Members of the Boise, Idaho Southern Gospel group The Liberty Quartet pose for an undated press photo. The group will perform several shows around the Kenai Peninsula this weekend before traveling north to Anchorage and Fairbanks. From left, lead Dan Gilbert, tenor Keith Waggoner, bass Royce Mitchell and baritone-pianist Doran Ritchey.
Photo submitted by the Liberty Q
“When people hear the term ‘southern gospel music,’ then they hear that we’re from Idaho, it kind of throws them off a little bit,” Keith Waggoner said from his home in Boise, Idaho, early this week.
The Indiana native, who sings the tenor part in The Liberty Quartet, said appearances can be deceiving.
Southern gospel, a style defined by four-part male harmonies that fuse country-western gospel with black gospel, began a revival around 1991 when songwriter Bill Gaither began promoting the “Gaither Homecoming” tours and videos. The concept paid off. By 2004, Gaither’s tours were drawing half a million fans a year.
“Southern gospel music owns the video market right now thanks to Bill Gaither,” Waggoner said.
That revival has allowed many artists, such as Liberty, the Legacy Five and the Dixie Melody Boys to bring their evangelical message to a wider audience and expand the scope of the genre.
“Southern Gospel used to mean four guys who dressed alike getting up and singing that four-part harmony, but now it consists of all sorts of different artists,” Waggoner said.
Though the genre has become a popular one, Liberty is still unique, thanks to its home base in Boise.
“The industry is big down south, obviously, but we’re one of the few groups west of the Mississippi that travel full time doing southern gospel music,” he said.
Traveling full time for Liberty means around 200 concerts a year from the East Coast to the West and occasionally into Canada. The group’s series of Kenai Peninsula performances are part of a 10-day tour of Alaska that represents the group’s fourth trip to the Great Land.
In 2004, Liberty filmed a concert called “Live from Alaska” in Anchorage, and Waggoner a member of the group since February is excited for his first trip.
“We’re probably going to try and slip in some fishing, as well,” he said.
Waggoner is the rookie, but isn’t the only new relative newcomer. Pianist and baritone Doran Ritchey signed on in March 2004, and lead singer Dan Gilbert joined a few months before in December 2003. Founding member Royce Mitchell rounds out the group, singing bass.
Waggoner said although none of the members are from the south, the music and the ministry have drawn them together.
“It’s the kind of music we love, and that’s the direction that God has led us,” he said. “That four-part harmony, man, you can’t beat it.”
Waggoner also said there is more to the music than the ministry, and that any music fan can take something from a Liberty concert. Each show includes a bit of comedy, some calypso and a little country music mixed with the traditional tunes.
“Besides the fact that you’re gonna hear the Christian message in our lyrics, you’re going to enjoy the music,” he said.
“We focus on feeding the souls of those who are gonna be there, but we want people to walk away saying ‘Man, we had a great time.’”
For information on concert times and locations, see BEST BETS, on this page.
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