Wednesday, April 7, 2010

ReWind Wednesdays: SGM FanFair 2005

SGM FanFair: Is Chattanooga A New Choice for Fans in 2005?

A new Southern Gospel mega-concert is being planned for Chattanooga, Tennessee from August 15th to 20th, 2005. Billed as “Southern Gospel Music’s first Fan Fair”, this festival will feature six days of concerts, including morning worship services, afternoon matinees, and evening performances in the Convention Center of downtown Chattanooga. The diverse roster covers the span of Southern Gospel, including traditional quartets, family groups, trios, and soloists. The Hoppers, Michael English, Lordsong, Dottie Rambo, and Mercy’s Mark are a few of the confirmed artists.

Recently, was granted an exclusive interview with the forces behind this event. The FanFair executive consists of Randall Wilds of Wilds & Associates; John Lanier, Southern Gospel Artist; Dedra Henry of the Shadrix Trio, and Ava Bowley of Wilds and Associates.

We are pleased to present a transcript of this interview, as Lorraine Walker talks to Randall, John and Ava:

Lorraine: I appreciate that you are willing to discuss FanFair ‘05 with It has caused quite a buzz within the gospel music industry, including fans and artists. Now, according to your website, SGM FanFair is being promoted as a six-day gospel music concert event featuring "performances by a huge roster of artists - from quartets to soloists." WHY are you doing this? You've seen the comments on the message boards and heard the talk. Why do you think Southern Gospel Music needs another week-long event of this size? Why did you decide to be the ones to host it and why the name, "FanFair?"

John: Well, I realize that a multi-day concert event is not a new concept in gospel music, and perhaps, we don't "need" another one. But, as an artist who attends a couple of the other established multi-day events, I've heard a lot of feedback from fans. Our goal with FanFair is to give them - as much as we can - what they aren't getting elsewhere at the best value possible. We're not trying to compete with any other similar event. We just wanted to add another choice to the list of options, so to speak. I like variety, don't you? SGM FanFair is actually Randall's dream child...

Randall: Yeah, this didn't come about overnight. This is something I have been praying about for a little more than three years. I finally got a peace about pursuing the idea, and ran with it. In addition to what John has already stated, one of my goals with FanFair is to "broaden the stage", so to speak. I am in the southern gospel music business, not the quartet business. Our stage will feature a variety of talent ranging from soloists to quartets, from new talent to living legends. I hope to provide a variety that fans will appreciate. I have no doubt that SGM FanFair will be a success.

Ava: The bottom line is that we want this to be a fan-based event, not something that is dominated by industry political control. As such, we chose to call it FanFair.

Lorraine: Who is involved in the leadership of this venture? How and why were they chosen?

John: As I mentioned earlier, SGM FanFair was Randall's vision. He made the initial investment and started the ball rolling. As co-owner of the parent company (Wilds & Associates), I was next in line to make my contribution to this new endeavor. From there, a board was created to help govern, structure, coordinate and maintain the annual event.

Ava: Currently, there are four board members, each with experience in gospel music and business management: Randall Wilds, John Lanier, Dedra Henry and myself.

Randall: I serve as president, chairman of the board and executive producer. John is vice president and co-chairman. He handles most of our promotion and publicity, including our web site. He also helps make key decisions in the operation of FanFair and serves as associate producer. Ava manages the office and serves as head of the sales department. She also handles much of the public relations and organizes our board meetings. Dedra Henry could not be with us today due to other obligations. Dedra serves as event coordinator and sales representative. She also assists with public relations.

Lorraine: Considering this is a new event of large proportion, how have the booking agencies responded to your requests to book their talent on FanFair?

Randall: The agencies we've contacted have worked very well with us, and are very supportive. In the very beginning, only one booking agency was a bit hesitant, simply because this was a new endeavor. But once they received positive recommendations from the other agencies we've worked with in the past, they generously complied. As owner/manager of two booking agencies, I understand their concerns. I appreciate and respect those who are genuinely concerned about the artists they represent.

Lorraine: What about the reaction from the artists?

John: Out of all the artists that we have invited, there are only four who declined: The Crabb Family, The McKameys, The Dove Brothers and The Perrys. We don't know the reasons why, but we certainly respect their decisions....

Randall: Other than those few, the response from artists has been tremendous. All those we have secured are extremely excited about the event...and we couldn't be more pleased with the roster of talent we have lined up!

Ava: There are a couple of artists that can't be there due to scheduling conflicts. Hopefully, they can be with us for the 2006 FanFair.

Lorraine: According to your website, there will also be an artist exhibit hall, where fans visit with their favorite artists. Will artists stay all week and are they performing more than once? Are there any other activities planned that are not on the web site?

Randall: Most of the artists that are scheduled have made a commitment to stay all week. Unfortunately, there are a few that can not due to other dates already scheduled that week. Hopefully, everyone can stay the full week next year. That is one of our primary goals. At this point, artists will be performing once during the week. We want to give time slots to as many artists as we can. This will mean a great variety of more artists for the fans. I think they'll enjoy that. While we have most everything lined up for the week, it's still early in the process. We are still in the planning and organizing phase, which means something could change at any given moment. We are still awaiting confirmations for additional artists appearances from the agencies, so be looking for more to be added soon. We are also considering the addition of a talent search during the week. Any new developments will be posted to our website, and will be included in future ads. So, stay tuned.

Lorraine: Approximately, how many more artists are you hoping to add?

John: That's a good question. We have planned to have two shows daily, in addition to early morning worship services. Our goal, as Randall mentioned, is to allow as many artists as possible a reasonable time slot on stage. Some artists will be featured during the music portion of the worship services. Others will be scheduled for the daytime matinee, while others are on the evening line-up. When it's all said and done, we will probably total nearly 100 artists spread out over the week. Now that's a lot of “sangin’”!

Ava: ...and we are talking quality talent here. While we are thrilled to have major players....many of our faithful favorites, I can't wait for the fans to hear some of the new talent we have scheduled. I think fans will be pleasantly surprised to hear what they've been missing!

Lorraine: Various fans and artists have suggested they might have to choose between the new FanFair and several large, long-standing events occurring in August and September. What kind of response are you getting from the fans? How are ticket sales coming along?

John: Well, I have read a lot of comments from fans in the message boards. As to be expected, I guess, some of the fans are a bit skeptical of the event, some curious and unsure of it's outcome, and others seem really excited. It seems to be a very mixed crowd in the world wide sg web. But, generally, the overall response in the comments I've read seems fairly positive. Otherwise, the fan response has been extremely positive...

Ava: ...yes, we are getting dozens of phone calls and emails from fans every day. It has been tremendous! I can feel the excitement coming through over the phone and has all been with a very enthusiastic attitude.

Randall: Ticket orders are coming in every week. We have only a few artist circle seats left. If sales continue at this pace, this event will be a sell-out by the end of April.

Much has been said about Fan Fair in various publications and internet message boards, and the Board has high hopes for this new endeavor. Chattanooga was chosen for the venue because of the variety of area attractions and according to the promoters, the city officials have welcomed the festival with “open arms”. On January 7, 2005, a local newspaper picked up the story that a three year contract has already been signed with the city. The quoted Mike Wootten of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The ideal location and progress of Chattanooga was…appealing for the fan fair”, according to Wootten. “The excitement level this event has created among not only the host facilities but the locals as well has been tremendous. Perhaps this excitement can be attributed to the fact that this event is the perfect fit for our family-friendly city.”

With this signing, Wilds shows he is quite confident about the future of the festival. “As with any business investment, there are always risks involved.” Randall states. “As I mentioned, I have a real peace about this endeavor. Due to the overwhelming response we've had in the past couple of months of public advertising, we feel the three year relationship with Chattanooga is a positive step.”

As more names are added to an already impressive roster of talent, it appears that SGM Fan Fair ’05 will be an event to remember for fans and industry alike. More information can be found on the website at Will Chattanooga be the choice for Southern Gospel fans in August? Time will tell.

By Lorraine Walker
First published in January 2005 by . Used by permission

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