Southern Gospel in Red Deer

Last Saturday I had a chance to expand my knowledge.  Friends had extra tickets and invited me to spend the day with them at a Southern Gospel Music Convention at the Westerner.

This is not a genre that I normally listen to but the folks that asked me are “special,”  it was Saturday, and the venue was a five minute walk away, so I accepted their generous invitation – to the morning chapel, the afternoon showcase, and the evening extravaganza.

The evening show was a smorgasbord of  music groups and went from six until eleven p.m.  I discovered that the classic form of Southern Gospel Music was embodied by a male quartet, attired, somewhat to my surprise,  in conservative suits, white shirts and ties.  Button up that suit coat, and don’t put your hands in your pockets!  A typical music set included one slightly jazzed up classic hymn, one hand-clapping crowd-rouser variant of “I’ll Fly Away,”  a thoughtful piece centered  on the death of Christ, and one or two other songs defining the group’s distinctives but staying within a narrow range.  Patter included news about upcoming releases or projected tours, gentle jokes,  members joshing one another, and some references to faith. Accompaniment was heavy on piano, with a sprinkle of drums,  saxophones and even a harmonica.  I don’t remember guitars being a feature at all.

I enjoyed the music well enough, especially in live performance, but didn’t rush out to buy CD’s.

I think I was just as interested in the audience and it’s interaction with the musicians.  It was, I would estimate composed almost entirely of white, card-carrying Christians  aged fifty-five  and over with a mere smear sprinkle of grandchildren and occasional exception to prove the rule. These were aficionados.  Appreciation was shown by many, many, many, partial and full, standing ovations.  Clapping was reserved for audience participation and occasional lukewarm receptions.

At the intermission a lady was introduced to me as- a Real Southern Gospel Groupie, who knows all the scoop.  Cool- I was already functioning in anthropologist mode. Long live participant-observation and all that.

I asked her for her favourite groups. Booth Brothers and Triumphant both ranked high.

I also asked her, “What makes a good group?” I was expecting her to say something about vocal qualities,  harmony, style, lyrics.  However both she and my friend immediately agreed. ” A good group has something to talk to you about when you go to visit them at their tables in the display area.  They share their lives, and their conversation is real.”

We discussed the Hunter Family, a top Canadian contribution to this basically American scene- parents and five sons ranging from seventeen to their late twenties, fresh  from the Saskatchewan farm.  While appreciating why my friends ranked the “Booth Brothers” and “Triumphant” high I must admit I was rooting for the Hunters.  I approved their  Hockey Jerseys, blue jeans, and Monty Python skit.  I liked  the way their presentation departed from the standard. I warmed to their Canadian take.

I noticed that the Canadian groups were somehow not quite part of the club.  They didn’t come from Nashville or attend Southern Baptist churches. After the last set, when members of various bands had come up the group on stage to jam with  the final crowd-rouser one specifically made a point of  inviting “the Canadian groups” to come up and join them.  That invite seemed telling to me.

The Groupie I’d been introduced to said,  “I believe the Hunters are breaking up after this year. The boys want to branch out on their own and change their music style. They feel that here they are preaching to the converted and not reaching out to youth who don’t know Jesus.”  Couldn’t have put my reactions better.   If this convention was typical of the Canadian scene,  it would appear to be a music style  passionately followed by it’s aging devotees but not attracting new ones.

As a contributor to the Hunter’s own web-site put it,  “Southern Gospel isn’t exactly what teen-agers are packing on their ipods.”

So, may my friends continue to be able to enjoy this niche music for their lifetime, and to add to their CD collections. May they  find genuine conversations at the booths, and be blessed for sharing their passion with me.  And may the Hunter lads find  a new avenue to do more than preach to the choir.  May their music find its way to many ipods.

p.s Just found this Ytube clip for those of you as uninformed as I.  The group was not at the venue but they exhibit many of the classic symptoms.

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3 Comments »

  1. Lila said

    And one of Magpie Brother’s favourite records was the Blackwood Brothers Quartet.

    I think we all went through a quartet era during the late sixties.

  2. adisasullivan said

    Ah- but this is no longer the late 60ties.

  3. adisasullivan said

    Though many listening are in their late 60ties

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