Farewell, Louisville

Farewell, Louisville.

It has been thirty-two hours since the final notes of Louisville’s final National Quartet Convention echoed off the rafters of Freedom Hall. Booths have been torn down, chairs and speakers have been put away, and artists and attendees have returned home.

Louisville, you had quite the difficult acts to follow: The Memphis conventions, where Elvis hid backstage in a broom closet to hear the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen, and the Nashville conventions at Municipal Auditorium, which saw the Happy Goodmans, the Big-and-Live Kingsmen, Gold City, and the Cathedrals their prime. 

In fact, when the convention left Nashville after 1993, people wondered if you could ever measure up. But measure up you did.

Freedom Hall seats over twice as many people as Municipal Auditorium. Many thought it would never sell out. But it did. There were days when every seat was filled to hear the Cathedrals, the Martins, and the Gaither Vocal Band.

There might be a few who thought that Freedom Hall was just another stage. There was a little truth to that—the other fifty-one weeks each year. But one week each September, it was a different story.

Southern Gospel has had many unforgettable moments over these last twenty years, and most of them took place in Freedom Hall. There are the moments I’ve only heard about: The Speers retiring. Glen Payne calling in from his hospital bed. George Younce’s final appearance. Gerald Wolfe singing “Redemption Draweth Nigh” on September 11, 2001.

And then, for some of us, there’s the part where we come in.

How I wish every Southern Gospel fan could have experienced at least one night in Louisville. Even the highest-resolution video fails to do it justice. Park somewhere near ten and a half miles from the entrance. Hear subwoofers rattling a few rows over; walk closer to find that it is a grandma rocking out to the Perrys’ Happy Goodmans CD!

Enter, and look for the correct seating section. There’s a delightful incongruity to the Heavenly music echoing through these pedestrian concrete-brick hallways filled with popcorn vendors and irrelevant plaques commemorating long-forgotten sporting achievements.

Find the section, and feel Freedom Hall before seeing the stage. Something’s physically different compared to every other Southern Gospel venue. There’s the hum of the ventilation system in the background, the commotion of fifteen or twenty thousand fans, and the music coming over the loudspeakers. Bones feel the sounds as much as ears hear them.

Reach the top of the steps and look in. The smoke or mist machines create an initial haze around the stage. But eyes quickly adjust to bring into focus the stage where a new chapter is being written in this genre’s history.

How could I ever forget the Florida Boys’ retirement? Being on the front row for the first Brian/Ivan/Mike/Tim Gold City reunion in two decades? The Bowlings’ return after their bus accident, with Kelly still in a body cast? Tracy Stuffle’s return after his heart attack?

The first night I was there in person, I posted, “NQC is something that has to be experienced. Words don’t do it justice.” It’s not just the historic moments that make it what it is. Will anyone who was there ever forget Ernie Haase trimming Tim Lovelace’s and Tim Surrett’s ties or Michael Booth getting “shot”?

But the on-stage moments are only a fraction of the experience. You just don’t forget things like getting locked into the parking lot  or witnessing the ghost of conventions past on teardown night!

Louisville, you had a tough act to follow. In 1994, people wondered if our genre’s best days were in the history books, and wondered if you could ever measure up. That kind of reminds me of another point in time . . . today. Can the Booth Brothers, Collingsworths, and some new groups we’ve never heard of yet sell out Pigeon Forge? Can tens of thousands more join via the live webcast, giving NQC a live, paying audience that even Freedom Hall could never have contained?

We don’t know, but we do know this: Louisville, you were so far past expectations that you give us every reason for optimism that Pigeon Forge will do far more than measure up.

Farewell, Louisville.

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25 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. Put perfectly, I hope to get to NQC at some point during its time in Pigeon Forge. Again, I think there is no other event like NQC in any genre of music. For one week, no matter what’s going on in the world, the SG community is focused completely on NQC. Why? Because SG music is family, and NQC is our family reunion.

    • Thank you! And I love the line “SG music is family, and NQC is our family reunion.” The part I’m always most excited about, when it comes to NQC, is seeing friends there; music is just the icing on the cake. 🙂

  2. Just want to push the “LIKE’ button to what Daniel and AJ said.

  3. Well. said and thank you for this sweet picture of NQC. I got back home from Louisville yesterday and have felt a little blue since then. Yes, so many memories. Thank you for the reminder of the ‘NQC shooting’. :-D. I thought it was Ronnie Booth, so my memories are already fuzzy.

  4. This was my 4th year attending NQC. I was introduced to Southern Gospel music in Nashville in 2010. There was a big event at the Opryland Hotel for the 3 nights prior to the Dove Awards. I had never heard anything like it, and I fell in love with it. Living in New Jersey, SG music was not something you would hear on any of the stations. Artist after artist knocked my socks off… Karen Peck, Sonya Isaacs, Sheri Easter, Kingsmen, etc. But Jason Crabb was my favorite, and when I had a chance to meet him, I mentioned that I was in Nashville for my sister’s 50th birthday. He said “Where is she, I want to wish her happy birthday”. So the sense of family was evident from my very first SG experience. That family experience was clearly evident in Louisville. I have travelled great distances to see artists, and it worth every minute. The “end’ in Louisville can only signal the “beginning” in Pigeon Forge, where it is sure to get better and better because the family will continue to grow larger. Thanks Daniel, for your updates. They truly enhance the experience.

    • Wow! Thank you, and you’re welcome!

  5. So I’m curious about something…

    Now that the location and dates have been moved for NQC to begin the 4th Monday of September (2014: 9/23-28) at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge, I’m curious what that will mean for the Singing News Fan Awards, which this year are on October 2.

    Having two fairly large industry events like this only 5 days and 2.3 miles apart is interesting. I know that the SN Fan Awards won’t draw nearly what you do at NQC and perhaps its a different audience, but I would think there would be a conflict for those who normally attend both events, but may not be in close enough distance to take off work and travel for both events.

    Is this a non-issue?

    • Keep in mind that October is Harvest Festival and Southern Gospel Music at Dollywood. How will the events so close together affect the artist. Will they be bound by the so called ’30 day – 100 mile’ rule? I don’t think so as Dollywood and NQC are both working together. Dollywood had a booth at NQC and are offering packages in conjunction with NQC in 2014. I have already noticed another event that takes place there has changed their dates from September to October, that being Triumphant Quartet homecoming.

  6. Very well written. I am one of many whose NQC experience began in Louisville, and we’ll miss it.

  7. Just like others have said, I also say that it was very well written. I too will miss going to NQC in Louisville.

  8. The only thing I will miss from Louisville is the small tight seats in the upper level. I am still not sure about the move to another location. The space they had to do so many great things at the Kentucky State Fair Grounds will be missed. So time will only tell. NQC at Louisville was great and this year was outstanding.

    • Is there any possibility that you intended to say that the only thing you won’t miss is the small, tight seats? 🙂

  9. Daniel, I think you deserve a medal for such a well written review of the years at Louisville. You almost brought the tears! Thanks…I always enjoy your posts.

    • Thank you so much! I will confess to a few tears writing it.

  10. Well said as usual, Daniel! I felt those same sentiments the first time I ever experienced NQC as a wide-eyed and star-struck weekend warrior in 2004 and felt them fifty times-squared the first time I ever experienced it as a main stage performer in 2012. However, I could have never described my experiences as eloquently as you have done here. I am going to miss Louisville (and Erler’s), but I’m excited and optimistic about NQC’s move to Pigeon Forge. I hope that everyone will give it a chance, and most importantly, buy a ticket/fill a seat. Take care.

    • Thank you! There is something about the NQC experience in Louisville that words simply cannot capture . . . but I just had to try!

      • Daniel has eloquently captured the appeal of Louisville, but for me it has never been so much about the actual buildings or the location. There are some physical characteristics of Louisville I’ll be happy to leave behind, like the dilapidated seating and nasty restrooms.

        There’s one thing Pigeon Forge can’t offer, though. In Louisville, when you needed a break from the main stage, you could lose yourself in the exhibit hall. That’s what I will miss most about Louisville…that huge open room where a never-known group from Podunk, NC could have a booth right across the aisle from the Gaither Vocal Band or the Hoppers. Pigeon Forge’s exhibit area is a mere 1/20th the size of that big exhibit hall in Louisville, so expect cramped aisles and forget about spending any time talking to regional type groups when you want to take a break from the main stage action.

      • Thank you! I will agree that the appeal of Louisville is less the facility and more the accumulated memories of what happened there.

        I think, though, there was just a little bit of quirky appeal in the contrast of the startlingly mundane hallways and facilities around the auditorium.

  11. In a way, I think the change in venues in some ways reflects a change in the industry and in some ways changes in the board. I believe the NQC board is almost entirely different than the one that made the move from Nashville to Louisville. With fresh faces comes a fresh vision for the future of the National Quartet Convention and Southern Gospel music as a whole.

    The NQC Board feels this is the best move for the future of the convention, and I agree. I’d rather see this building sold out every night and have to to turn people away than to have a couple thousand more people without turning them away, yet still have thousands of empty seats. Same thing with the exhibit hall.

    I believe this move will give NQC a jolt of fresh energy, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for NQC ’14!

    • You said a number of things I was thinking, but might not quite have put into words yet. Selling out a venue that seats 12,000 looks a lot better to the outside world (and on DVD and on television broadcasts) than having 14,000 in a venue that seats 20,000. Yes, you feel bad if you have to turn 2,000 away, but on the bright side, if they come back and reserve early next year, word will soon spread that tickets are a highly prized commodity and that you’d better get them while you can! 🙂

    • Josh,
      I agree they needed to make a move to a slightly smaller venue for the main concerts, but disagree completely on the exhibit hall. A somewhat downsized exhibit space would make sense…even cutting it in half, but this one is 95% smaller.

      I don’t think most people can envision what that means just hearing the figures, but the figures don’t lie. If they’ve been to Louisville, it won’t hit them until they get there what they gave up in terms of the exhibit space.