Post of the Day: End of an Era?

Worth reading: Danny Jones’ take on a decision many groups are considering, switching from buses to Sprinter vans.

I’ve heard the conversations, too. Jones’ post lines up the pros and cons well—on the one hand, the loss of convenience and room during the long hours lived on the road, Wednesday through Sunday—and on the other, the opportunity to shorten those long four or five-day weekly trips by a day, without having to do an extra date each week to keep the bus on the road.

J.D. Sumner ushered in the era of the Southern Gospel bus some sixty years ago. Could that era be coming to an end?


For more Southern Gospel news and commentary—follow our RSS feed or sign up for our email updates!

29 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Daniel,

    I don’t think the era of busses will end, at least not for a while. As Danny pointed out in his column, the Sprinter won’t work for large groups – such as those with bands – and for mixed groups because of privacy reasons. I think what we will see is smaller groups going to the Sprinter but larger ones staying with busses for a while because of space issues.

    • If you’re defining “larger” in terms of number of people on the road – yes.

      I will point out, though, that some of the absolute biggest names in our genre, that have a grand total of 4/5 or less in the bus, are actively in the process of switching.

      • Yes, I did mean the number of people when I said larger.

  2. For groups that can afford both (although not too many), they will take a sprinter on their shorter road trips within reasonable driving distance. Sometimes too, it could be more cost effective to fly one member out (Canada, Midwest, West, regions further from the southeastern Bible belt and Northeastern coast) with some product, and have drive the sprinter to the destination. Not sure if that ALWAYS applies, but in some cases, I know groups that have been doing things of this nature very recently.

  3. It’s ironic that this discussion would come on the heels of the Booth Brothers Essential 25 Survey, as the Booths are indeed one of those groups who are taking the plunge in favor of the Sprinter. They have had more than their share of bus woes, and in fact, when I saw them in Philadelphia, MS, on February 26, they were utilizing a black crew cab pickup belonging to one of the Booth brothers (that is to say, the ones who are actually related to each other), and pulling a U-Haul trailer for their equipment. Michael said that they were to take delivery of their Sprinter by the middle of March, so they may well be in their new ride by now. While the Sprinter may not be as comfortable as a bus, it has to be better than a pick-up truck!

    • I should clarify that Michael didn’t specifically say that they were changing to a Sprinter, only that they were geting a new van and putting the bus up for sale. But I understand from another dependable source that the van in question is in fact a Sprinter. (So Daniel, since I can’t actually verify everything that I’m saying here, if you want to delete the whole thing, I’ll understand completely!)

    • No, I’ll leave it up, now that you’ve said it – I have heard the same thing, that they’re one of the early ones to take the plunge and try the experiment.

  4. I’m not familiar with the Sprinter, but I understand it’s surprisingly roomy, and I even found a website advertising a bunk you could put on the wall of the van. I assume this is what a group would do if they switched to a Sprinter for living space on tour.

    • Yes, groups are pulling out a number of the seats and installing bunks.

      Josh Garner and John Rulapaugh’s Freedom actually put an even more interesting spin on this: Josh bought a used airport shuttle van and, with his father-in-law, built four bunks and converted it by hand.

  5. Booth brothers, sisters, dixie melody boys and many more have a sprinter. I believe greater vision has one they use sometimes as well. I may be worn on that though. Busses don’t make sense in this economy. Half the groups get clean up rooms anyway.
    Those sprinters can be customized pretty nice! I sure would want to work 52 days a year to pay for a bus. (@ one a week per the article)

    • …and depending on the kind of love offerings you get, it could well be more than one per week!

    • to counter-act this topic, the dixie melody boys just purchased a bus and are ridding themselves of the sprinter! i’m so glad for them too! i know first hand the comforts of bus travel. it has definitly spoiled me! i’m not sure how i would handle not traveling in a bus anymore, but i commend those who are “taking the plunge” to the sprinter van!

      on a side note, pray the Lord continues to bless those who are still in a bus with the finances to maintain it! it is very important to the ministries of ALL the groups who have one. think of it this way: everytime a bus pulls into a restaraunt or walmart, and the staff asks, “who’s on that bus?”, expecting a famous person, and the response they get is that it’s a christian music group. it’s an automatic conversation starter and the opportunity to share the gospel is there for the taking. this is just an example of the benefits of a bus! 🙂

  6. We can add another related situation related to high vehicle fuel prices these days.
    Southern gospel music has two kinds of concert goers.
    The weekend style attends a one night at the local church or venue.
    It is the version where the artists have to travel to sing to the audiences.
    The weekender’s calls for barnstorming from city to city more like the old days.
    The barnstorming might be increasing with the vehicle fuel prices projected to go even higher in the near future.
    Using experienced and successful tour planner will be an asset more than ever.

    The week day covers the two or more days at one venue.
    The concert goers attend the multiple night events to watch the singers sing.
    You will find that promoters working these days to make the multiple night events worth the trip.
    Some are sharp enough to add a new event wherever you might see big time number of concert goers gathering for a previous scheduled event.
    One promoter who hosted a series of conventions the past several years is taking the convention concept to new areas this year. It is working, too.

    Let’s not go overboard on the idea that the van will cut down on the number of days on the road any given week.
    It still takes time to travel and fuel cost will be going even higher.
    The tour planner will be needed on that 2000 mile round trip to get dates along the way and back.
    Those book end concert dates will help pay for the fuel instead of a bus.

  7. Just a thought, from a solo ‘circuit riding preacher’ who finds this fascinating :-)…

    I don’t know about US road laws, but in many other parts of the planet it is NOT legal to use the beds in an RV or converted camper, such as a Sprinter, while on the move. Whereas on a bus it is. This is because the two vehicles are different in source type.

    This may be a factor if relevant?

    • If I’m remembering what I have read correctly, it varies by state. I have read that in Georgia it is in fact illegal to sleep in a RV while underway. I do know that all modern RVs do have seat belts in all seats because of seat belt laws.

      … but unless the whole van is made from glass who will see?

      • The Lord bro!

      • [Cue Larry the Cucumber voice…]

        Oh yeah. Forgot about that one.

      • So if you, as a passenger, fall asleep in your RV seat while you’re going through Georgia, you’ve broken the law?

      • If you’re in a seat belt, I rather doubt it.

        I can’t resist adding: If you, as a driver, fall asleep in your RV seat while you’re going through Georgia, I’m fairly confident that you have either broken the law or you’re right about to! 😛

  8. I remember some years ago when JD and the Stamps tried out one of the smaller vehicles for a while…we found out about it from hearing comments from other groups teasing from the stage ’bout using a ‘camper’. Seems he was a few years ahead then, too.

  9. WE ARE A LOCAL GROUP AND HAVE A BUS. EVEN THOUGH SOMETIMES TIMES ARE HARD WE FEEL THE VERSATILITY OF THE BUS IS WORTH IT. GOD HAS ALWAYS PROVIDED AND HE ALWAYS WILL. IF YOU GET TO A VENUE TWO HOURS EARLY IT IS NICE AS WELL AS NOT HAVING TO TRY TO CHANGE CLOTHES IN A SMALL BATHROOM. WE AVERAGE ABOUT 140 SINGS A YEAR AND WE LOVE THE OLD EAGLE

    • Bus makes more cents for a regional group who travels within 2-4 hours of their home base.
      Regional groups tend to do their own scheduling. Their repair service probably closer to home except when they ventured outside their region.
      There are many regional groups who have a Class B camper. For informational purposes only: http://www.campersinn.com/
      I know group who start their tours in the summer in the Northeast, work their way through OH/TN valley out to the East Coast during the fall. They end up in the mission field of FL in the winter and go to Far West in the early spring and head east toward the Northeast in the early summer.
      Regional groups create some pretty neat websites, stay in contact with their supporters and a tour schedule that would be the envy of any Top 80 group.

      • I meant a Class C, not Class B.

      • Actually, a person has to make a lot more “cents” to pay for the bus. Now, you might be right about it making more sense though, I don’t know. 🙂

  10. Let me say that this topic is so relivant to todays gospel groups. As someone who has traveled in various buses in groups over the years. In all honesty the buses lead to our groups demise. They cost 10 times what it cost to repair a van or motor home. Fuel costs are outrageous and many times when the bus was broken down, whe had to travel in cars because we could not afford to repair it! The convience is great when they are working as planned. But when they break down…the pain in the wallet in unbearable, expecially when love offering are mostly love and very little offering. This is a major delima but there does not seem to be a good alternative.

  11. I remember watchinh a youtube clip of Kevin Williams doing a song called Singing for the bus

  12. I remember watching a youtube clip of Kevin Williams doing a song called Singing for the bus

  13. I just can’t immagine Connie Hopper putting on her make-up in a Sprinter.

  14. A really intriguing, timely thread. And, this discussion doesn’t only affect groups. As a soloist who travels in an upper-level 38′ diesel Class A RV rig, with only 2-4 people, it’s affecting me too. I get 10-11 mpg, slightly better than any buses I’ve owned/leased. I know that the diesel engine in my rig is identical to the one moving 85% of 18-wheelers, and that my transmission is what’s on every Prevost, MCI, etc. and that they’ll last for 4-500K miles with regular service. But still. We’ve sure enjoyed the room to spread out, the ride of an air bag suspension, comfortable beds, and 5-1/2 open bays for equipment. But, there’s something else going on, and I’ll bet that people who switch to a Sprinter-style unit pulling a trailer will notice this; many people seem to have the mentality that if you can afford a nice rig, then you don’t need a lot of my money in the offering. Yeah, it drives me crazy, but I think it’s true. Things like fuel prices may be cyclical, and artists may go back to big coaches one day, but for now, these just make great sense if the math works.