Last year, Bill Bailey’s Winter Gospel Music Convention in Palmetto featured probably the biggest mainstream star in its 30-year history. Pat Boone, who has recorded everything from Christian music to heavy metal, headlined the convention, and was huge hit with audiences.
“The 70 and 80-year-olds, and it was largely the the ladies, but the 70 and 80-year-olds were acting like teenagers,” Bailey said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Pat Boone was great, Bailey said, but this year’s convention won’t feature any big-name pop or crossover stars.
“This year it’s kind of a back-to-basics year,” Bailey said. “Last year, maybe every other year, we’ve brought in outside artists. But our audience comes for the Southern gospel. And we have some of the best in the genre.”
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The 31st annual iteration of Bill Bailey’s Gospel Music Convention gets going Monday at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto, and runs through Saturday. Every day features two concerts. There’s a free concert at 1:30 p.m. and then an evening concert at 7:30 p,.m. that features the more well-known acts. General admission tickets for the evening shows are $18.
Our audience comes for the Southern gospel. And we have some of the best in the genre.
Most of the acts performing in the evening concerts this year have performed at the festival in previous years, and they’re favorites of the convention crowd. The Booth Brothers (Monday and Tuesday) and the Collingsworth Family (Wednesday) rank among the most popular acts in gospel music. The Kingdom Heirs (Friday) are the resident gospel group at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park in Tennessee.
“They’ve probably performed to more people than any other act we have,” Bailey said of the Kingdom Heirs. “They do three shows a day and they’re the most popular act in Dollywood.”
People outside of Dollywood seldom get to see the Kingdom Heirs, Bailey said, because they only perform outside shows for the 11 weeks every year that Dollywood is closed.
Thursday evening’s concert features the Isaacs, whose 2016 album “Nature’s Symphony In 432” was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Roots Gospel Album category. Football star Terry Bradshaw is the album’s executive producer. Bradshaw, in fact, wanted to attend the convention along with the Isaacs, but he couldn’t work it into his schedule.
One group that’s new to the convention this year is the Second Half Quartet. They’ll sing on Thursday, on the same program as the Collingsworth family, Pat Barker, Greater Vision and the Mark Trammel Quartet.
Barker, Greater Vision and the Mark Trammell Quartet often perform together, Bailey said, and one night a promoter asked if they could join forces and perform together in the second half of the show. Barker and some members of the two groups performed and impromptu show, and the performers and the audiences loved it so much that the Second Half Quartet became a permanent gospel super-group.
Every year, Bill Bailey’s Gospel Music Convention attracts people from around the country who stay in RVs for several days or the entire week. In recent years the RVs have peaked across the street to the south of the convention center. This year, Cirque Italia’s big top will be on that land, so Bailey worked with convention center to arrange for RVs to park on the convention center grounds.
“Our people actually prefer that,” Bailey said. “They’ve had cross the street, and at times that street can be very congested. Now they’ll be on the actual grounds of the convention center.”
Details: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Feb. 6-11, Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto. $18 per night, $95 for a six-day pass. Six-day VIP passes $135. Children 3-11 $5 per night at the door. Afternoon concerts free. 941-756-6942, billbaileyconerts.com.