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The Schmooze Fest
by Chris MacIntosh aka Grandfather rock

It doesn't take long for anyone really interested in Christian music to hear about the annual Gospel Music Association conference, "GMA Week," that takes place in Nashville, Tennessee every April. The conference is intended to connect Christian music producers and consumers through the established network GMA represents. Participants have a variety of educational tracks to choose from that cover Christian music retailing, Christian music production, Christian music show promoting and Christian music broadcasting. The seminars, a trade show, official and unofficial entertainment showcases and other special events assure a complete overview of the current Christian music scene and a serious case of sleep depravation. The week usually culminates with the Dove Awards that have been elected by the membership. The people who gather in Nashville are the heart and soul of the insulated, tight-knit world of Christian music so the real purpose for attendees quickly emerges: to borrow a Yiddish term, "schmoozing." Join Tollbooth writer Chris MacIntosh for an insider's view of GMA week.--editor

I flew out of Islip Airport on Long Island, New York at about noon on Saturday and so the schmooze began. While waiting for the flight to leave I got a chance to hang out with Jaci Velasquez and her mom, Diana. They were flying home after some business meetings in New York City. Just being with them outside the context of a concert setting or something similar was nice because they could just relax and enjoy a friendly encounter. Miss Valasquez seems like a really nice kid. I'll have to pay more attention to her music than I have in the past.

Upon arriving at the Renaissance Hotel, the center of most of the action during the week, I ran into the first of my three running mates for the week. Lori Lenz, a friend for many years, who now all but runs Metro One Music. We hooked up with Eli Thompson of Maranatha Music. Eli is the son of Kevin Thompson, the bass player for The Sweet Comfort Band. It's kind of weird hanging out with and playing tunes on the radio of the children of the artists who I played when I first started doing this stuff!

We met up with Riki Michele, her husband Dave Palmer and headed off to the Exit/Inn to check out a local band called Venus Hum. Think of early Mad At The World with a female vocalist, they were really good and set the pace for a week of great music that was to follow.

On Sunday we met with the third of our group, Dr. Tony Shore of Silent Planet Records, and took off to Franklin to attend the morning service at St. Ignatius Orthodox Church. It was a glorious service and the pastor spoke on carrying with us through the rest of the week the fact of the resurrection, not leaving it in church on Sundays, putting a perfect, proper perspective on the rest of the week. On Sunday night, we met up with the last member of the pack that I ran with for most of the week, Rick Altizer. The first stop on Sunday night was at 12th and Porter to catch, Broomtree and a new band called Gretchen who appeared last year under the name Serenade. (Check out their new album because it rocks!) After that it was off to the Rhythm House/True Tunes street party at San Antonio Taco where I was introduced to Kate Miner. Being a huge fan of Mark Heard, meeting Kate Miner was like a dream come true. We just hung out and talked about music, raising kids and of course our mutual love of Heard and his music. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day and a conversation that I will cherish for a long time to come.

Monday morning rolled around bright and early. Actually a little too early. I woke up around 5 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep! The only thing left to do was to take advantage of the hotel facilities, so a dip in the pool, some time in the hot tub and sauna were the order of the day. Monday afternoon there was a luncheon sponsored by some of the independent labels at which I was slightly roasted and given a Lifetime Achievement Award for hosting the oldest Christian rock radio show in the world. My award, a cane with a rear view mirror and a Harpo Marx horn, is now one of my most prized possessions. Monday evening was the first of two showcases that I was asked to emcee the Rhythm House/ True Tunes event at Trafalgar Square. Of the many bands that appeared that evening, the standouts to me were Stickman Jones, The Wayside, Nate & James and Rick Altizer. Besides the bands that played it was a lot of fun hanging out with John Fischer.

Super Tuesday started at 7 a.m. with a breakfast organized by Donna DelSesto of IHS Promotions sponsored by various record companies. It included a devotional time lead by Rebecca St. James. Although a wee bit early, it was a great way to start off the day. Between running from meeting to meeting, schmoozing, renewing old friendships and whatnot, the rest of the day was kind of a blur, that is until 9:30pm. The Heroes of Modern Rock Night was held at the Cafe Milano and musically for this old DJ it was the high point of the week. I had the privilege and honor to be able to introduce, Riki Michele, Phil Madeira, Terry Scott Taylor, Lost Dogs, The Choir and last but not least the only boy band that matters, The 77s. Each of the artists was at their absolute best, and the camaraderie between groups was a joy to behold. Because the week officially started on Saturday this year, there was a lot of down time on Wednesday and Thursday. The week unofficially ended Thursday night at the San Antonio Taco Grill with The 10th Annual Dove Roast where all the industry people and artists who can't afford the price of a pair of tickets to the Dove Awards meet to gripe and make fun of the show. This year the show was not broadcast live, so The McClurg Family Singers, an extremely hot band from upstate New York, treated us to a live set of tunes.

That done the only thing left to do was say goodbye, get a good night's sleep and fly home on Friday. All in all it was a great week and just whetted my appetite for next year.

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