Friday, September 28, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

Congratulation, Mom and Dad, on your 39th wedding anniversary!

Thanks for the inspiration!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cafe Forte

It's the first time I've been able to go to Cafe Forte in ages. Between Mom and Dad's visit, and then NQC, my Mondays have just had a different focus. CF has gotten away from having 2 different performers with a break for networking, and I don't know how well it's working for them. Tonight's feature was a guest speaker, and, unfortunately, there wasn't a great turnout.

James Gardner spoke about dealing with fear as an artist, and how you can release that fear through prayer. It was a good night, and several people stuck around after to receive private prayer.

For me, the real benefit of tonight was reconnecting with some great people! I truly believe in the mission of Cafe Forte and the desire to create a community to support and encourage Christian artists. It was great to see everyone and touch that energy again.

I'm really interested in bringing some of the Christian DIVAs here to Nashville for a few joint gigs. I spoke to the Cafe Forte organizers tonight about booking us for some time next year, and got the green light. Actually, here's what I got: "Of course. This place (Cafe Forte) is your home!"

For a homesick girl from Canada, these words were a blessing in my ear!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Gerald and his busy guitar...

I got a panicked call from Tara a few days ago asking if I played piano. Had to give a big "No" on that one. She explained that her accompanist had cancelled for a gig on Saturday, so I recommended my personal accompanist: Gerald!

Tara had been asked to lead the morning worship session for a prayer conference. She sent Gerald the charts for the singalong portion, and since Tara and I sing in the same key, it was easy to rehearse at home. We arrived at the church 7:30 AM (yes, as in Arg, Morning!) for a last minute run through.

It was a great time. Tara and Gerald sounded great together, and as the half hour progressed, the crowd rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and joined in the singing. Gerald also underscored the woman leading the prayers. She was a passionate speaker, and the whole thing was very powerful.

I often worry that churches down here will do things differently than I'm used to: people won't know the hymns I know, they'll pray differently, I'll be asked to speak in tongues, etc. But watching Tara today reminded me: This is something I know how to do. Okay, I've never spoken in tongues. But I can choose songs and lead worship. I know how to teach an 'unknown' song. And praying is just praying, even if we each use different words.

When we got home, we opened the mail box to see our Bluebird results letters! (We knew they were our results letters because I recognized my writing on the SASEs!) I didn't get in, but I'm okay with that. They're looking for 'songwriters', and I'm much more a performer. Also, I've heard they're not keen on Christian music. Don't know if that's true or not, but truth be told, Christian music is all I've got!

But Gerald got in! Whoo-hoo! I totally knew he would! He'll play 3 songs at their Sunday Songwriter Night. And here's the kicker: He's booked for June, 2008! Knowing Gerald, he'll have another 40 new songs by then. 2008! Mark it on your calendars!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

CWE starts a new season!

Since February, I've been loving my nights with CWE (Christian Women of Entertainment), so I was really excited about tonight. To remind, this is the night when a group of women gather in a non-smoking venue to share their original songs. I planned on doing a few Allison 'classics', but Gerald and I also worked up an arrangement of our newest co-write, "Fear Knocked, Faith Answered". This is the song we pitched to the Booth Brothers this summer. They didn't take it, but we won't judge them for that!

Kimberlee, the organizer of CWE, has been away all summer, so this is the first night we've had since the spring. We got to Edgehill early for soundcheck, but it took a while for people to arrive.

Well, at the risk of sounding negative, I saw some very unChristian behavior tonight. Kimberlee had booked a small but full line-up for the night, but as of 7:00, several girls hadn't even shown up. One new girl arrived, but when she saw the small crowd, she gathered up her group of friends, and left! Didn't even say, "Thanks, but no thanks". She just snuck out when she thought we weren't looking.

"Commitment" was the first big word I learned as a child, and I'm still shocked when people act this way.

Well, the joke was on them, because I honestly think that this was the best CWE night we've ever had. An impromptu program developed, including a few songs by Gerald - the first man to ever sing at a Christian WOMEN of Entertainment event! Most girls in the crowd could sing, so we had a night of spontaneous performances. Elayna borrowed Gerald's guitar, and sounded great. Kimberlee and Aricka sang acapella, and it was powerful. Amanda finished the night with a medley of praise choruses - no better way to end things!

What I loved about tonight was not just the range of gorgeous voices, but the truly generous spirit that filled the room. It was truly singing for God, and not for ourselves or our fame. I'm grateful that I found this group of women, and I can't wait til next month!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

CD update: Song pitch and a cool guest artist...

The hunt for great songs for my CD continued tonight. I've settled on several of my and Gerald's songs, I have a great one from Daryl Williams, and a few classic Lee Roy Abernathy tunes. But I have a few spots that I still can't finalize. I need to keep in mind that these songs will not only represent me and my ministry, but they will also be the backbone of all my concerts, at least til I make a second CD like this.

I asked Joel Lindsey if he had any extra songs he'd be willing to pitch to an indie artist, and being a generous soul, he said Yes!

But here's the really cool part: Instead of just sending a disc, we met at Brentwood-Benson publishing, and had an in-person pitch session! How awesome is that?

I told Joel what I wanted, and played him a few of the already chosen songs. We then listened to at least a dozen demos. They were all great, but not necessarily a good fit for my voice and what I need for the album. I took 7 songs home with me, but there's 2 in particular that are jumping out at me. One is lyrical and I can totally hear Monika on the harmonies.

Oh, here's the other uber-cool thing about the CD: Monika is flying down to Nashville to record harmonies for me! What a complete dream come true! We've been singing together forever, and it just makes so much sense to have her on this project. Now, we just have to pray that I can get my vocals done in time for her trip!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bluebird Auditions

I awoke to total darkness this morning, and by the time I got in my car, the sky was a blazing pink sunrise. I will never become a morning person, but I will admit that this morning was a treat. Newfoundland is my favourite place to drive, but Kentucky at 7 am is a close second.

I was, of course, late getting to sleep after the last night of NQC, so I got up this morning after only 4 hours sleep. But I had to get back to Nashville for our Bluebird auditions. Passing the audition will get us each a spot in the Sunday writer's night. We've been well-warned that most people have to audition more than once before getting accepted, but Gerald and I are so used to auditioning that we know not to take it personally.

In order to get the audition, we spent an hour on 3 phones, trying to get through to the Bluebird on 'call in' day. We were told the auditions were Sunday the 16th at 10:30am. A letter arrived a few days later with a full page of single-spaced instructions for the audition. The biggest detail was that we couldn't perform a full song - just a verse and a chorus, one minute in total.

I knew I'd need to pick something I can play in my sleep, given that I might be half-asleep by the time I got to the audition.

We arrived at 10:25 to see a huge line-up stretching down the block outside the Bluebird. We ended up being #75 and #76. There were too many people to fit in the club at one time, so we ended up waiting outside for the first 2 hours. That was actually one of the best parts of the audition. We got to chat with lots of people, and Gerald met a potential co-writer.

Finally, the gates opened and we were allowed to sit indoors. Imagine a room full of nervous people, each one with a guitar on their lap. The rules were reiterated for us newbies, and the auditions continued. Everyone was okay, but some people were really good. Some interesting songs (or half songs!), and some great performances.

Gerald sang his song, "All Day Long", which I just love, and he always sounds so authentic when he sings it. I did "Wedding at Cana". I think it sounded good, but I also perfomed really well and make the audience laugh, so that was very satisfying. Overall, I think we represented ourselves well.

Now we just get to sit around and wait for a Pass or Fail letter. Oh yes, and we had to bring a SASE so that they can send us our letters. Crazy, huh?

In the meantime, I'm taking a few hours to rest tomorrow, and then I'm full-swing into the CD preparation. I just feel so inspired after NQC, and I don't want to lose a bit of that energy!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

NQC - Day 6 - Final Day!

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...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

NQC - Day 5

It is 3:35AM Kentucky time as I start to write this blog. Please excuse all typos and weird things that may get typed here tonight!

I was encouraged to attend the Celebrity Softball Game this morning, but mornings don't seem to exist for me here at NQC. I did need some sleep, but I also had some annoying hotel issues that took up time. We're staying in an extended stay hotel which rents by the week. It's super cheap, which is great, but I've never had so much paper-work to stay in a hotel. Also, they're not open Sunday (cause apparently people don't need to check in or check out on Sundays), and - honest truth - they don't provide toilet paper. Thank goodness for neighbours who visit Walmart!

But NQC itself was pretty awesome today. I started with the Artist Spotlight Showcase that featured some great family groups. I'd heard great things about the Browns, and they stood up to the buzz. It's a Mom and four children, which is a nice combo. They started an uptempo song in harmony, but things got really cool when all the kids stepped away from the mics and pulled out their fiddles. Then they started trick fiddling - behind the back, playing another person's fiddle with your bow, 2 people playing the same fiddle with 2 bows - and the crowd just went nuts. I had a terrible spot in the room, yet I was still completely entertained.

I really went there to hear the Daryl Williams Trio, whom I just love. (Daryl is my Stamps-Baxter songwriting teacher, and Gerald's newest co-writer). The trio was incredible, and the crowd just ate them up, giving them a standing O on both of their songs.

My first year at Stamps, we were treated to choral nights with Mike Speck. Well, each year at NQC, Mike runs the Choral Extravaganza. I'd heard great things about it, and being a choirgirl myself, I couldn't wait to check it out. I went in with high expectations, and I wasn't disappointed. The event was held in the enormous Freedom Hall, and as we went in, we had the option of buying the music so we could sing along. Obviously, I bought the music! It was general seating, so I sat near the front in the middle so I could feel like I was in the middle of the sound.

Mike is a crazy-dynamic person with a love of choral and corporate singing. On stage, we had Mike's trio The Specks, Greater Vision, Stan Whitmire on piano, and a 60-plus voice choir made up of choirs from several churches. We opened with a medley of favourite hymns, focusing on today's theme of Heaven. Next we sang the songs in the packet, and it was so awesome! I love sight-reading, and I don't get many opportunities to do it, so this was just a thrill for me. The songs were great, and the arrangements were fantastic, with lots of key changes and full chords.

The choir did one song by themselves called "I Am Redeemed", a large and powerful ballad. But here's the cool part: Just as they broke into the final chorus, the part that would give you goosebumps anyway, right on the downbeat, the entire choir held up individual signs saying "Redeemed, 1975", or whatever date it was that they got saved. They held the signs right up over their heads, singing their hearts out. The entire audience rose to their feet as one. It was incredible! We then continued to sing the new songs as a group. Imagine over a thousand people, gathered together to sight-read new music. First with that awesome choir up front, but also with the guy behind me singing tenor, and an alto 2 seats over. So wonderful! I will definitely say that this event was one of the best of the week.

I tried to hear my Stamps' friends, the Stutzman Family in the Regional Artist Showcase, but they ran out of time and several people have to go tomorrow. Frustrating, but I'll go back to see them. The rest of the showcase was good, with great special appearances by the King's Heralds, Karen Peck and New River, and Palmetto State Quartet (my first time hearing them). Actually, I visited the Stutzman's booth today because they were giving out free massages! They'd brought in 2 registered massage therapists to give free back and shoulder massages to anyone who wanted them. Always happy to support a friend in their ministry!

I continued to visit with people, but I also rushed to get over to the show tonight. First, let me make this observation on the main stage show: What was up with the Christian bootlegging tonight? In my area alone, I saw several audience members with small recording devices in their laps. One guy had an actual old-school (read: large and obvious) cassette tape recorder. Maybe I just assume that audience's know that you can't record a show? My first job was as a theatre usher, and I couldn't believe the ushers did nothing tonight. I could definitely preach about this subject, but I won't, but I just had to say something about it. So rude!

First let me say that tonight's show promised the best line-up so far this week, and everyone lived up to the excitement. I arrived just in time to hear the end of the Specks song, and it sounded wonderful. Next came the Kingsmen, who started with a beautiful acapella number. We then had a surprise performance by solo pianist, Dino, who was plugging the Pianorama tomorrow afternoon. He chose a great song, but his strength is definitely in his amazing showmanship. Think Liberace-plays-for-Jesus!

Poet Voices had trouble with their tracks on their first song, but they finished strong and had the entire crowd on its feet. The Talleys did a great set, including a guest performance by Connie Hopper. Such a great match of talents. Hope's Call is a trio I first heard at GMA Week this spring. They opened with an acapella arrangement of How Great Thou Art. Not my favourite song, but I could listen to them sing it all day long. Killer arrangement and execution!

(That reminds me: I have so many CDs to buy tomorrow!)

The Hoppers were, of course, excellent, but they did something really special tonight. They had The Jackson Sisters, a string quartet, join them on stage. Such an elegant touch! But all this was building into something really special: The 50th Anniversary Celebration! This was a 45-minute show within the show. (How very Shakespearean!) They had lots of vintage video clips from past years of the NQC main stage. Then they had some great live performances by artists who were there from the beginning: The Weatherfords, Ben (who was fantastic!) and the Melody Boys (featuring my friend, Scott!). They finished with a we'll-carry-on type song (sorry, I can't remember the title!). The Talleys took the lead, and for the final choruses, they were joined by the younger generation of gospel singers, like The Booth Brothers, Karen Peck and New River, Kim and Dean Hopper, Hope's Call, and some others (it was all dark and they were only holding candles, so I couldn't pick out everyone.)

Next came one of the best sets of the night: Mark Lowrey. Seriously! He was joined by the quartet, Lordsong, who were fantastic. Just before Mark came out, they played a vintage video of him singing on the Gospel Jubilee when he was 14. So talented already, and he looked almost exactly the same as he does now. Mark was in great voice tonight, but more than that, he was in great spirit. He commented how thrilled he was to be on that stage without "Gaither" to get in his way. He also said my absolute-most-favourite comment of the night: "He'd (Jesus) rather be around authentic sinners than fake saints any day." I may not be quoting that quite exactly, but that's basically it, and I love it! Some people were a little uncomfortable with the comment, but I gave a big old witness when he said it!

Next came Ivan Parker, and it was a treat to finally hear him sing "Midnight Cry" live. The Florida Boys were great, and had musical-comedian Tim Lovelace up for a song. The Kingdom Heirs sang a great song, "The Rock's Between the Hard Place and You". Great hook! Greater Vision was wonderful, but the highlight was Gerald Wolfe singing "O Holy Night" as a solo. As we all know, I love Christmas music (although there's been a little too much of it here for me this week. I'm still in summer mode!), and I'm really picky about soloists taking on "O Holy Night". Well, Gerald was just incredible! Really, truly. I closed my eyes, and his voice was just fantastic. Great pitch, great tone, excellent phrasing, and a great spirit!

Gold City was wonderful, and I particularly loved it when they got around the piano and did a convention song. The night ended with Triumphant. I'd heard about this quartet, but again, I'd never seen them live. I missed a bit of their set due to a phone call, but they were just so good with strong harmonies and great songs.

The show ended at midnight, which seemed good to me, til I got the phone call about the midnight breakfast buffet over at the Embassy Inn. I joined up with the crowd, and we ate and laughed til we closed the place. So good, and so necessary - just having a great time and enjoying ourselves.

One more day. It's going to be a long one, because I need to get up early to pack. I don't quite know how I'll blog tomorrow. I've been writing at night, but I need to get up at 6:00AM to drive back to Nashville for our Bluebird auditions at 10:30. Crazy! But I will blog at some point, maybe Sunday, so please check back Sunday to see how it all plays out...

Friday, September 14, 2007

NQC - Day 4

Before coming here, I'd here about the late night stuff, but I thought they were kidding. Nope! I don't think I've made it to bed before 3am yet this week.

Today was fantastic, and long! I started by attending the Bluegrass Showcase, and I arrived just in time to see Primitive Quartet. When I saw them last night, I wasn't completely impressed, but I was today. I don't know if they were more relaxed or what, but they were really great, and the audience was clearly moved by their music. Throughout the showcase, they were also giving away the Front Porch Fellowship Awards, which are chosen by the fans, so that was neat. Set Apart was another group that was great. Tim Surrett was joined by Karen Peck and New River for a few songs, accompanied only by guitar and mandolin. They did a song written by Karen called "Daddy's Home", written just a few months after the death of her father. It was so emotion and moving - There were few dry eyes in the house. Janet Paschal made an appearance with Balsam Range, singing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". Her voice was beautifully suited to the haunting, acoustic arrangement. The showcase ended with a blast when Earl Scruggs paid a surprise visit. The crowd went nuts! When he started the opening notes of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", the audience rose to their feet so quickly, you would have thought he was playing the national anthem!

Next, at 2:00, came the widely anticipated Bloggers' Roundtable. I can't tell you how many people asked about this, and hoped it would be open to the public. We had a few official guests in the room, but the bloggers were: Paul Jackson, Daniel J. Mount, Aaron Swain, Adam Edwards, Chuck Peters, Doug Harrison (, Daniel Britt, Kyle Boering, Lottie Squires, Sue C. Smith, Joel Lindsey, David Murray, and me. Doug, the organizer, had sent us all the question, "What role should blogging play in the SG industry?" It's really too broad a question for such a short amount of time, but I thought some interesting things came up.

We were such a diverse group - artists, songwriters, radio djs, music critics, and general commentators - that when you put us all together, you actually get a near-complete view of the industry. We discussed how our blogs can get a much broader scope of info and opinions than you could ever get in an industry magazine. Is it appropriate to discuss an artist's personal life in your blog? Where do we draw that line between personal and professional information? There was some talk of what constitutes libel, and several people shared stories of threatening phone calls from lawyers. We also discussed the standard of music in the SG industry, and how blogs may help to raise that standard. All in all, it was a great 90 minutes, and I think the discussion could have gone on much longer.

I got out of the Roundtable just in time to see Tara sing in the Regional Artist Showcase. She was fantastic! Next, I decided to wander the booths and try to chat with people I know. I eventually hooked up with Tara and we decided to eat dinner in the food court, while we watched the Singing News Fan Awards. It would have been nice to see this in person, especially since I made a point to vote, but things were just too busy up til then, and it was nice to sit down for a meal. We sat with Brian from JOYFM and Phil Hughes from the Kingsmen. Great conversion, and great biscuits! (We had these crazy fried biscuits with cheese in them. I'm reminded of Gerald's line, "They deep-fry the air down here!")

We went over to see the last part of the ceremony, including the award for best group, awarded to The Booth Brothers. There's a little buzz because a 'trio' won Group of the Year at the 'Quartet' convention. Funny, huh? We went back to the exhibit hall at 8:30 for a Stamps-Baxter event at Ben's booth. All students and faculty attending NQC were invited to visit and be in a group photo.

(By the way, check out to see photos from the week. New photos are added each night.)

I spent the next few hours just chatting with Stamps-Baxter people, telling them about my upcoming CD, finding out about their lives. I finally headed over to Freedom Hall about 11:30, which still gave me over an hour's worth of show.

By the way, remember I wrote about the awesome vintage clips they've been showing throughout the shows? Well, last night, they showed Vestal Goodman - before she was either an alto or a Goodman! It was just fantastic! Tonight, I caught vintage Inspirations singing the now-Hopper hit "Shoutin' Time in Heaven". So great!

Legacy Five was performing when I arrived, and they were fantastic. Again, another new-to-me group. Greater Vision followed with a great set, setting the stage for an awesome and powerful performance from Mark Trammell Trio. Such a smooth and classy group. They started with an intimate song sung around the piano. Very beautiful. They used that great song, "Who Am I?" to transition with the Perry's, who nearly took the roof of the place with their performance. Libby Stuffle sings from the depths of her soul, and I just love that. They finished with a song by my friend, Joel Lindsey (and Wayne Haun), "I Wish I Could've Been There". (2005 Stamps-Baxter alumni will remember this song from our time with Mike Speck.) Loved it!

Great day. So tired I can barely see what I'm writing. Can't believe this week is almost done!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

NQC - Day 3

My goal tonight is be in bed at a reasonable time!

Today was really wonderful! It started with the Vintage Quartet Showcase. Of all the afternoon showcases, this definitely had the best turnout. It was standing room only! And you could see why - The line-up included quartets singing classic songs, with just piano accompaniment. I was a little late arriving (due to last night's lateness!), but I arrived in time to catch the Kingdom Heirs, who I later learned are the 'house quartet' at Dollywood. They also sang on tonight's main stage, and their powerful voices were a real treat. The Dove Brothers' harmonies made me think of dark chocolate - so rich and warm. Gold City couldn't make it due to illness, so Tribute Quartet filled in. This is a young group, but they have that classic sound, with a killer pianist who treated us to a solo rendition of "Goodbye, World, Goodbye". But my favourites were The Florida Boys. They got a standing ovation with every song, and not because of who they are, but because of how they sang. They were awesome! The soloists, including 79-year-old Les Beasley, were all terrific in voice and delivery. The harmonies were smooth and well-balanced, and the entire performance was relaxed and fun. They also performed tonight, and the good stuff just continued on.

In addition to the 12-hours-a-day of NQC sanctioned music, many record and management companies use this week to hold their own showcases in the hotels closest to the Expo Center. This afternoon, I attended one of these showcases to see Tara Jackson sing. Sponsored by Southern Spin Entertainment, and hosted by SGM Radio's Rob Patz, this showcase was a mix of trios, quartets, duos and soloists. The showcases are free, but they get a smaller audience because they are off site. Still, it was a great show with some solid talent. Sunday Edition is a family trio which, ironically enough, I actually saw 2 summers ago on my first trip to Nashville, when I attended the Fan Fair at River of Life Church. They sounded great today. They are managed by Tara and Kyle's company, so after the showcase, we were joined by singer-songwriter Jonathon White, and we all went to dinner together ... in Indiana! It's just on the other side of the Ohio River, but it was still funny to see those "Welcome to Indiana" signs.

Back to the showcase - Each act did 2 songs, and Tara totally nailed her's. I'd heard her recordings before, but it's always more satisfying to hear someone live. I'd heard of the group HisSong, but I'd never heard their music before. Wow! Incredible voices and great songs. It was a small audience in a hotel meeting room, but they made it into church. Just awesome! The final act was the (new) Imperials. They've gone back into the song vaults and chosen classic Imperials songs for their new album. It's getting a lot of buzz, and you can see why. The songs are great, and their delivery is terrific. Each voice is interesting and strong on its own, but then they have great blend too.

I decided to watch the entire 6-hour concert tonight. Jeff and Sherry Easter kicked things off, and they were great. They gave Charlotte Ritchie the stage for a song from her solo project, and she was fantastic. Such a clear and beautiful voice! Valor had to cancel for some reason, so we were treated to a solo number by Roy Webb. Such talent! The Hoppers performed next, and they were just awesome. They have a new song called "Yahweh" which follows Christ from birth to resurrection. It's a really neat melody, and a well executed song idea.

Did I write about the Hopper Express on Monday? This is brilliant - It's a very short walk from the exhibit hall to Freedom Hall, but some of the senior guests find the walk a little difficult. So, the Hoppers are running the Hopper Express. Each night, before the concert, you can get a ride in one of four golf carts, driven by the Hoppers, from hall to hall. Brilliant! Not only do fans get to meet the band, but they're filling a need too. I've heard that Claude Hopper is a great businessman, and this just proves it.

There were a few more new-for-me acts tonight. The Primitives are a 6-piece bluegrass group that I'd heard great things about, and their sound was a nice addition to the program. I was also looking forward to Gold City, and they didn't disappoint. They finished with a song called "Preach the Word", accompanied by a video celebrating people who dedicate their lives to spreading the Gospel. After Dad's retirement this year, this song hit very close to home!

I also got to see Brian Free and Assurance. I'd seen their Dove Awards performance, but this was a very different setting. These guys are huge, and you can see why. Amazing vocals and really great song choices. They are also great performers, managing to cover the whole stage and engage all sides of the in-the-round audience.

The Dixie Echoes were featured on the cover of Singing News this year, but again, I'd never heard their music before. They do traditional SG, and tonight they were accompanied only by piano and electric bass (and even that was just a song or 2). Here's the other cool thing - Instead of each singer holding his own mic, they just had 2 mics on stands. They would move around in different configurations, such as 2 singers per mic, or having a soloist on 1 mic and the other 3 singers on the other mic, or sometimes even having all 4 singers gathered around the 1 mic. They were so tight, yet so relaxed, and it was all very entertaining. The mics on stands also allowed them to clap, or hold a hymnal, or play the bass. They ended with Albert Brumley's "If We Never Meet Again", and it was great.

The Booth Brothers followed with a strong set. After singing "His Grace is Sufficient", they dropped the track and did a near acapella version of the last verse and chorus. (Roy would just add a little on the piano here and there.) It was such a treat to just hear those smooth, smooth harmonies without the blurring effect of the track.

We ended the night with the Whisnants (again, new-for-me) and the Greenes. As the show got near the end, a lot of the tour groups started to leave, and I felt just terrible for the artists. I mean, they left in droves! Within the last hour of the show, the audience dropped by half. And they missed some great singing! Most of the shows I've seen this week have ended big, but they went for something different tonight. They ended with worship. Both groups got up together and started a gentle hymn medley, reminding us that Jesus is the best friend we will ever have. They gave a bit of testimony, lead us in prayer, and then invited us to sing "Through It All". Such an intimate and powerful way to end the night. All week long, I'm hearing artists talking about putting God first. Tonight, the Whisnants and the Greenes did just that, and I'm convinced that lives were changed because of it.

Must get some rest tonight. Tomorrow: Blogger's Roundtable!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NQC - Day 2

Again, adjusting the time on this blog as it is wickedly late! Tara and I drove back to the hotel together tonight. She came to my room to use the internet, and we were soon joined by her husband, Kyle, and friend, Aaron Crisler (who I actually met because of this blog!). Before long, we had an internet-cafe-chatting-fellowshipping party going on! It was great, but it makes this time of writing very late indeed!

Today feels like it was three days long, and I mean that in the best kind of way.

I really wanted to see some of the afternoon showcases today, since I missed them all yesterday. The early part of the afternoon was the Artist Spotlight Showcase, hosted by singers and songwriters, Mark Bishop and Phil Cross. Because they are writers, there was a lot of respect given to performers of original songs, which I really liked. They were both great hosts, very funny and natural.

A couple of the groups really stood out for me. Driven is a male quartet with strong vocals and a dynamic stage presence. The Schaffers entered the stage and immediately set a tone of worship. They did a great SG arrangement of the praise and worship song, "Amazing Love". It was really beautiful. And we were also treated to Canada's Double Portion. I don't know where they're based, but this family group travels both countries, singing with their 8 children! Their sound was great, and they played their own instruments too. Paula Stefanovich, who wrote the Hoppers' "Jerusalem", performed 2 songs and just about brought the house down. She was excellent!

We were also treated to a preview of Thursday's "Bluegrass Pickin' Jamboree" by Tim Lovelace and Zane King. They launched into a 2-man jam session, with Tim on harmonica, Zane on steel guitar, and both taking turns on the piano. It was awesome, and in the past year, I've totally fallen in love with the sound of steel guitar! I need to find a way to incorporate it into my album...

At 3:00, I joined Tara for an invitation-only event - a Southern Gospel Music Guild (SGMG) Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony. Joe Moscheo was an Imperial back in the day when they sang with Elvis. He's dedicated his life to the SG industry, and all the heavy-hitters turned out to honour him today. It was a lovely event, with genuine speeches, and a real spirit of generosity in the air. But it was also just amazing to look around the room and see the assembled crowd: the president of GMA, the president of Daywind, all the heads of the NQC, top industry agents and managers, and legendary singers and musicians like Les Beasley, Claude Hopper, and Ben Speer. It was humbling and inspiring, all in one spin.

Oh, and they had chocolate-covered strawberries too! I'd like to request them for my next award ceremony, please!

Tara's husband was away today, so I spent a good part of the afternoon helping her at her booth. I'm learning so much just by meeting artists and other industry people. It's great to see how things work, and how I can best prepare myself to take this next step into the industry.

At 5:00, I attended the Regional Artist Showcase to hear my friend, Wess Adams, sing. A little Stamps-Baxter crowd gathered at the back of the room to cheer him on! He sounded great, and it was a wonderful showcase. The regional showcases focus on people who are developing a name in their local area, so help draw in a crowd, they also have featured guest artists. The King's Heralds (who sang that great acapella number last night) and the Booth Brothers sang today, and both were excellent.

Supper was a whole experience in and of itself! Tara and I visited the food-court, where they had huge screens and a live-feed of the main stage concert. We sat with Timi and Ken Barnes of Best Southern Gospel internet radio, and Ginger and Jonathon Bond of the group, Young Harmony. It was all very cool and fun, til Jonathon asked if we'd tried the deep-fried Snickers bars. Yes, my friends, you read that right: deep-fried Snickers bars.

I had not tried this treat, but I am always up for a chocolate adventure. Some people at the table seemed more apprehensive. Jonathon took up the challenge, and came back with a round of bars for the table. The bar is put on a stick, like a corn dog, then wrapped in funnel-cake batter, deep-fried, and rolled in icing sugar. The bar melts, the nuts stay crunchy, and the nougat-stuff just gets gooey good. It's awesome! And dangerous! I may have to indulge again before the week is out. I know Dad and Gerald would love them, so maybe I'll have one for Dad, one for Gerald...

I finally got to start looking at some of the booths tonight. There are a lot of artists, ranging from Gaither favourites to local indie groups and soloists. I got to say a quick hello to several Stamps-Baxter friends, like Daryl Williams, and the Stutzmans (who are offering free massages at their booth!). There are also booths from management companies, radio stations, bus sellers, booking agencies, and Christian book stores. Lots of things to buy, but also lots of things to learn about the industry.

Oh, and I forgot to mention this last night, but in the main show, the Booth Brothers were accompanied by Roy Webb, formerly of Signature Sound. I saw Roy's booth tonight, and it seems that he's starting a solo minstry. He's so talented, and I think he'll do very well.

At 8:30, I ran over to Freedom Hall to catch the Melody Boys in their main stage performance. If you'll remember from this year's singing school, my friend, Scott Baker, now sings with this group. (Scott is my "I've Just Seen Jesus" duet partner.) The group did something different by ditching the tracks for tonight, and just performing with piano accompaniment. Given the overblown backing tracks of some groups, this was a welcome and effective choice. The blend was great, and the group managed the in-the-round stage very nicely. And, of course, it was just so amazing to see a friend on the main stage of NQC!

I didn't get to see a lot of the show tonight, but what I saw was great. The Reggie Sadler Family consists of a mom, a daughter, and a crazy-excited dad. Their sound was fantastic, and their presentation was so spirit-filled and fun. I also saw the McKameys. Again, a group I'd read about and only ever seen on TV. They are an NQC favourite, and the crowd just went wild for them.

I also saw the Greenes, who were simply amazing! They sang a new song, "God is Singing Over Me". The song itself is awesome, and they really pulled it out on the vocals. Some SG acts will coast through the song, and then put everything into a big, high ending. It's sort of cheating to try and get a good audience reaction. The Greenes don't need to cheat. They were commited from the first note, and it just built into a vocally challenging and emotionally satisfying climax. I was so impressed!

After a while, I headed back to Tara and the booth, were we ran into Ken and Timi (from the Snicker bar incident). They were doing 'liners' for their radio station. Liners are when you're listening to the radio and you hear, "Hi y'all! I'm Allison Lynn and you're listening to 91.1 Jazz FM". They've been playing Tara's music, so they got her to do one, and then Tara said they should get me to do one too. I gently reminded her of my as-of-yet-unrecorded album, and they said, "Record it now, and then send us the CD when it's ready". So tonight, I did my first bit of radio promotion for my CD! We all had fun with it, and it got a little silly, but it was all still amazingly cool to be doing this kind of stuff. This CD gets more real by the day.

We wrapped up the night with a little more booth-scouting, meeting people, and just winding down. Of course, then we came back here and got all wound up again. But there's a lot I want to do tomorrow, but it's 3:14 AM as I'm finishing this post. Probably time to wind down again...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

NQC - Day 1

I'm here! I'm in Louisville, Kentucky, for the National Quartet Convention! Whoo-hoo! It is everything I though it would be and even more than I thought it would be!

(I first need to note that I'll be adjusting the "post time" on all my blogs this week. The night's activities don't end til midnight, and marking a blog as 1:00AM will mess up the dates. These are going to be late nights! Thankfully, most events don't start till noon.)

My drive up was pretty good. There was a lot of drizzle, and some nasty bits of rain, but nothing like yesterday's storms, so I'm glad I waited. My hotel is clean, safe and cheap, which is all I ask.

After a little time to rest from my drive, I drove over to the Kentucky Fair and Expo Center. I was given a parking pass by my friend, Wess Adams, so after parking, I entered the building. Okay, I'm about to confess it: I started geeking out! I was so excited! I couldn't believe I was finally at NQC! I saw booths set up through one door and heard people singing through another. I saw women with big hair, and, every once in a while, I'd see 2 or 3 men walking together wearing matching suits. Welcome to the land of Southern Gospel!

My invitation to Thursday's Bloggers' Roundtable also includes media credentials, so my first stop was the media room. My pass is quite snazzy, and gives me full access to all events. The only proviso is that I don't have a reserved seat for concerts. But the ushers are quick to point out empty seats, and if the owner arrives, you can just find another seat.

I picked up a program, which is full of colour ads from artists and record labels, and also has a little history of NQC. As I mentioned earlier, this is their 50th anniversary, so there are special events throughout the week.

I can't say I did a lot of organized stuff this afternoon - I was just in awe of being here! I visited Wess at his booth, which is sweetly set up to look like a rustic cabin. Right away, I started to run into people I know from Stamps-Baxter. I think this week will be an unofficial reunion. Then I found my friend Tara Jackson (who I met off Shoutlife) at her booth. We're actually neighbours at the hotel, so that's very cool.

Everywhere I looked in the exhibit hall, I could see people I know or people I admire or people I've read about but never met in person. I was just in awe of it all!

Each night, there are mainstage concerts in Freedom Hall, starting around 6pm and going til midnight. That's right, you thought Gaither concerts were long. 6-hour concerts each night! And there are other showcases running for another 6 hours in the afternoon. That's 12 hours of non-stop Southern Gospel music each day! I don't even have words to describe it. I will say, however, that this does lead to my one disappointment of NQC - I won't actually be able to do EVERYthing! I was hoping I could, but some things overlap, and at some point, I'll need to eat or go to the bathroom!

The goal of the evening concerts are to expose each audience to as many performers at possible. Tonight, the roster had 17 acts. The evenings contain only quartets, trios, and mixed groups, and people do anywhere from 1-4 songs. Ivan Parker is the only solo performance all week. Soloists seem to be listed for the afternoon showcases.

4 times thoughout the night, they showed vintage, 1-song videos of classic SG groups from their very early days. We saw black and white footage of the Cathedrals, the Statesmen, the Happy Goodmans, and the Speer Family. It was awesome! Because I didn't grow up with this music, I don't have that first-, or even secondhand, knowledge of the history. I've read a little, but I never saw any of these performers as I was growing. Watching a young Jake Hess or Glen Payne, well, let's just say, it's easy to see what all the fuss was about!

Unless you're a Gaither artist doing the Gaither tours, most SG artists rarely come to Canada, and almost never come to Toronto. Part of my excitment in coming here was to see all the groups I've seen on TV or read about in Singing News. Tonight, I saw 10 of those groups!

I had high expectations for the Perrys, the Talleys, and Greater Vision. They were all excellent, mixing good songs with great stage presence. The Talleys sang a wonderful new song called "The Broken Ones", which I really appreciated. Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver provided the bluegrass touch for the night, and they were fantastic. The Torchmen are actually a group from Canada. (I'd been on their website when I was hiring artists for Gospel Vespers.) They were wonderful, and I think I'll introduce myself tomorrow.

There was a lot of acapella singing, which was such a blessing! The King's Heralds only did one song, acapella, and it was fantastic! I wish we'd had more of them. According to their ad in the program, the group as been in existance for 80 years, making it the oldest continuous group in North America.

Several of the groups did acapella numbers, and it was always beautiful. It was a reminder that, even though we love this music for the message, the harmony is what makes it special.

Part way through the night, I was taken aback. I looked around Freedom Hall, and it suddenly struck me, "I"m at NQC. I've seen all this on TV, and now, I'm actually here!". It was awesome!

They ended tonight's show big with triple trios. First were the Talleys, as I mentioned before. When they got to their last song, the next group, Karen Peck and New River (whom I love!!), jumped up on stage and joined in on the final chorus. The Talleys introduced them, and left the stage. When Karen Peck reached their last song, the Booth Brothers came up on stage to make the same transition. At their last song, all three groups ended up on stage to finish with "I'm Feeling Mighty Fine Again". It was great way to end the concert, and such a solid combination of groups!

Right now, it's late, and I'm exhausted. The last few mornings have been early, and today was long and exciting. I've spent a little time going through my program, making sure I mark all my friend's booths, and the events I really want to see.

I've wanted to come here for so long, and now I'm actually getting the opportunity. I just feel so excited to be here! Can't wait til tomorrow!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Redeemer, and Not-Yet-NQC

No, I'm not at NQC yet! A million things conspired against me today, including rain storms, so I decided to stay home tonight and drive to Louisville in the morning. We all know how I feel about mornings, but the afternoon showcases start just after noon, and I want to see and hear as much as possible.

But I was up very early this morning (6AM!) to join the praise team at Church of the Redeemer. Last time, I sang a some lead and some harmony, but today, I also got to do a solo! Jenna had a nice team made up today of keys, organ, guitar, electric bass, and me on lead vocals. The rest of the team did harmonies, and we had some really lovely musical moments.

Redeemer rarely does an anthem or 'special', so solos usually happen during the offertory. I sang "Yahweh, I know you are here", based on today's psalm. Everything was very intimate, with a simple accompaniment, and it all went really well. I had to leave right after the service (in my failed attempt to get to Louisville today), but I still got some very generous feedback, so that was satisfying.

I continue to love the music at Redeemer! The mix of organ and praise team, hymns and choruses, joyful praise and contemplative moments all add up to a wonderful worship experience.

Off to bed... I'm in the car bright and early tomorrow!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

All Mac-ed out for NQC

Whoo-hoo! I'm writing this on my brand new MacBook! I've never owned a new computer before, so this is pretty exciting for me. I decided to go Mac because it seems to be the creative choice, and so far, I love it!

I also needed a computer to bring to NQC. The National Quartet Convention starts Sunday night with a concert, and then gets into full swing Monday, Sept 10 and finishes Saturday the 15th with a celebration of the Florida Boys. This group is retiring after 60 years in music ministry. Amazing!

I've been dying to go to NQC for years, and I really don't know what to expect, but I think it will be even better than I think it will be!

I'm in a busy few days now as I get ready to go. I have several reasons for going: #1. See lots of great artists, including many that I never would see in Toronto. #2. See lots of friends. #3. Research how the showcases and booths work for next year. I plan on being there in 2008 with my new CD! And #4. Participate in the Bloggers' Roundtable.

The what? I've been invited to participate in a roundtable to discuss blogging and the Southern Gospel industry! It's the first time NQC has ever had such a thing, and I'm just honoured to be part of it. The power of blogging continues to amaze me!

And other cool thing - They've put out a press release about it too! Here t'is:



For this year's National Quartet Convention,.. the NQC Board of Directors has announced plans to host the first Southern Gospel Bloggers' Roundtable. (blogger: person who publishes a weblog on the internet)

A press release says the action comes as organizers recognize: "..the diversity of voices that are represented at this annual event." The press information says those taking part in the discussion,.. will be individuals who have created and/or contribute to internet weblogs dedicated to Southern Gospel Music.

“When we were presented with this opportunity,” NQC Executive Vice President Clarke Beasley explains, “we felt that it was a very innovative idea that represented the advancements Southern Gospel Music is making.”

According to Beasley and coordinators of the roundtable, the individuals who
have been invited to be a part of the discussion are a diverse group, and include writers, singers, songwriters, publicists, radio personnel and journalists within and beyond the SG industry.

Our reporter has learned that those participating most likely will include at least these:

Sue Smith -
David Bruce Murray -
Daniel Britt -
Allison Lynn -
Daniel Mount -
Chris Unthank -
Paul Jackson - Prophets Qt
Lottie Squires -
Douglas Harrison -
Chuck Peters -

(This is not the official roster from NQC.. and is not intended to be a complete list of persons who may participate.)

The roundtable discussion will focus on the role blogs should play in Southern Gospel Music. Organizers of the event hope the NQC Bloggers' Roundtable shows the way a community of mostly young writers interested in Southern Gospel has taken shape online and that those writers are interested in continuing the conversation off-line too.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Nashville Shakespeare Festival

I was invited by a friend tonight to join her for a little Shakespeare. I'd clipped the ad out of the paper weeks ago, planning to attend a show when the heat died down a little, so tonight's invitation was well received.

This is the 20th year for the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, and it runs in Centennial Park (the same park that houses the Parthenon). The whole production is similar to Toronto's "Dream in High Park", but much smaller in scale. Smaller theatre and shorter run, but actually a little more ambitious in that they do 2 different shows. Tonight was "Two Gentlemen of Verona".

The set was beautiful, simply painted to look like the outside of a village courtyard, with 2 levels to provide the requisite balconies. I've never read Two Gentlemen, but I have to assume they made cuts because the whole thing ran in 2 hours, plus intermission. They used a lot of clown and commedia elements, which was interesting, and mostly effective. The costumes were great, and the physical comedy was charming. But it was Crab, the black Labrador retriever, (Launce's companion) who stole every scene he was in!

Mostly for me, though, it was just a great overall experience. I love live theatre, especially outdoors. The element of the unexpected rises through the non-existent roof when performing outdoors. There was the guy who started up his Harley just feet from the back of the theatre, and the helicopter that flew overhead during the romantic climax of the show. There was the dog who freaked out when he saw actors enter through the audience, and the girl on her cell phone in the row behind me. "Yah, I'm at the Shakespeare thing...Yah, I'll call you back...!" Ladies and gentlemen, the Bard in the yard!

To rewind a little, I came home from church today completely inspired to write! I spent a long time doing a much needed rewrite of "Sure As The Sun". It's much better now, but I'm going to get Gerald's opinion tomorrow. I finished the Song U course Commercial Song Forms, which was excellent, and I continued to poke through Jason Blume's classic songwriting book, "Six Steps to Songwriting Success". He has a lyric checklist that's really great!

Tonight, just before writing this, I wrote a quick draft of a new song. I'm going to ask Gerald if he wants to co-write this one with me. It's very personal, and tells the story of some people who are close to me, so I don't want to reveal the title yet. But I will say, it's probably my most intimate story yet.

Such a great, creative day!