereafter. A conspiracy theorist would be inclined to speculate about plots and subterfuge. A technocrat would wonder why one cluster of soundboard presets can go so wrong and another go so right. The ticket-holding fan (full disclosure: I was on media pass tonight) just wants to be able to hear what’s going on, which too often tonight was simply too hard to discern. Note that I didn’t say impossible. Perhaps more annoying than absolute silence is the experience of being able to catch snatches of what’s happening on stage. Call this the Bell-Tone version of NQC (“can you hear what other people are singing but not understand the words?”). The sense of distance and remoteness, without quite ever becoming full-on isolation, leaves the impression that those of us in the upper deck are being purposefully excluded. Not cool.

The High Road: I refer, of course, to the name of a female trio of (former?) Belmont students who were featured as part of the showcase winners. They sang the group’s namesake song and left me slackjawed with the acoustic simplicity and force of the sound and songwriting. Think the Isaacs crossed with the original Ruppes leavened with the undaunted energy and irrepressible verve of youth. My faith in the discernment of the NQC audience was momentarily restored when the group was warmly received. Then Dennis Swanberg was warmly received and things went back to normal. But for a few lovely moments, the planetary system of fan culture and good music seemed to align for a glorious burst of musico-existential rightness.

Janet Paschal: For this part of our lesson, class, let’s begin with a question: How do you know Bill Gaither is not in the building? Answer: Janet Paschal does a set that doesn’t include “It Won’t Rain Always.” Srsly. Of course my fondness for The J.P. is no secret, and though I don’t think a good 2/3 of the crowd had a clue what she was doing tonight, it was a charming set of self-possessed songs that Paschal infused with a raw energy and unself-conscious vocal power and range that contrasts sharply to the “pretty singer” role in which she has long been (inadvertently?) type cast in the Gaither universe. Mind you, her set – built around two newish songs, a summer wedding tune that I think was called “I Want Enough” and a big-bandy number that I think went by the name “Case of Love” – was more suited to the Hurstborne League of Women’s Voters Thursday luncheon in terms of its subtlety and sophistication (think cucumber sandwiches and strong Manhattans and Sugarbaker sassiness). Truth be told, that’s unfair. My notes actually say “this song is in the tradition of the Broadway diva pre-intermission show-stopper.” Which is true. Whatever. Love me The JP. Even if most of the audience seemed to have no clue. Too bad for them.

Scoot Shelnut: His bass accompaniment of Steward Varnado’s somewhat plodding piano solo was muddy and muddled in the mix but a magnificently intrepid marvel of syncopation and wit all the same. The best moments often come from those who aren’t trying to steal the show do so anyway.

The Perrys: First of all, Tracy Stuffle has lost a lot of weight, and for the first time I can recall he looks comfortable in his body. Good for him. Really. I admire the discipline it must have taken to get to that point. The P’s set was no homerun but it held up ok. The baritone delivered some lovely passing tones in the harmony lines of “Celebrate Me Home,” though someone needs to get him an accurate copy of the lyrics for “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” There are not nearly as many “and”s in that song as he seems to think there are. Still it was nice to see everyone want to love him all the same. The tracks all felt like they were being piped in from another room and that gave the entire set a subdued and off-kilter feel. Matters weren’t helped by Libby Perry Stuffle singing a song from her new solo album with a badly-amped track and canned BGVs, while perfectly excellent singers and players sat/stood there through all but the last bit of the song. But I quibble: the Perrys are still the masters of grand religious feelings and towering spiritual sentiment.

The Singing Rambos Tribute: The good news is, the Rambos brought a seven piece band, which also turns out to be the bad news, in this case, because it was a seven piece bluegrass band, which comes about as close to capturing the innovation of the Rambos’ instrumental style as bringing hotdish to a potluck. Close but not quite. In any event, the only song that “took” (as they say in the beauty shop) was “He Looked Beyond My Fault,” for which Donny McGuire played piano, sang really quite movingly, and delivered three modulations and countless drum kicks and a waving of hands worthy of the Love Boat at bon voyage. Which is to say, I loved it. In all, it provided something of a sonic anchor to the otherwise diffuse and unfocused stringtastic pluck-off that sullied the sound for the rest of the set. If all the people who make an amateur sport out of Rambo hatin’ would get over their personal grudges and proxy political point-scoring with Dottie’s descendants, they’d hear some of the most insightful and enlivened music in southern gospel (and even if you don’t agree, let’s be honest: when have questionable fashion choices, unfortunate hair, and dubious personal lives ever stopped anyone from succeeding in southern gospel? Honestly). Evidently from the NQC program, I gather that Rambo-McGuire is a going sg concern these days, so I hope we hear more of them in their own right and not just as a gussied up Singing Rambos nostalgia set.

EHSSQ: To be honest, it was like there were two EHSSQs tonight. One was a likeable oldies cover band, the other a hardworking quartet trying to redefine what it means to sing quartet music. The only constant was that they got knobbed throughout the entire set, which was truly unfortunate. What was striking was the diminished role of conspicuous choreography for the most part. It wasn’t absent, but it was more tastefully deployed, so that when the overt dance moves did make an appearance toward the end of the set, the place went nuts, which just proves that people conditioned to expect a certain kind of gratification will love it all the more if you withhold it from them for a while. Anyway, the bass singer’s rendition of “I Believe” was earnest and effortful, but too often it seems that a certain belchy or forced tone stands in for a missing texture or tonal richness, which tends to scatter his force as a singer (wasn’t it George Younce who was fond of saying that singers shouldn’t oversing or force tones they don’t have and instead let their voices naturally grow into their own depth and range?). Still, the arrangement of the song is alluringly captivating … it sounds like something off a Broadway show (in a good way), urbane and understated and yet memorably affecting. This, combined with what sounded to me like a new arrangement of “Till We Fly Away,” created a promising vein of possibility for a more self-possessed, less twitchy and over-thought EHSSQ. Let the spirit move, guys.

Greater Vision: With Chris Allman back in the line-up, they deliver exactly what I imagine a bespoke suit would sound like if it could sing. And I don’t mean that as a put-down. Allman is clearly the understated star of this show, with his self-abnegating yet ever-palpable voice, and the mix of tunes tonight suggests a shift in GV’s style toward a more different kind of ethos for song selection, notwithstanding the tune about the importance of living for a Christ-centered future that seemed nevertheless to end up dwelling in the past. On the drive down to Louisville today, the car ride included some vintage Allman-Trammell-Wolfe GV from back in the day, and I found myself wondering what the group would sound like if they hadn’t gone so fully into the orbit of the Rodney Griffin universe. Perhaps we may still be able to find out, if only a little.

Paul’s Journey: I know very little about this group, other than that they were formerly called the Relations quartet (not the worst name ever, but close to it). In any case, the tenor is a rarity: he has the focused intonation of the classic quartet sound but texturizes his upper registers with a warmth and roundness that prevents his head tones from going shrill in the tradition of Free and Sheppard. I came rather to enjoy the motor memory reflex of just about beginning to cringe when I thought “ohup yeah he’s going to go nasally and flat” and then he didn’t! More of this, please?

Jason Crabb and Friends: After tonight, dear ones, I officially declare that the one pianist I would take on a desert island with me is whoever it is playing for Jason Crabb. Him, and Lori Sykes on bass. And that drummer. In other words, it was like a set of Austin City Limits in Louisville. Set me free.

Gold City: Frankly, they were neither as bad nor as good as the partisans on either side suggest. The two things that stood out to me were: one, Danny Riley’s sound has ascended into his head and gone all honky; and second, I have no idea what the song “Peter James and John” is about. It seems rather like “His Name Was John” x3. But without a discernible internal coherence. Huh?

Triumphant: These guys have the stage presence of a shelf full of Ken dolls of varying vintage and their up-tempo stand-em-up style (tonight this style was represented by “Saved By Grace”) is overly aggressive and off-putting to my ear, but they have their moments. Most particularly, the verses of “Love Came Calling.” I still feel like the choruses belong to a different song, a more ditty-ish tune that isn’t on stylistical speaking terms with the verses. But whatever. Scott Inman’s delivery of the verses and bridge is masterful. I’m glad I stayed, at least until the beginning of that white hanky of surrender nonsense. It may have been 11 p.m. in Louisville but it was 5 o’clock somewhere on Bardstown Road.

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Comments

  1. Aaron Swain wrote:

    Bryan Walker and Joseph Habedank have one heck of a good harmony when they sing together; probably the best lead-baritone combination since Habedank ascended to lead. If they do “If You Knew Him” again this week, listen to the last words of the song for evidence of this (Or, go back to Monday night in the webcast archives if you can.)

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed how downright good the guy from Paul’s Journey is. If anybody is looking for a tenor some time soon, that guy probably put himself at the top of the roster last night.

  2. greg wrote:

    Presets on the console are of no use when the group sound man tweaks and toys with the faders. Groups justify the madness because they pay the guy whose experience includes a peavey board at the Miracle Ear Baptist Church.

  3. Gospel Has Been wrote:

    Go back to having a real EMCEE who can keep the program moving and fill in the dead spots. Those girls last night were horrible on stage holding a piece of people reciting facts about the next group which they obviously knew nothing about. I felt bad for Ernie though I’m not a fan and the sound work he received but when you bring your own people in for your own 15 minute set it causes problems and they experienced that last night

  4. Keith Waggoner wrote:

    As a guy who has sung on the main stage at NQC a few times, let me offer a defense for the sound team. Most groups (including, I’m sure, EHSS) bring in their own sound guy to mix their sets, rather than trusting whomever happens to be sitting at the sound board. This is to be expected, I guess, since the group sound man “knows” their sound. The problem comes when the group sound man isn’t experienced on the console they’re using at NQC or is unfamiliar with the room dynamics. The NQC sound guys let them do whatever they want. They let them set the sound and save presets on the board. They also let the group sound man come back and do the live mix for the performer. That’s why the sound can differ wildly between groups. I’ve worked with many of the NQC sound crew members at various events and they’re solid. For the most part, they know what they’re doing. We haven’t always used them for our sets, but when we have they’ve done a good job.

    What I don’t get is the lack of communication between the stage hands distributing mics and the house sound guy. This results in those awkward stage moments while groups are singing with no amplification. There really is no excuse for not knowing who has what mic. While occasionally someone (usually an emcee) will grab a random mic and run up to the stage to say something real quick (creating a panic attack for the sound guy), most of the time the groups have their mics and are ready to go 10 minutes before their main stage slot. Groups use presets from sound check which require vocalists to use the same mic that they had in sound check. It’s up to the mic handler to make sure they have that same mic. If someone has the wrong mic, let the house guy know about it. The house guy has to be in tune to figure out which mic they DO have and prepared to mix on the fly.

    It’s not a perfect system by any means. Until they have only the “official” sound crew running sound, NQC will suffer from sonic inconsistency. I’m not saying that the NQC sound crew would always do it better, but at the very least it would be uniform.

  5. Shelly wrote:

    Somebody needs to buy or suggest to Kim Hopper a Mother Tucker. She looked horrible last night with that silver dress. If you don’t know what a Mother Tucker is, google it. It’s clean and helps women with that middle line pudge.The audio was to be desired at times. I agree, bring back the emcees.

  6. tj wrote:

    Amen # 5 Shelly, the dress Kim wore last night needs to be retired. She is too big of a girl to be wearing stuff like that. She needs to take some hints from her sister in law Taranda. Some of Kim’s stagewear is a bit tacky.

  7. Hector Luna wrote:

    HA. horrible dress, Shelly.

    Line of the day Avery, Triumphant looks like “These guys have the stage presence of a shelf full of Ken dolls of varying vintage”. Can I tweet that? I do love their quartet sound, though, even when they ham it up.

    Agreed on Jason Crabb is alright at emceeing, but overusing him would be a no-no. I mean check him out on TBN. He’s good and genuine, but he has a lot of awkward moments in those interviews.

    Ah. Allman is a breath of fresh air. I too, think back on that original GV. The best and most collected trio to grace a stage.

    Gold City, neither bad nor good. Agreed. And who cares these days?

  8. Austinf wrote:

    I was supposed to sing at one of the showcases at convention this year, but instead, I had to sing at one of my band member’s funeral. I really wanted to see the GVB reunion, which I believe is tonight… I would love to know how it goes…

  9. clay wrote:

    Why so negative Mr. Blogger. What happened in your childhood. You must live a miserable life. Hope you soon find the joy Jesus can give.

  10. BigJohn wrote:

    #9 I don’t believe that this is negative and not sure why when someone offers constructive criticism about a Christian event for which the average person (non-media of course) is required to pay that it is viewed as negative. I think that some groups are going through the motions not because they have lost their love God or music but because well in order to the pay the bills it is not all ministry and fun.

    There are groups out there I am sure that churn out records that they will tell is not there best stuff but they have to have new stuff to sell at the table. The problem is that putting out one great album and having that recognized would allow for the spreading of the sg base and might possibly increase the size of the audience. But instead due to economics they are forced to put out multiple projects of substandard stuff that panders to the base of these groups. They know that their fans will generate X profits no matter what the quality because the always buy what is new.

    On one of the gaither interviews or DVD’s he said that he is very selective about the albums and their quality and nothing goes out unless he feels it is better than before (i paraphrase). Maybe if more groups looked at the last effort and strived for more there would be less for folks to find fault with and the concerts would be more than the same 500-1000 people they see everytime they hit that town.

    There is some awesome music that some groups churn out and some of the most incredible voices (GVB,GV,Mark Trammel, The Talley’s, etc) but if they select material and the production is awful why would I the consumer want to expense my money to see or listen to something that they put no effort into.

    I tell my team at work to strive for excellence and be best in class. Competition is healthy and I hope that all these groups listen to their fellow artists and even some mainstream music and think that we need to have a sound that represent our musical POV but represents that best message,sound and quality we can offer. And if it doesn’t then go back and fix it.

  11. Wade wrote:

    Shelly… Gawd you women all really secretly hate each other and I love it!!! I love Smart Hot Women who are a LITTLE Insecure!!!

  12. spiderchocolate wrote:

    “After tonight, dear ones, I officially declare that the one pianist I would take on a desert island with me is whomever it is playing for Jason Crabb. ”

    “whomever”? did interns write this?

  13. NG wrote:

    I have to say it is strange for a 66-year-old man to go to the NQC for three nights (Mon-Wed) and have the highlight be three college girls called High Road be the stars of the event. I first saw them at the regional workshop during the day and about a third of the audience gave them a standing ovation. The audience loved them that night on the mainstage but not to quite the same degree because of the larger venue. With the proper management, they will be stars beyond the country gospel field (think Allison Krause and Union Station). And their fiddler Anna Grace did a great job backing up Rambo McGuire especially on “Mama’s Teaching Angels How to Sing.”

    Probably the best quartet I heard was the Blackwood Brothers at a all-day show separate from NQC which did not give them solo time. Of course, NQC is chasing young fans and not groups that cover songs done by old groups. However, it didn’t stop NQC from welcoming three groups doing Cathedral songs.

    Worst part of NQC evenings: time wasted on videos, advertisements and bad emceeing.

  14. Nate Stainbrook wrote:

    My view of Wednesday from the nosebleeds… http://natessoutherngospelblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/nqc-2011-wednesday-night/

  15. Wade wrote:

    Keith…

    Often I promote & produce shows with multiple bands. Can chart their fader position and have MY SOUND TECH be the one responsible for the OPERATION as far as touching knobs & faders but each band can have some one in the booth giving feed back to the operator.

    Why could they not do a set up like this??? Cause it makes sense!!!???

    Any group has some one come in and work a board that is not familiar with it GETS what they DESERVE and has a fool for a sound tech.

    Have never saw shows where pros are actually supposed to be working sound and have so many dead mics…this has went on for years.

  16. Disagreeing wrote:

    I must disagree with you’re Paul Journey’s comment. I can easily hear why you would like their tenor. He has quite the sweet lisp. But his tone is inconsistent, and yes, his pitches, along with the rest of the group is horrible. This group did not belong on the Main Stage!

  17. Charles Brady wrote:

    Running live sound is like playing golf… anybody can own a set of clubs and everyone has good days and bad days/months ( ask T Woods )… That said if the front of house guys mix (for the groups in ear system) was as bad as some house mixes they’d be out of a job…. The bigger the venue the more challenging the mixing becomes. For best results always get tickets near the soundboard!

  18. Kevin A. wrote:

    I hate to say this but I think NQC is sure to end within my life time. I’m also not a fan of so much bluegrass. A little goes a long way. It would have been incredible to see the Imperials on the mainstage. Terry Blackwood has one and Armond has another. One surely could have found a day to come perform if invited. I’d like to see the Nelons as well. Just lackluster as a whole on Wednesday.

  19. Bones wrote:

    #18 Those days are over, and NQC board is helping to kill it.

  20. Shirley wrote:

    I have to say that I agree with the comment about Jason Crabb’s band. I have never heard a group of players that can create “feel” like these 3 people can. Most drummers as good as Jason’s would overplay to prove it. But this young man follows the singer expertly as does the pianist and bass player. They are truly the perfect compliment to a voice like Jason’s whose emotion and texture creates magic. They know when to play and when not to play. They should be required “watching” for any musician in several genres of music.

  21. mixer wrote:

    Sound: Whoever hires the sound company should be fired. Having been with a group at NQC, I was unable to have any input to my group’s mix. Often times parts jump around so much in this genre, me trying to tell another engineer a different vocal to feature every 3 bars, doesn’t work. Large venue sound doesn’t have to be difficult if you hire the correct company. More money needs to spent in this area or NQC should be moved to a smaller venue. Most likely the “jump” in sound from one group to the next is a “missed” preset or the overuse of stacks by the other groups. I’d love to grab the reigns for a year.

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