It started with a poster of five gospel groups and a single phrase: "I have a dream."
Gary Schimpp, bass singer for The Schimpps, sent that poster to William Holbrook of River of Life Productions, expressing his desire to reunite five Minnesota groups for one great night of Southern gospel music.
He was preaching to the choir.
At 7:30 p.m. July 3, the Crystal City Quartet, Music City, The Schimpps, the Golden Street Quartet and The Travelers will perform at Tornstrom Auditorium, Washington Middle School, Brainerd, as part of the American Celebration. The Rangen Family, featuring four generations of singers, and Bea Henderson, Crystal City Quartet pianist, will open the show. Tickets are $10.
Because group members moved away for jobs or started families, Crystal City (Brainerd), Music City (Brainerd) and Golden Street (Park Rapids) haven't performed in several years. The Schimpps (Staples) and the Travelers (St. Cloud) don't perform as regularly as they used to either. But Southern gospel isn't the type of music that leaves you.
The Schimpps formed in 1983 in Staples.
"People love quartets," Holbrook, the lead singer of Crystal City, said in a recent conversation at Northwest Pizza restaurant in Brainerd. "The music has the ability to reach one of the largest audiences because it's so diverse."
"There's nothing else like it," added Mark Foerderer, tenor for Music City.
Holbrook grew up in Brainerd singing in church and listening to Southern gospel greats like the Statesmen and the Blackwood Brothers. But when Crystal City formed in 1992, it was almost by accident. Gathering a group for a night of music at Brainerd Assemblies of God, Holbrook tapped Kurt Rothwell, Scott and Dave Campbell and pianist Henderson.
"We didn't decide that we were going to organize a group and impress the world," Holbrook said. "But all of a sudden, the right people came along."
Growing up in Wishek, N.D., Foerderer sang with his family in churches and county fairs. In 1990, after the family moved to Bluffton, the brothers formed a trio called Music City, named after one of Mark's songs.
The Travelers formed in 1967 in St. Cloud.
The other three groups have been performing for decades. The Schimpps formed in 1983; Golden Street got together in 1972; and The Travelers formed in 1967.
Holbrook and Foerderer agree that the Brainerd lakes area saw a boom in the Southern gospel scene in the early to mid-1990s.
"In this area, it had died out," Holbrook said. "We realized there was a need for it, and we soon discovered there were fans that didn't get enough of it. There was a hunger for it."
While holding down day jobs, members of both groups still found time to put on about 50 concerts per year in the upper Midwest, singing everywhere from churches to the backs of semi trucks at county fairs. They performed yearly at the American Celebration, along with national quartets brought in by River of Life Productions. (The next River of Life production will be nationally renowned Legacy Five, who will perform Sept. 26 at Tornstrom Auditorium.)
Crystal City cut three albums, including two in Nashville; Music City recorded four albums, including one in Nashville. Foerderer penned "If the Soldier's Would Have Known," which pontificates about what was going through the minds of the soldiers who crucified Jesus.
Golden Street formed in 1972 in Park Rapids.
But then life got in the way. David Campbell of Crystal City moved to Illinois, and Rothwell moved to Windom. Andrew Foerderer of Music City moved to Illinois. To practice for the July 3 show, the Brainerd members of Crystal City met the southern-based group members halfway in a Granite Falls church.
Foerderer said Southern gospel is unique among music genres because it's where other music -- everything from early rock 'n' roll to bluegrass and country -- originated. As such, Southern gospel is easy to get into. It's not as big in Minnesota as it is down South, where in some places there are concerts every night of the week. But Holbrook has found that when a concert is scheduled, people tend to turn out.
The core values of patriotism and faith are back in demand, he said.
"This is a time in the world where people are looking for traditional values, and it's all found within Southern gospel," Foerderer said. "The songs are not meant to be complicated. They are written around the vocals, and a good message."
But that's not to say Southern gospel quartets (or trios or quintets, for that matter) can't have fun. Audiences don't let Crystal City leave the stage until the group members don their sunglasses and do-wop their way through "I Wish It Would Rain," complete with 1950s-style "wah-wah-wahs."
Music City formed in 1990 in Bluffton.
Foerderer and Holbrook keep up on the genre through magazines such as Singing News and their membership to the Midwest Quartet Association. In addition to performing, they regularly attend concerts as fans. Foerderer said watching a Southern gospel concert is a unique experience.
"The emotions from the beginning to the middle to the end of a gospel concert are amazing," he said.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.