Historical Re-enactment in Southern Gospel

The Southern Gospel genre spans a wide variety of sounds: traditional quartets, bluegrass Gospel, country Gospel, and progressive SG are just a few of the sub-genres that come to mind.

There is, however, another sub-genre in Southern Gospel that is rarely discussed. I touched on it on the comments to another post about a week ago, but it’s worth promoting to the main page.

Other genres of Americana–say, Civil War studies–keep the past alive by means of historical re-enactment. They attempt to give viewers a firsthand feel of what it would have been like to experience a precise moment in history.

I think there is a historical re-enactment sub-genre in the Southern Gospel field.

These groups tend to be under the radar screen as far as airplay goes, but they also tend to play to sold-out audiences who respond well to their music and return to hear them over and over. Their recordings tend to consist primarily or completely of older music, and they are typically but not always led by someone who remembers the old days firsthand.

Leading examples of this genre are the Chuck Wagon Gang, the Dixie Echoes, the Dixie Melody Boys, and the Blackwood Brothers. All four tend to be more successful than groups on the main Southern Gospel circuit realize, and some of these groups actually are successful enough to pay their members a decent salary, from which a step up to a Fan Award-winning group could actually mean a pay cut.

These groups often pull out the old microphones, at least for selected songs (even if it’s just an old microphone shell with a new mike inside!) Their emcees will make repeated references throughout the concert routine to the fact that industry professionals told them they couldn’t do this, that nobody wants to hear the old songs, “but do you?”

There are groups that visit this sub-genre for a few years before moving back into mainline Southern Gospel (classic example: Dove Brothers), and there are other groups who mix a few elements of re-enactment into their programs. A classic example of the latter is Signature Sound, which in a typical concert will give audiences everything from a few two-mike re-enactment songs to one or two semi-progressive songs, everything from a big Gaither ballad to songs heavy on the choreography.

No matter which direction the Southern Gospel industry goes, I both think and hope that there will always be groups around that can show audiences what it was like to experience Southern Gospel in the old days.