May 3, 2013

Divine bluegrass shines


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Triple nickels — 555 — are the date and time of the highly anticipated Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir GospelFEST. 

At 5 p.m. Sunday in the E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium, expect a bluegrass/gospel mix at the Americana concert featuring special guests the Bluegrass Gospel Project. There will be performances by the Praise Team, Praise Dance Team and Step Team. Emcee is Anthony English. 

“We’re always trying to find something different than before to keep it fresh,” said Dr. Dexter Criss, artistic director of the choir. “Last year in December, we had the more choral concert with Champlain Valley Voices. Now, we want to do a concert with a grassroots theme.”

The Vermont-based Bluegrass Gospel Project members are Gene White (fiddle, guitar, vocals), Colby Crehan (vocals), Paul Miller (guitar and vocals), Taylor Armerding (mandolin and vocals), Kirk Lord (upright bass) and Dr. Steve Light (banjo, dobro, guitar and vocals). Light is the associate vice president for academic affairs at the college.

“He and I have talked awhile about doing something together,” Criss said. “They have never performed in Giltz. We said, ‘Hey, now’s the time. It makes sense.’”

The Bluegrass Gospel Project will perform its set the first half of the evening.

Then, the Gospel Choir takes it back to gospel music’s heyday in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s during the eras of Edwin Hawkins and James Cleveland. 

“It’s more of a soulful experience,” Criss said. “The songs we’re doing are more solo driven, which is the way gospel really grew. Our soloists will be the best soloists we have. When we open, the audience will really get to hear them show their talents as gospel singers. We’re doing ‘Peace Be Still.’ It’s not a song everyone can pull off, but we’re trying to pull it off.”

Another selection is “You’ve Been Blessing Me” recorded by the Reed Temple Choir.

“It has a swing-jazz beat that’s going to get the audience on its feet,” Criss said.

The Bluegrass Gospel Project and the choir will combine voices on “Oh, Mary, Don’t You Weep.”

“Another one is called ‘Pass Me Not,’ written in 1989 by Douglas Miller. It’s a spin-off of ‘Pass Me Not, Oh Gentle Savior.’ He’s still around. He has a nice, deep-rich baritone voice not traditional for a gospel lead. Most had high tenor voices. He had this baritone voice that commanded the audience,” Criss said.

A contemporary selection is “Awesome,” written by Charles Jenkins. 

“People who know this song will be excited. By the time we’re done, the whole hall will be excited,” he said.

The choir’s male soloist is Learie Nurse.

“He’s run the Praise Team for three years. He’s going to sing ‘Awesome’ and several other songs. He made a couple rounds with ‘American Idol.’ We’re really trying him to go for this other show called ‘Sunday’s Best,’” Criss said.

Female soloists Joy Che and Melissa Campbell will do a duet, “Full and Complete” by Walter Hawkins. 

“It’s not a song that everybody can do. They have those big broad voices,” Criss said.

Gospel Fest 555 has more than a few surprises, including Kurt Carr compositions.

“His songs seem to be very contemporary, but he was one of the background singers for James Cleveland. That’s why his work is part of this,” Criss said.

The program opens with “Great God, Great Praise.”

“It’s a high-energetic song. The choir is going to dance in the aisles,” he said.

Bobbie Criss (his mother) ends the concert with “They Got The Word” by the Mississippi Mass Choir.

“It’s so down home,” he said. “She’s the oldest soloist I ever used. Usually all the songs we do, they are scripted. My mother, of course, I can’t tell her what to do. I told her I will cut it off if it gets too long. She’s a traditional, quartet kind of singer. She’s used to really working the crowd. My mom did a cameo appearance a few years ago. Now, she has time to really engage the audience.”

The evening’s pulse is set by the choir’s band.

“I can’t say enough about the band,” Criss said. “They’re unbelievable. It’s a great weekend. Bluegrass and gospel is a natural draw.”

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WHAT: SUNY Plattsburgh's Gospel Choir presents GospelFEST with special guests the Bluegrass Gospel Project.

WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday, May 5.

WHERE: E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium, Hawkins Hall, SUNY Plattsburgh.

ADMISSION: Tickets are $12 general admission in advance or $15 at the door; $5 students in advance or $8 at the door; and free to children under 5. Tickets are available at the Angell College Center desk, The Great Adirondack Soup Company, North Country Cultural Center for the Arts and at Advance Music in Burlington.

CONTACT: 564-2704.