One thing has become increasingly clear the last few days - the crowds definitely get bigger as the week comes to a close. It's getting harder to find a seat in Freedom Hall, and my parking space is getting further and further from the building.
I actually spent the first part of today packing. My plan is to get up at 6am tomorrow morning, and I know it will be a late night, so I wanted to get most stuff ready today.
The first NQC event I hit was the Songwriter's Showcase, hosted by Phil Cross. I'd been looking forward to this all week. It's actually the first thing I marked on my schedule on Monday. And here's my one and only real complaint about NQC: The Songwriter's Showcase is way too short! It's only an hour, and by the time each writer told their story and sang their song, the time flew by too quickly.
I arrived a few minutes late due to my long hunt for decent parking, but I got there just in time to hear this year's Song of the Year, "I Have Not Forgotten". Love this song! Next followed a great line-up of writers and their stories. Rodney Griffin talked about why he chooses to write in pictures versus ideas. We heard the story behind the Dove Brothers' hit, "I Can Pray". I didn't catch the name of the writer, but he talked about being inspired by a sermon, something most Christian writers can relate to! Mark Bishop sang a great first-person account of Jonah. I loved it so much I went out and bought 3 of his CDs. We were also treated to Gerald Crabb singing his classic "Through the Fire". But the highlight for me was the fantastic ending - "Orphans of God". I've written several times about this song and how much it means to me. Phil introduced Joel as one of the heroes of Christian music, and "Orphans" as a defining song for this generation of the church. How excellent to see Joel and this song honoured in this way. The Talleys stepped up and did their version of the song. It was such an inspiring moment and everyone in the room could feel it. The entire audience stood to their feet halfway through the song! So awesome!
Next I wandered over to catch the last half of the Hoppers 50th Anniversary Celebration. All the Hopper brothers had flown in for the party, in addition to the regular Hopper family members. The string quartet was on stage as well. It was great to see the different combinations of the family, the brothers, the brothers joined by Connie, but I don't think it meant as much to me as it did to many people in the crowd. I've only known about the Hoppers for a few years, and I love what they do, but there were clearly life-long fans in the crowd. People sang along, and gave huge applause the moment they recognized the opening strains of their favourite songs.
There was so much going on today that I mostly just got pieces of things. I caught the end of today's Artist Spotlight Showcase, which was really good. On my first visit to Nashville, I saw Mercy's Mark at a River of Life fan concert. I really liked them then, and I think they're only getting better. Great performers and a really strong sound. I also got to see Paid in Full, who just won Horizon Group of the Year on Thursday. They sounded great, and they had a wonderful song called "What the Storm Does Not Know".
Next I stayed for the Regional Artist Showcase, and especially to see my friends, The Stutzman Family. They sounded great, and they did something really cool by singing shapenotes! They did a convention song, and when they hit the second verse, they broke out in syllables. It was really good, and the audience loved it. I also got to hear the Johnson Quartet, a group from Ontario. I spoke to them after, and they hold annual events, so I may get to join them some time. There's actually been a number of groups here from Canada, and I've tried to meet all of them. I saw a family today with 2 little boys wearing Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys. I chased them down to say Hi, and they told me they've been coming to NQC for 6 years as music fans. Awesome!
The other group I loved at the Regional showcase was the Johnson Family (as opposed to the Johnson Quartet). I was too far away to pick out who might be parents or kids, but there was one man on guitar and 4 women vocalists. They didn't use any tracks, just their beautiful harmonies and the guitar. Such a gorgeous sound!
I had every intention of seeing the closing night concert tonight, but I didn't get over there once. There was just too much I wanted to do. I bought CDs, and introduced myself to several people I wanted to meet. I spent time helping friends strike their booths. I had great conversations with friends, and talked about possibilities of concerts with other Stamps-Baxter alumni. I think I may have gotten myself a part-time job (yay!). I met several people who read my blog, which was just really wild. I met a radio host from New Brunswick! How awesome is that? I also spent time talking to Allison and Brian Speer. They have something very interesting in the works. I don't know if I can talk about it yet, but when I can, I'll talk about it for sure. It's going to be very cool, and I think it's something that's very needed in the industry. I didn't get to see the concerts tonight, but I can't think of a better way I could have spent the evening.
A friend asked tonight if I think I accomplished my goals here at my first NQC. I believe I have, and here's why:
#1. I wanted to see groups that I'd only ever read about in Singing News or seen on TV. I actually saw 24 of them! And that's just the main stage acts and not the countless great performers I saw during the daytime showcases.
#2. I wanted to see friends. Not only did I run into a tonne of people from Stamps-Baxter, but I also made several new friends. Not just hello-in-passing friends, but people I think will actually become genuine friends.
#3. I wanted to research how the booths and showcases work so that I can participate next year. Wow! I can't even tell you all the things I learned in this area. Everything from how to decorate your booth to what kind of song to sing in the showcase. My favourite tip was to bring great shoes for the stage, but keep a pair of flip-flops in your booth for the hours of standing on the concrete floor.
#4. I went to participate in the Blogger's Roundtable. I think the greatest value of this event was building community. Since Thursday, I've started regularly reading the writings of my fellow bloggers. I think blogging has the potential to give a lot to the SG community, and I'm really excited about being a part of that movement.
I was invited into many conversations this week about the standards and future of the SG industry, partly because I'm new to the industry, but mostly because it's on everybody's mind. The people I met this week love, and I actually mean LOVE, gospel music. But it's a niche market, and the fear is that niche will shrink. But there's this whole new generation of people in the industry ready to fight that possibility, and I think the next few years may just be an exciting time in the world of Southern Gospel.
I'm a little tired, and I can't wait to get home to Gerald and the puppies, but I'm so glad I did this. I'm walking away inspired - to write, to sing, to minister and mostly to raise my own standard of excellence! Can't wait for Monday to come so I can start working on all my new ideas...