Bill Bailey brings gospel stars to music convention

MANATEE -- A multitude of people will pour into Palmetto next week to celebrate Christian faith with song at the Winter Gospel Music Convention.

Organizers expect the convention to draw between 2,000 and 3,000 for each 7:30 p.m. performance Monday through Saturday at the Manatee Convention Center. And free 1:30 p.m. matinees, which run daily starting Tuesday, are an added bonus for the congregation of locals and out-of-towners.

Headliners include the Blackwood Brothers (Monday), Booth Brothers (Tuesday and Wednesday) and the Triumphant Quartet (Thursday).

The Blackwood Brothers won a slew of Grammys in the Best Gospel Performance category between 1966 and 1982. The original lineup formed in 1934 in Choctaw County, Miss., and were favorites of a young Elvis Presley, who, the story goes, auditioned but was turned down for the group in 1953.

“This is Southern gospel music’s largest event in wintertime,” promoter Bill Bailey said. “These are the best artists in Southern gospel and the reason why people come from all over country and internationally to see them.”

Bailey has been promoting Southern gospel -- music that leans more country than the pop and rock influenced contemporary Christian genre -- for the past quarter century. The 41-year-old native of Albany, Ga., has lived in Manatee County for 30 years. He’s the pastor at Happy Gospel Church at 1915 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton.

“Our Sunday night concert series is very heavily attended,” Bailey said.

He started booking shows at age 16. While his peers dreamed of being on stage, Bailey thought about what it took to make a concert happen.

This passion led him to being named 2008 Promoter of the Year by the Southern Gospel Promoters Association during the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Ky.

“I had a love for this music as a child,” Bailey said. “I was brought up around gospel music and I loved putting together concert events.

“As a young teenager it fascinated me,” he continued. “While people were excited about the singing I was excited seeing what went on behind the scenes and that drew me to booking artists.” Bailey views his roles of pastor and gospel music promoter as similar. He sees both as opportunities to spread the teachings of Jesus. Whether at his Happy Gospel Church or the Manatee Convention Center, Bailey has one goal.

“We want to make sure the message goes out through song,” Bailey said. “There’s people who won’t darken our door on Sunday but we get them to a concert event. And the same message I preach on Sunday morning is preached through those songs. The method is not sacred, it’s the message that is sacred.”

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at (941) 745-7057. Visit his blog, Buzz Worthy, at