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Gospel Music Association Convention
Reported by Alan Harvey
I took on the task of attending this year's Gospel Music Association (GMA) convention for The Phantom Tollbooth. I arrived in Nashville wondering what God had to tell me about the Christian music business that lives and breathes in Music City, especially during that last week in April. I did my best to leave all my pre-conceived notions and prejudices behind although apparently I brought at least some expectations; I was surprised to find the atmosphere to be far more focused on Jesus than I expected.
Part of my agenda included working with some friends on a video documentary project. We rented a space to set up taping sessions which turned out to be in the basement, next to the janitor's broom closet area. So much for glamor! We were, however, blessed in our humble surroundings to hear the hearts of many artists as they expressed to us freely what they had been through and what God had done and was doing for them. It must have almost felt like therapy for many of the artists who were on the hamster wheel of promotion, being told what to say and controlled by their circumstances, were set free in our interviews to speak their minds and hearts. It was very encouraging to hear that most of those hearts and minds were very set on seeking and obeying God. Sometimes it was because of what the Christian Music industry had handed them, and sometimes it was in spite of it.
We arrived Sunday night, just after the opening worship service took place at Ryman Auditorium. According to all reports we received, it really was a worship service, not just another opportunity for artists to perform. The tone for the evening was set by Michael W. Smith, who was very adamant about bringing the focus back to God and His glory. He led worship. He meant it. And once again the Ryman became what it was built to be so many years ago, a church and a revival center, filled with folks who for at least during that moment, were more concerned with glorifying God than a music career.
The normal schmoozing you would expect at the GMA were still very much in evidence. John Tesh smiled a silent "Hi!" my direction on the way to lunch at the Renaissance Hotel buffet, as if he actually knew me and cared what I thought. Yet much of the veneer that folks wore would quickly melt away after they realized that you were just human beings like them, and they didn't have to protect themselves. I was involved in some wonderful conversations with people and again felt encouraged that in the final analysis, this business does have a heart for God.
There were many high points. A man named Dirk from Belgium put on a music festival last year out of his own pocket and was looking for talent for this year's version. Cheri Keaggy is taller than me (and I am 6'1")despite the fact that her Uncle Phil is pretty diminutive (though not in heart). Gary Chapman told me that his backpack guitar case actually had newspaper in it and he just carried it around to look good. Bob Halligan of Ceili Rain (pronounce Ceili 'Kay-Lee' please) instantly stole a joke I told him for his on-camera interview. He wrote songs for Judas Priest and Cher and his tunes appear on over 30 million copies of albums. Many people "on the street" had no idea who Amy Grant was, even though they were standing under a 40 foot poster of her with her name plainly written.
"Big Daddy Weave" is a hot group with great energy and a great groove. The guys in GS (stands for "God-sized") Megaphone would quickly become Christian plumbers of that was what God called them to.
Finally, I learned where "Delirious" got their name. During Wednesday nights' "Modern Worship" they were the "headline act" of a praise & worship service and after stating that GMA was not a place they enjoyed playing, they turned their amps up so loud that I, old rock & roller that I am, gave up and stood in the hall where the decibel level decreased to normal stadium concert volume in front of the speaker stack. Twisted Sister sounded like a folk group compared to these guys. They are Delirious'simply because the sound pressure levels are destroying their brain cells.
On that note (which is still ringing in my ears) I will end by saying that GMA was a pleasant surprise for me. Hearing Chris Tomlin say "If you wanna drop names, let's drop the greatest Name of all...Jesus!" and seeing the grace and obedience in the hearts of many of the artists and others gave me hope that the future of Christian contemporary music is indeed positive. It remains a business, and businesses are driven by dollars, but more and more it is becoming obvious that the move of God that many are feeling in many different places, is taking place as well in Nashville, and in the hearts of those who make music under His banner. I am thankful and I am encouraged.
Alan Harvey 5/7/2002