Last November my wife and I went to South Bend and heard the Gaither Vocal Band and Signature Sound in concert. These two quartets are among the biggest groups in southern gospel today, and I’d been wanting to catch them both for quite some time.

It was at the 2500-seat Morris Center, and the concert was completely sold out weeks in advance. I think they usually play much larger venues.

I think the first concert I ever went to was GVB about fifteen or so years ago. Wow. I followed them quite closely in the past 5-10 years, they have churned out an incredible amount of fantastic music. In the past couple years or so, they’ve had two more personnel changes. I hadn’t heard either of the new boys so I was looking forward to that.

Ernie Haase & Signature Sound is a relatively new group that has really been taking off recently. I’d been wanting to hear them for awhile now. Ernie of course was the last tenor the Cathedral Quartet had, he sang with them maybe 10 or 11 years. After that he went solo for a while, then started this quartet.

Even though I got our tickets weeks and weeks ahead of time, there was hardly anything left and the only seats available were in the back. WAY in the back! Approximately one mile from the stage. So I couldn’t take very good pictures, but it was ok.

Sig Sound was up first, and they were pretty hot. They’re are run-and-gun, snappy, very energetic group, they leave it all on the stage. I was impressed with how tight and solid they stayed. Southern gospel is kind of known for taking a lot of “artistic license” regarding cohesiveness and often going for a loosey-goosey free-for-all (albeit exciting) kind of sound, but they kept it pretty well under control. Very nice. I was especially impressed with baritone boy, what a great voice! And I loved how he used it.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t so taken with tall and skinny lead dude. Very straight and somewhat lackluster delivery, he just wasn’t making it come alive. It was ok in his harmony stuff, but give him a solo and it fell a little flat.

Or maybe I am just jealous of his vocal range and body type.

Ernie’s great, of course, and Tim Duncan the bassmeister hits like a ton of bricks. He’s good.

Then the Gaither Vocal Band was on. Guy walks out on stage and lights the place up, he was easily the crowd favorite of the night before he had uttered a sound.

And for good reason. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone pour their soul into a lyric like he does. I was kind of surprised at how many old songs they did (old as in their own songs they’ve done in the past 10 or so years). I was kind of hoping for more new material, but it was fine.

I was especially interested in the new guys. I’m always very skeptical when I group I really like loses a member and gets some unknown to fill his spot. And here were two of them.

Marshall Hall is the new baritone dude. I was fairly optimistic about this guy, but my expectations weren’t quite fulfilled. It was like he sang everything through a clenched jaw and with a tormented soul. Way too much slightly-raspy sad-croaking, not a very smooth sound. Maybe I’m all wet, but it just didn’t work for me.

Wes Hampton is the new tenor boy. Now I’m especially wary about new tenors, it takes me quite a while to warm up to a tenor! Even when David Phelps first joined them I was fairly cautious and wary. He of course went on to become the greatest GVB tenor of all time. But Wes, I don’t know, I think it’s going to take awhile. He was ok, don’t get me wrong. Nice voice but a little uninspired, pretty weak stage presence. Maybe he just needs to get in the groove, I can cut him some slack. But we’re definitely down a few notches in these vocal parts.

Then of course for the last segment they all came out together and collaborated on a few songs.

So after the concert there’s always long lines to meet the group members. Guy is hugely popular of course, he has the biggest line and everyone wants their picture with him.

Now it didn’t take me long to make Jewel a GVB fan after we started dating. And really, that would happen with almost anyone who has an open mind to a great quartet. But anyway, that background to foreshadow who else wanted a picture with Guy Penrod!

So we waited and waited and got our picture.

If you look closely, you can see her hidden somewhere behind the hair!

I’d like to talk about one of my all-time favorite lead singers for a little bit. He’s obviously controversial in conservative evangelical circles (his hair of course. The oft-asked question why? What it boils down to is that his wife likes it.), but there is an undeniably gracious and humble spirit about him. Very friendly and big-hearted, not just anybody could put up with hordes of autograph hounds and picture-seekers on a regular basis like he does.

And the dude can sing like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes sweet, sometimes edgy, sometimes a little raw, but always completely genuine and giving 110%. I wish I could generate a fraction of the pathos with which he routinely saturates every line he sings. Top it off with a dynamite voice and a wide range that just blindsides you, it comes to quite a package.

One time I was in the Christian bookstore and a man came in and asked for the new GVB recording. Since the bulk of the music the average store carries is CCM (gag), it wasn’t surprising that they didn’t have it. Well, I wasn’t surprised anyway. But this guy was almost incensed! Not really, he didn’t get un-Christian about it, but he was worked up! He told the clerk, haven’t you heard Guy Penrod When that man sings it’s like the archangel Gabriel cutting loose on his trumpet!!! The heavens split wide open!!! Etc., etc.

Amen brother!