Last year this time, I was writing about the Southern Gospel GMA Week showcase. This year, instead of a traditional showcase, they decided to use the night to host the 4th annual SGMG Harmony Honors. The awards were described as being "objective" in that there is no balloting or nomination process. Instead, the awards are given to artists who, over the past year, have won a number of industry awards and/or have had top sales of product and digital downloads. Other than the top ten songs of the year, there were no real categories that I could see.
In the Southern Gospel realm, this was definitely a star-studded night. I sat up front in the industry section, and many major artists were there. Some received awards, some performed and some were just cheering on friends. Doyle Lawson gave one of my favourite acceptance speeches of the night. I guess he receives some criticism for playing both secular and gospel bluegrass music. He pointed out something that I've always stated: If you sing a gospel song in a secular environment, that might be the only Gospel some people ever hear. He said this is how God called him to minister, and until God tells him otherwise, this is what he's going to do. Amen!
In his speech, choral genius Lari Goss remarked that Southern Gospel is so unique because it's lots of fun, yet it deals with serious theological themes like the cross and the blood. It's sometimes hard to define Southern Gospel to people who've never heard it, so I think I'll be adding this point to the description from now on.
But the best part of the night was, of course, the live performances. The show opened strongly with Jeff and Sheri Easter, now with their daughter Morgan filling Charlotte Ritchie's position. Tribute Quartet came next, and they were fantastic. Great song and great stage presence. Austins Bridge definitely fits into that "progressive Southern" category. They're just crazy talented and great stage performers. Actually, one of the things I really appreciated about tonight was that all kinds of Southern were presented, and not just the quartets (not that there's anything wrong with a great quartet!). The Crabb Family and Lillie Knauls both did traditional gospel, and the Isaacs did their own unique blend of bluegrass and Southern. They are just so great live!
Mike and Kelly Bowling and Brian Free and Assurance provided lots of big singing and great harmony. Three Bridges win the award for Most Physical Performance of the night as the lead singer took a flying leap off the stage to shake hands with audience members. I just love them! Gordon Mote sang the beautiful "Wake Up Dancing", which was intimate and moving. The show ended with Karen Peck and New River singing "Last Night", which is definitely one of my favourite songs of last year. So good!
After the show I got the chat to visit with a bunch of friends. You know, at last year's showcase, I think I saw two people I knew. Tonight, I didn't even get a chance to speak to everyone I knew. That just feels to wonderful to me. This has been a great week. I'm really looking forward to a day off when I can sit with all the things I've learned, email all the people I've met, download all the songs I've heard...maybe that's not really a day off?