An unchanging message amid a regularly changing genre. That’s how some veterans of southern gospel music see the industry and ministry.
Among those is Richard Treptow.
He is the founder of the Third Annual Gospel Music Fanfest June 21-23 in Columbus. He also serves as the special events chair of the Indianapolis-based Indiana Gospel Music Association.
“Like country music, some of the previous limits have been taken off,” Treptow said. “Southern gospel used to mean mostly a quartet and a pianist. Now, with some with full bands, the music is a lot more entertaining. And the style of music is more broadly spread across the spectrum of music.”
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As the music continues to evolve, Treptow would like to see the audience do the same. The event last year in Columbus attracted about 350 people — and the organizer, a southern gospel artist himself, believes that number can grow just like the genre.
“We’re committed to Columbus because of its history of support for southern gospel music,” Treptow said.
For years in the late 1980s and 1990s, late singer J.C. Brown’s annual Gospel Music Week would pack the original Commons in downtown Columbus with hundreds of people on its final day alone.
Treptow believes the latest gathering will draw more people than last year’s Fanfest partly because of a new venue of East Columbus Christian Church. The location is familiar to gospel music followers because it is the church of southern gospel/country music artist Pastor Ron Bridgewater. The minister is well known among such acts throughout Indiana.
Bridgewater has hosted gospel artists at his church for several years.
Columbus resident Jim Hutson is a nationally touring southern gospel singer with The Woodsmen Quartet and also the morning on-air personality for local WYGS southern gospel radio station at 91.1 FM. He attended the opening night of Fanfest last year and also believes the event can grow, bucking southern gospel’s recent trend of dipping attendance at many venues beyond the South.
“We in the more northern states lost a generation (of followers),” Hutson said, referring to people in their 40s and 50s today. “For years, many parents did not bring their kids to the concerts they attended.”
Even today, Hutson said crowds in southern states such as Florida are consistently larger for most performances than those in Indiana for The Woodsmen.
“I think we all have to make sure we freshen our sound while keeping our message,” Hutson said.
He added that plenty of southern gospel groups are doing precisely that — and finding new devotees.
Columbus singer Neva Tindell of The Christian Cavaliers, who will perform at Fanfest, agrees that groups need to be more pointed about cultivating a new audience. She sees the local event as one strong tool to do that.
“I believe in my own heart that some of southern gospel has kind of been taken over a little bit by the contemporary Christian music world,” said Tindell, who performs with her husband Maurice.
“And we just need to get ourselves out there a little more, and let people see that southern gospel is still as strong as it ever has been — with great songwriters and wonderful performers. I think it needs to make a little bit of a comeback in the state of Indiana.”
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What: Third Annual Gospel Music Fanfest featuring 24 southern gospel artists spread over three days of concerts.
When: 6:30 p.m. June 21 and 22 and 7 p.m. June 23. Headliners are Westward Road, the Peyton Sisters and Soul’d Out. The full schedule is available at ingma.com.
Where: East Columbus Christian Church, 3170 Indiana Ave. at the corner of Marr Road and Indiana Avenue.
Tickets: $10 per day or $15 for all three days. Available at The Ark Book and Gift store; East Columbus Christian Church; Westside Community Church or online at ingma.com.
Information: 317-847-1018 or ingma.com.