When should artists be at the product table?

When you go to a concert, do you expect to see artists before a concert, at intermission, or afterwards?

At intermission and afterwards are fairly standard practice. Before a concert is a little more complicated. Hovie Lister and the Statesmen would not stand at a product table before a show; they believed that there wouldn’t be the same excitement and aura around a live appearance if fans had been talking to the artists at the product table beforehand. There is also the issue of artists not wearing out their voices before concerts.

There’s a great case to be made for artists not manning product tables before concerts. But, on the other hand, enough artists do come out before concerts that artists who don’t would be wise to prepare accordingly. Perhaps a volunteer or a bus driver could man the table before the concert, or perhaps artists could place a cover over the product racks to signify to fans that the table will be closed until intermission.

(Hat tip to an anonymous artist for the post idea.)


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Songs from I Kings: God’s Grace is Sufficient


Each week, we will go through the books of the Bible, looking at a song that illustrates a passage from each book.

I Kings 18 recounts the story of one of the most epic showdowns in all of Scripture. Elijah challenged King Ahab for abandoning the God of his fathers, and arranged a showdown. He would go up against 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. Verses 21-24 describe the challenge:

And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.

Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.”

So all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.”

Nothing happened to the false prophets’ bull. Elijah then had his bull, on the altar, doused with twelve buckets of water. He called on God, and fire from Heaven fell to consume the burnt sacrifice; it also consumed the wood, the stones, the dust, and the water that was in a trench around the altar.

The children of Israel fell on their faces, calling out, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”

Greater Vision’s song “God’s Grace is Sufficient” recounts that story. Here’s a video of them singing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXqOmk8dfGE

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Andrew Utech leaves Dixie Echoes

Last July, when the Dixie Echoes hired Alex Utech as their new bass singer, they hired his twin brother Andrew as a musician and bus driver. Last night, Andrew announced that he was leaving the group. In a Facebook post, he commented:

“I just wanted everyone to know I am no longer with the Dixie Echoes. I’m going with the Interstate Quartet. For booking or information call 256-424-2751 or 256-599-2052. Thanks to all the fans that have been there for me. Come see me again; you can’t miss it.”

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Friday News Roundup #216

Worth Knowing

  • Gerald Wolfe has been undergoing physical therapy on his neck and shoulders. On medical advice, he has taken the last three weekends off from singing; Brian Alvey (Lauren Talley Alvey’s husband) has been filling in. Wolfe has been at each date, playing piano and emceeing. This setup with Alvey filling in on lead and Wolfe on piano is expected to continue for three more weeks.
  • Phil Cross’s father passed away on Wednesday evening; on the same day, his mother was hospitalized with extremely high blood pressure and concern about possible blood clots.
  • Primitive Quartet guitarist Mike Riddle suffered a severe injury to his left ring finger on Wednesday. His finger was broken in multiple places. He visited a surgeon on Thursday to discuss surgery options.
  • The Old Paths are recording a live DVD next Wednesday at Sagemont Church in Houston, Texas. The taping will be free and open to the public.
  • Daywind announced a date and location for a Nashville-area memorial service for their recently-deceased former A&R Director, Norman Holland. It will be from 1-3 PM on Monday, April 14th at Christ Church in Brentwood, TN.

Worth Reading

Yesterday’s discussion on radio chart speed prompted some thought-provoking letters to the editor.

From Josh:

I’ve been thinking about the difference between SG and other genres in other areas of the industry, but it has an effect here too. Its widely understood that a major difference between our industry and others is our motives.

In other genres, chart success is what drives their success on the road. If you don’t have a chart-topper, its very difficult to get your foot into the industry. In southern gospel, while chart success is important, I’m not convinced its what drives a group to continue on the road. If it does, maybe they should check why they are in this industry to begin with. Groups will (should) continue to travel if they don’t have a chart-topper. That’s not what this industry should be based on. The importance needs to be placed less on the chart-toppers and more on the lives saved.

Could the charting process be sped up? If its a core part of the industry and why groups continue to travel, go right ahead. But I won’t be hurt if it stays the way it is because I hope groups would realize that they don’t travel for chart-topping success or the royalties they could earn.

An excerpt from Kevin Kreuger’s letter:

If we look back in history from the 50′s, 60′s and in the 70′s, all formats (country, pop, etc) had songs that dominated the #1 position on the charts for months. Now that we’ve become the instant everything culture, we see songs rise and fall in a quicker manner. I think another thing that comes into play is that we have more ‘national’ groups than we did in prior decades. With more groups clammering for airplay, I see songs coming off charts sooner because we have to make room for the new addtions to the chart.

I like Absolutely Gospel’s weekly chart (disclosure: we are a reporting station to this chart) versus a monthly chart, but I believe the charts are for industry professionals. Nobody walks up to a product table and says, ‘well this CD has one number one song, a top ten song and a three top twenty songs, but that one had only one number one song and one top fourty song. I’ll take the first one’.


And, finally, an impressively lengthy one from Tony Watson:

I’m of the school that says the charts have much less impact today than they did 20 years ago. Honestly I subscribe to Singing News but I seldom ever look at the chart anymore and I don’t look at any other charts at all. I was in radio for a few years in the late 80′s-early 90′s so I looked at it then. Now with so much instant access to songs through websites, YouTube, iTunes, social media, etc. the need for charting is lessened for the consumer. It’s still a measure for the artist of what the buying public is listening to, but I think other factors have bit into that as well.

Services like Enlighten, iTunes Radio, Pandora, etc. have had a very positive effect in getting the music by the top groups “out there” more. Sure there are still some quality issues, but it’s still better quality than was demonstrated on much local gospel music radio before these were available. The push-back is this . . . artists are seeing that people are buying fewer and fewer CD’s. They either buy it on iTunes, with many just buying the songs they like, or due to the exposure with these web and satellite-based services, people don’t feel like they need to buy the CD’s/songs because they get to hear the top songs for free or for a monthly subscription.

While the artists do get royalties from services like Enlighten, the impression I’m getting from the artists is it’s many times a lesser return than they used to see from CD sales just a few years ago.

Getting back to the issue at hand, I see there being fewer “landmark” songs” today than 20 years ago. I think it’s partially because of increased exposure, partially because there are more groups who have a “national” platform than there were. The internet and it’s related venues like YouTube, social media, artist websites, e-mail lists and the like make it easier for folks to keep up with and interact with their favorite groups and really not be as interested in the industry as a whole. Used to be, Singing News was the lifeline of information – now the information is 2 months old when you receive it and it’s greater value is the behind the scenes stuff with the artists, their at home visits and the stories behind the songs. Still a great value, but much different than grabbing it out of the mailbox and seeing what song is #1 this month.

Some may argue that there are MORE landmark songs than 20 years ago, but I would disagree. I think you get some songs with “definition” for a group from time to time but I don’t think they, overall, have the lasting impact as “Midnight Cry” or “We Shall See Jesus” or “Learning to Lean” or “Touring that City” or other songs that are instantly identified with a particular group from days gone by.

It’s the same thing in the rest of society. There are many other options for music, for entertainment, for pretty much everything these days. Overall TV ratings are down for particular shows because there are so many other options for viewing. Shows come and go much quicker because networks will not stick with shows to let them breathe.

The same reality exists in gospel music. The most successful groups in recent days have had a simple formula – good songs, good people skills, believability and very little personnel turnover – period. I tell people all the time, the key to being successful in gospel music comes down to 2 words “stay there”. The problem is now, economic issues are going to swallow more and more up and those who are in debt up to their eyeballs are going to be tempted to do some unethical things to try and stay afloat (some already have) and that’s a tough place to be.

With that said, back to the issue at hand (I keep chasing my own rabbits), who can name the “landmark” song of more recent groups? It often comes down to the song you first heard them sing or the song you like the best or the song that ministers to you the best. I’m asking some hypothetical questions now because I don’t want this thread to become a list of people’s choices for “landmark” song, but what is the “Landmark” song of Triumphant Quartet? Crabb Family? Collingsworth Family? Whisnants? Mark Trammell Quartet? Booth Brothers? Greater Vision? Tribute Quartet? I’m thinking specifically off the top of my head of groups that have come to more prominence within the past 20 years, give or take. If we were to list them, we couldn’t likely come to a consensus of what those were in many cases. In some cases it’s a little clearer, to be sure.

To summarize, I’m of the opinion that radio still has much value, but the charting impact has lessened significantly in gospel music and I don’t see it coming back.

Worth Watching

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Are the charts too slow or too fast?

Prevailing wisdom can be interesting—especially when it is contradictory.

What does Southern Gospel radio need?

Quite a few fans will answer that radio needs a chart that moves faster. The Singing News’ monthly Radio Airplay chart is widely recognized as the industry standard. Right now, a #1 hit will often take 5-7 months climbing the chart to attain the top position. Other genres’ charts are updated weekly, so songs can climb charts in 6 weeks instead of 6 months. These fans will tell you that radio needs to cycle through singles more quickly to offer more fresh content to keep audiences’ attention.

(In point of fact, Singing News does offer a weekly radio airplay chart, here, but perhaps since it’s only visible to subscribers, it hasn’t developed into an industry standard. Other publications, like AbsolutelyGospel, also offer weekly charts, but no weekly chart has overtaken Singing News’ in terms of recognition.)

But keep asking that same question to others, and quite a few other fans will give you a contradictory response. Back in the good old days, when a song hit #1, it would often stay #1 for 3-6 months. Landmark songs would stay #1 for 9 months or more. So you would see fewer songs in the top 20, but you would hear them for long enough that you would certainly remember them by the time the next #1 came along. These fans would tell you that if truly landmark songs stayed #1 for longer, radio would be all the better for it.

So who is right?

Particularly insightful responses from each side will be considered for tomorrow’s “Letters to the Editor” column.


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Inspirations Announce 50th Anniversary Celebration

Earlier this week, The Inspirations announced that this year’s July Singing in the Smokies will feature a lineup filled with past Inspirations members. 

The weekend lineup includes Archie Watkins and Smoky Mountain Reunion, Daron Osborne and Evidence of Grace, Chris Smith (the One Man Quartet), Baron Laws (son of Jack Laws), The McKameys (featuring former Inspirations guitarist Roger Fortner), The Troy Burns Family, and Mike Holcomb. The Inspirations’ announcement added: “Other former Inspirations have been invited, so if it fits into their schedule, you never know who might show up!”

Other artists appearing include Squire Parsons, The Dixie Echoes, and The Kingsmen. 

Mike Holcomb will do a devotion each morning at 10:00 A.M.

As in previous years, the event will be an outdoor event held at Inspiration Park in Bryson City, North Carolina.

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The Craguns Announce Formation

From left to right: Nick Adams, Elena Cragun, Jordan Cragun, Ray Cragun

From left to right: Nick Adams, Elena Cragun, Jordan Cragun, Ray Cragun

This evening, former Liberty Quartet baritone Jordan Cragun announced the launch of his new group, The Craguns. He will be joined by his wife, soprano Elena Cragun; his father, bass singer Ray Cragun, and his cousin, tenor Nick Adams.

The family’s musical roots run deep, and aren’t limited to Cragun’s short but strong run as Liberty Quartet’s baritone. Ray Cragun, who has been a senior pastor for two decades, has built his own following as a member of various college and regional quartets. Jordan Cragun is also Kim Collingsworth’s nephew.

“We could not be more excited to unveil this new and unique group to the Gospel music world”, Jordan Cragun commented. “I’m so thankful for the prayers and support we have already received from so many. I know this is going to be an incredible journey!” 

The Craguns have launched a website with several full-song previews at www.thecraguns.com.

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Songs from II Samuel: Feasting At The Table of the King


Each week, we will go through the books of the Bible, looking at a song that illustrates a passage from each book.

The history books in the Old Testament are anything but dry and boring. Read them; time and again, you’ll find stories with rich parallels to New Testament themes.

II Samuel 9 is exactly such a story. After King Saul died, David ascended to the throne in his place. Now there was a practice in ancient Middle Eastern cultures that we sometimes still see today: When a king ascended to a throne, it was customary for him to kill all his enemies, especially any who might have designs on the throne. This often included any surviving male family members of the preceding king.

Yet when King David took the throne, he asked if Saul had any surviving family members, “that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan’s sake” (II Samuel 9:1, KJV). He had been close friends with Jonathan. He learned that Jonathan had a surviving son, Mephibosheth, who had been dropped as a baby and was crippled, lame in both feet. Mephibosheth was living in the land of “Lodebar,” which, translated, literally means “the land of nothing.”

So David took someone who would have been a natural enemy who, in the mind of the culture, deserved to be killed. Instead of killing him, though, he granted mercy, and invited him to spend the rest of his days eating at David’s own table.

God is holy. Inherent to the nature of holiness is to hate that which is unholy, sin. So while we were sinners, we were God’s enemies, as Romans 5:8-10 says: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”

While we were God’s enemies, living meaningless lives—in the “land of nothing”—He showed mercy to us. Not only did He grant us salvation and permit us to live, but He also brought us to feast at His table—both the Lord’s Supper here on this earth, and the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Here is songwriter Ricky Atkinson singing a song (also recorded by the Kingdom Heirs) that recounts this story:

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Friday News Roundup #215

Worth Knowing

  • Singing News posted the 2014 Fan Awards top ten nominees here.

Worth Reading

This week’s featured Letter to the Editor is from J.E. Butler. Commenting on yesterday’s post, Doing the Little Things, he shared some stories of his own:

My son will soon be 35. When I was probably his age – 26 years ago, I purchased for him one of the green bus/piggy banks from the Cathedrals’ table during a concert. My son wanted to meet the bass singer – and he was carrying the bus/piggy bank when we went to meet George Younce. Seeing the bus, Younce reached in his pocket and came out with a $5 bill and put it in the bus without saying a word about it. I saw him do it – but no one else did. Legacy…which I think makes the name Legacy V so perfect…

On a night that Gus Gaches was traveling with L5 but not yet a member, my sister purchased probably $100+ from the Booth Brothers. After she had made her purchase, she noticed a CD by their dad, Ron Booth. My sister told Ronnie how much she loved to hear his dad sing. He reached over, grabbed his dad’s CD, and dropped it in her bag. Steps to a legacy – and a life-long fan not only of Ron Booth, but Ronnie and Michael.

Worth Watching


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Doing the Little Things

Yesterday, I bought the new Gaither Vocal Band hymns CD at Wal-Mart. As I was checking out, the cashier, to my surprise, commented that she remembered when Larnelle Harris was with the group, and particularly enjoyed that lineup.

Then she told a story. Back in the mid-’90s, she was a security guard at a local mall. The mall didn’t like trucks parking in its lots overnight. So when she saw one, she was supposed to ask them to park somewhere else.


One night, she looked out into the parking lot and saw a bus. She went out to see it and saw a little sticker that said that the bus belonged to the Cathedral Quartet. She knocked on the door anyhow, and asked the bus driver if he could go to a nearby hotel instead. He said that he had already been there, and they didn’t have any vacancies.

The cashier told me, “I thought God would be mad with me if I didn’t let The Cathedrals get a good night’s sleep.” So she told the bus driver that she wouldn’t turn them in.

The point of this story isn’t whether or not the security guard made the right decision, and the point isn’t whether or not God would have been upset with a guard who asked them to park the bus somewhere else. The point is in what happened the next morning: The Cathedrals tracked down the security guard, thanked her for letting them get a good night’s sleep, and gave her complimentary tickets to their concert that night. 

Thanks to that little gesture, twenty years later, she is still telling people—even strangers—how gracious the Cathedrals were.

Why do the little things? Why go out of your way to be gracious to people who probably won’t do anything to advance your career? And why does it matter what a cashier at Wal-Mart thinks of you, fifteen years after your retirement?

That’s your legacy. 

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