A couple decades ago, when Bill Bailey inaugurated his Winter Gospel Music Convention, it was too big an event for Bradenton.
"This is the biggest Southern gospel music event in the country in the winter," Bailey said. "This is either the seventh or eighth year, I'm not sure, that we've had it in the Bradenton area. Before that we always had it somewhere in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area."
The annual convention, which brings together some of the biggest names in Christian music for a week of performances, attracts visitors from all over the country who stay in our hotels and campgrounds. Way back when Bailey started the event, the Bradenton area didn't have the facilities to handle the influx.
About 20,000 people, a mix of locals, seasonal visitors and out-of-towners who come here specifically for the event, attend every year. Bailey, who's also the pastor of Bradenton's Happy Gospel Church, produces about 50 music events all over the country every year, and his Winter Gospel Music Convention right
here in the Bradenton area is by far the biggest.
Attendance may be even higher for the 2014 convention.
"This is the strongest lineup we've ever had," Bailey said. "Most definitely."
The 2014 event is slated for Feb. 3-8, in the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto. Bailey said he expects about 100 campers and RVs to be parked in the convention center parking lot for the event, and at least that many more in nearby campgrounds. Local hotels will also see a noticeable boost in occupancy, he said.
There are several elements of this year's convention that make it the best ever, Bailey said.
On Tuesday, Feb. 4, two of the biggest names in Christian music, Sandi Patty and Jason Crabb, are scheduled to appear.
"Sandi Patty is a Christian music icon," Bailey said. "She and Jason Crabb are going to take us in a more mainstream direction that we're really excited about."
Another big musical night is Feb. 5, which features performances by the Collingsworth Family and the Triumphant Quartet, two of the biggest acts in contemporary music right now.
This year's lineup isn't all about music, though. The keynote speaker, scheduled for the afternoon of Feb. 6, is Dr. David Jeremiah, an author and televangelist who is one of the most prominent preachers in the country.
"Dr. Jeremiah will bring in people who may not be attuned to the music," said Bailey.
For more information, call 941-756-6942 or go to www.billbaileyconcerts.com
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.