Slouching toward Pigeon Forge

So the NQC post-mortems have rolled in, including reactions to the announcement of NQC’s 2014 move to Pigeon Forge, and the responses range from mixed to meh, it would seem.

As for this year’s convention, comments here reinforce what folks on the ground and near to the heart of the NQC mothership have indicated to me: that attendance was down again (perhaps as much as another 7% from last year, which must have been pretty demoralizing, since there were plenty of empty seats already) and the music was for the most part pretty uninspiring, despite an improvement in the sound system (hear the same canned music you’ve heard every other year … but even more clearly!).

So maybe a move makes sense. Shake things up etc.

But still … Perhaps it’s because I’ve never known NQC anywhere other than Louisville, but the relocation to Pigeon Forge deepens a sadness that’s laced my NQC experiences for a while now. Indeed, my first reaction to the move, after I gave it some thought, was that southern gospel is finally, belatedly and irrevocably acknowledging that the NQC is no longer a national event.

Sure, it’s probably not been one for a while now. And it’s not just NQC: southern gospel has been not-so-slowly falling apart under its own lassitude and being sold for regional scrap for lo these many years (an insight that I assume was uppermost in the minds of the Memphis Quartet show braintrust). But as long as NQC was anchored in a major southern city and housed in a space befitting the storied history of the event and the great tradition of the music itself (Freedom Hall is, like southern gospel, old and a little sprawled out, a bit frayed at the edges but able to contain multitudes all the same, even if these days it’s mostly empty seats and karaoke), it was still possible to suspend your disbelief for a few moments every year in September … close one eye, squint with the other and experience the great gettin’ up grandeur of gospel in its highest glory.

And now, in Pigeon Forge? I dunno. Of course I’m sure I’ll give things a shot at NQC’s new digs in Bird Crossing. That is, unless the convention center indeed turns out to be only floor seating, in which case, I refer to you the image below, which is not only a screen shot from the video recording of a major NQC showcase in one of the big wings at the Kentucky Fair and Expo Center - the Kingsmen Reunion back in the 90s - but also happens to capture pretty much the exact position and quality of view I had from my floor seat in row 800. This basically sums up my entire life experience with cavernous expo-hall concert venues. Pigeon Forge is not worth a floor seat.

But I digress: when I imagine telling my non-southern gospel friends that I’m going to the National Quartet Convention in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, I’m struck by a certain amount of self-discrediting implausibility that’s built into the very idea of anything truly national happening in place with such an obviously regional and culturally clannish name (not to mention the planes-trains-and-packmule ordeal it will be to get there for those of us who aren’t within driving distance). The NQC in Pigeon Forge sounds “national” in the way that breakfast is intercontinental at the International House of Pancakes. Why not just pack up and move everything to Possum Trot, Alabama, and complete the diminishment?

Ah well. Here among the shadows in a lonely land, we’re a band of pilgrims … slouching toward Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

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  1. SteveSmith wrote:

    Many of us felt that same sadness when the NQC moved from Nashville; but Louisville was a good choice for the first few years. I’ll give Pigeon Forge a chance before I decide on my future attendance at the NQC.

  2. Bones wrote:

    It’s not National. They don’t let the Quartets from Canada sing or the group in from Sweden. Not even any groups from Cal. It’s like us four and no more.

  3. Louise wrote:

    Thank you for mentioning my old home place,Possum Trot, Alabama. How do you know about it?

  4. SG is dying wrote:

    You can sing as long as you pay yo money! it may not be on the main stage but you can sing. Just get you a booth between all of the flea market stuff. you may be abe to get you some jewelry if you want some.

  5. Diana wrote:

    Hey, #2 - Bones, I know of at least one group from Canada (Torchmen) and one from Northern Ireland (Revelation) that were there (although not on Main Stage) and aren’t the King’s Heralds from California? They did sing on Main Stage this year instead of just having the a capella moments on the floor.

  6. NG wrote:

    Someone on another blog said Gerald Wolfe said it would be all floor seating but with a center stage for the audience of 12,000. I figure if the hall is square and you can have 60 seats on each side of the stage then there would be 50 rows of seats. If the hall is longer than wide than maybe there would be 40 rows on two sides and 65 rows on the other two sides. Maybe someone with knowlege of floor seating can offer a better projection and tell us in which row floor seating becomes really bad. Ignore the fact I’m short and floor seating can be bad in the 2nd row if I have a tall person in front of me.

  7. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    The room at the LeConte Center is projected to be a 300X355 feet rectangle. See:

    For comparison, the downstairs “bowl” area at Freedom Hall in Louisville is 136X310 feet with 136 being the width from the back of section 134 to the back of section 112 and 310 being the length from the back of section 101 to the back of section 123. See:

    A seat at the very back of the LeConte Center will be 177.5 feet from the center of the room. Because it’s a rectangular room, a seat in the back corner will be 231 feet from the stage (231 is roughly the square root of 150 squared plus 177.5 squared).

    A seat at the center back row of section 101 at Freedom Hall is 155 feet plus whatever amount of vertical footage is added due to the elevated seating.

  8. Lightkeeper wrote:

    As someone who has been to Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge many times and…… as a former grouptravel business who has taken groups to see Gaither’s Family Fest in Gatlinburg, I can see the positives and the negatives.


    1. There are many, many hotels, condos and cabins. (a much larger variety of accommodations) There are also more family-style accommodations for the SG groups.

    2. There are many restaurants and options for dining.

    3. There are a lot of entertainment options for children, middle-agers and senior citizens. Everything from outlet shopping to Dollywood to helicopter rides.

    4. It’s within driving distance for those in TN, NC, SC, GA & AL.


    1. Pigeon Forge has a LOT of traffic. This traffic can stretch from Sevierville to Gatlinburg. (Especially during busy times)

    2. Pigeon Forge, as many have said, is not necessarily the easiest place to travel to. It gives new meaning to “off the beaten path”.

    3. If the seating is all on one level, unless the auditorium has an incline, it could be really difficult to see the stage if someone from Jerseylicious sits in front of you! LOL

  9. NG wrote:

    Posting from another blog discussing floor seating: “If you’re not within the first 10 rows on the floor it is not worth it. I was in maybe the 40th row at an AC/DC concert and literally could not see the guys!! (I am 6′ 1″, btw).”

  10. Wade wrote:

    Dr. DH… you not gonna give a MORE detailed take the NQC!?!?!?

  11. weber wrote:

    The NQC Board of Directors have failed the fans and SGM:
    1. Failed to market to the youth to secure the growth & future of the biz.
    2. Attendence has been steadily declining for ten years.
    3. Politics and self-interest have been placed before the fans.
    4. The flea markets have come in to offset the loss of revenue in ticket sales.
    5. More and more key groups are not participating.
    Political analysis:
    At least four board members have groups which equals conflict of interest.
    At least four board members won fan awards this year( or their kin).
    The key board member lives very closet Pigeon Forge..
    Any questions?

  12. Ode wrote:

    That is “national”, Bones, my old son. Its like NFL, teams from one nation, under God, indivisible. Actually NQC is rather like Waffle house Or Cracker Barrel - an ,officially ,national chain of restaurants existing mainly in the South. A bunch of you goyim with different looking passports singing together in christian unity would be called International Conference. If you want Swiss misses,etc, that’s what you‘d need.

    What California? Read Singing News!They all liberal homogay communist kenyan muslims there.

  13. Michael wrote:

    Can anyone name the NQC Board of Directors.I think I know some but not all.

  14. Copperhill wrote:

    # 13–Here’s my guess at the NCQ Board of Directors, based on attendees at the photos from the “signing of the steel” ceremony (for LeConte Center) p in Pigeon Forge the week after NQC are : Gerald Wolfe, Mark Trammel, Steve French, Claude Hopper, , Dwayne Burke and Les Beasley. Also Scott Fowler and Jim Brady.

  15. Spirit wrote:

    NQC is as National as it gets.Actually, national embarrassment.

  16. Wade wrote:

    Who has a meaningful written take on the NQC this year!!?!?!?

    Want MEANINGFUL… not this group had a GOOD SET and/or BAD SET!!! For whom ever it was that thought I was talking about them… I had never heard of the guy… it was somebody else trying to be a good reviewer and trying to sound INSIDE and SECULAR!! I don’t remember that person either.

    If somebody could point me in the right direction I would appreciate it!!!

    It is OK if they wear rose colored glasses. I can sniff that out and adjust pretty quickly!!!

  17. happy juice wrote:

    Lay me off, Wade, buddy, at least for a short while or I just might kill the rest of your brain cells. Just put me down and have some coffee.

  18. bob wrote:

    Why did Owens leave EHSS. Sounds like another personality conflict.

  19. Wade wrote:

    Lotsa Bass singers moving around with no explanation!!

    I can’t imagine some one having a personality conflict with EH&SS… well as long as you did exactly what EH wants!!

  20. irishlad wrote:

    Paul Harkey seems to be a bit of a no nonsense macho man..first hissy fit from Ernest and you won’t see Mr Harkey for dust. I’d give this particular marriage less than a year :-/

  21. Scooter wrote:

    Yes, as long as you do exactly what EH wants

  22. Blake Edmondson wrote:

    Louise, I grew up around Possum Trot, Alabama too. Great name for a community. Haha

  23. Wade wrote:

    Scooter & irishdude… Great Minds think alike!!!

  24. The Art Coach wrote:

    @20 and @21
    His group, his rules.

  25. quartet-man wrote:

    #24 - I agree. As a boss and owner, he is responsible for running the group and has the power to do so. Now, this isn’t about Ernie necessarily as I have no idea what a boss he is. However, bosses can be overbearing and micromanage and although that is their right, they usually don’t get good results or keep people long. Also, when there is a partnership (as there might have been when Garry was in there), there is give and take.

  26. MelodyThomas wrote:

    Hey, Ernie must be somewhat of an ok boss, I mean DOUG ANDERSON has stayed around and I meet him once - he doesnt seem like the kind that would put up with any crap.

  27. quartet-man wrote:

    I thought about Doug being there the whole time and Tim was there a good while. Pretty much, as far as my post, I was talking in generalities about the principals of being a boss, having authority, and how different people should or should not handle things. :)

  28. Sister Act Fan wrote:

    # 20 Ernie is one of the nicest persons in the industry.Why don’t YOU try handling 3 naughty boys, then talk.They smell!
    He is the singer for THE LORD and he preeches SALVATION! You are just jealous. Pitiful. this site only likes gays and lesban. lol

  29. Wade wrote:

    Sister Act Fan… have you ever promoted a concert where he performed????… it’s LOTS different than the EH you may see at a merch table!! BELIEVE ME!!!

  30. truthseeker wrote:

    #20, 21, 23: you guys have it so right. I have heard from someone very deep in the industry that Ernie is a nightmare. Ryan left because Ernie was flat out cruel. I have heard first hand how Ernie can be and yes, Doug has been there for a long time but maybe that is just because Ernie likes him. Heck, he can’t fire everyone…or should I say “drive away everyone.”

  31. RK wrote:

    For fans on the western side of prime SG territory (Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas), this makes NQC a much more inconvenient event to attend. In either Louisville or Nashville, you have a more central location, major north-south-east-west interstates converging, major airport service, and ample space for a major event. Even Knoxville doesn’t have the airline and flight options of Louisville or Nashville, and then you’re either saddled with renting a car and driving to Pigeon Forge or taking some sort of shuttle and being without local transportation.

    It sounds to me like they are shoe-horning a larger event into this new facility than it is designed to hold, with flat floor seating and exhibits crammed into every hallway, breakout room and nook and cranny they can find. Maybe they are planning for the future decline and shrinkage of the event or simply could no longer afford to meet the terms of a major metropolitan facility.

  32. Larry Ferguson wrote:

    I think that having the NQC move to Pigeon Forge will actually save the organization. That area seems to be the capitol of all things Southern Gospel. Nearly every night there is a gospel singing in that area somewhere.

    The hotels will be easier to book. More SG attractions like the Hall Of Fame and Tony Gore’s place.

    But it will probably go over better with families because the kids and younger folks can have other things to do in the day time.

    I personally think that in Louisville or any major city it wouldn’t survive much longer, not because of the location as much of the fact that we have no major sueprstars of Gospel. It will be offensive to some but when Dottie Rambo, Vestal, JD, Jake, George Younce, and the likes of those died the next generations haven’t had that star power. It’s poor management, poor tv experience, radio experience/availability. It’s just dieing.

  33. judykins wrote:

    All I can say is this was my first time at NQC. It was awesome. It was crowded. One time I ended up in the nosebleed section and viewed from the big screen and it was still awesome. Flat seating wouldn’t work this past week, so how can it work in a year. Oh I know, because a lot of folks can’t get there. What a shame. So glad I got to experience Louisville. Loved every single minute of the concerts, concessions and meeting the artists in the exhibit hall.

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