By Vivian Belknap
For the 2nd annual Denton Gospelfest, Southern Gospel Music promoter, David Ray, put together a very diverse show this year by bringing to the stage musicians from 13 to 81 years of age. The venue location was at Denton County Cowboy Church in Ponder, Texas. The Cowboy Churches are a growing Jesus-centered fellowship with emphasis on the “cowboy” style of worship. The dress is casual with cowboy hats and boots in evidence. Almost always there is a rodeo arena on the property and Denton County Cowboy Church is no exception. They have a large well-built arena adjacent to their worship center with an area for children to play during a rodeo event or during services. The church is situated in a rural area, surrounded on all sides by pastures and woods. They have a horse trough, which serves as a baptistry, and the décor is pure western with horse saddles and hay bales being a part. Most of the Cowboy Churches favor Country Gospel music as well as Southern Gospel and the hymns. The leadership there was very welcoming and concessions were in abundance. Doesn’t get much better: great Southern and Country Gospel music and great Texas food!
The concert began with Lisa Dye, a local singer from Grand Prairie Texas, the daughter of Glen Dye, who opened with “The Holy Hills of Heaven,” and “This Ship Was Made to Sail.” Then Matt Jones, a member of the King’s River trio from Ft. Worth, Texas, joined her on stage. Not only did they sing a duet, but he also did a fine job on the keyboard.
David Ray kept us entertained between sets by telling stories of his childhood, growing up as a PK, (you know, a preacher’s kid.) I grew up as one, and oh, yes, we have stories!
Next we were introduced to Reynold Rutledge and his magnificent instrument, a marimba. Are you familiar with a marimba? If not, it looks like a xylophone, but there is a difference between the two instruments. The xylophone has an octave range of 2 ½ to 4, and the marimba has a 3 to 5 octave range, and even higher for newer instruments. The marimba has a more mellow sound and is more suited to a solo rather than an ensemble set as Reynold so masterfully proves in his performances.
Reynold opened with “God On The Mountain,” filling the auditorium with his rich tenor voice. Even though he is 81 years young and has been playing and singing for 75 years, one would never know his age by looking at him or hearing him sing. He then played “Give Them All To Jesus,” with a great Latin feel, and ended it with “cha, cha, cha.” That put a smile on all our faces. Next he sang “I Know Who Holds My Hand,” with fantastic lungpower; really he doesn’t need a microphone. Next on the marimba was “Gentle Shepherd,” and he gave this song the sound of being in the islands. We heard “Dwelling in Beulah Land,” and “This is Just What Heaven Means to Me,” and he started it with a yodel. That put another smile on our faces. His eclectic music brings much variety to the program.
The great family harmony of The Hootens followed Reynold Rutledge. The Hootens are from Waskom, Texas. Where is Waskom, TX? It is on I-20 just a short distance from the Texas/Louisiana border. The trio consists of Ronnie, Donnie and Carli Hooten. In late 2012, Donnie was invited to sing at Open Range Fellowship Church in Greenwood, Louisiana. After some time, he invited his daughter, Carli, to sing with him. They thought it would be fun to put a little group together and since they had sung a few times in the past with Donnie’s Uncle Ronnie, they spoke with him about becoming a group. They agreed to be known as The Hootens and began to sing just about every Thursday night in front of 800 people at the Open Range Fellowship Church. Through this exposure, the group gained popularity in the area and began receiving invitations to sing at other churches.
The Hootens never intended to travel or become an official group, but God had a different plan. They are relatively new as a group to the Southern Gospel arena but their energy and the evident love they have for the Lord is shown in their stage presence. The energy they express on the stage is carried over into the audience as you see people joining in with clapping and big smiles on their faces. Much is said regarding family harmony as we speak of the Martins, the Isaacs and others in this genre and this family harmony is evident as you listen to the Hootens sing.
Their physical and spiritual energy was displayed in “Going Home with Jesus,” and many more, featuring Carli and Ronnie Hooten. We experienced an electrifying moment on and off stage as they shared “King Jesus”.
Another east Texas family singing Southern Gospel music is the Erwin Family, made up of three brothers and one sister, ranging in age from 14 to early 20’s. When they’re not traveling they call Edgewood, Texas their home. In 2013, they traveled 270 days along with their dad and mother, who have been in full time evangelism for 41 years. So these kids have been singing and traveling all their lives, sharing their love for Jesus and singing the Gospel to many people. Keith, Kody and Kris sang together as a trio until 2013 when their sister, Katie joined them on stage making them a Southern Gospel mixed group. Their latest album, “Back to Basics,” features the sound we are hearing today from The Erwins.
The Erwins began their time with us singing: “What A Lovely Name,” followed by “Every Question Will Be Answered,” and then “Will You Go?” Keith commented, “That’s the great commission in that song; we’re in the business of doing that.” Katie was featured as well as just the original trio of three brothers. The Erwins sang a new song, “There’s Power In Prayer,” and finished so sweetly singing a cappella. The Erwins commented that they have never shared a stage with such diversity of talent. They were especially enthralled with Reynold Rutledge, his musical talent and mighty lungpower.
The Erwins finished the concert by saying, “Southern Gospel music is the clearest and cleanest music in the genre of Christian music. We want to be faithful to carry on this genre of music.” I am eagerly anticipating the release of their next album, the first one since their signing with Stowtown Records. It’s due to be out February 3, 2015, and the name of the album is “Ready to Sail.”
David Ray would have liked for the attendance to be greater as this was the second annual event for the Denton County Gospelfest but as we were leaving, he said he would be back next year with the Third Annual Gospelfest. Watch for details and make plans to attend. David has brought together a great talent set for the past two events. I can promise you that by missing this one you missed a blessing. The website is www.kkgmam.com/event/denton-county-gospelfest .
You can find out more about The Erwins at www.erwinministries.com, and on Face Book, The Erwin Family.
By Vivian Belknap