The 93-year-old Historic Artcraft Theatre in Franklin is considered sacred for fans of classic cinema.
But on Saturday, the theater will host a spiritual event that’s more in the traditional vein.
Piety will be in the air when some of the areas best gospel performers gather at the theater for its first Gospel Fest. The event will feature groups steeped in the Southern gospel tradition that has served as a bedrock for the genre for generations, as well as exciting contemporary acts who provide fresh perspectives.
For performers and organizers alike, the show is an opportunity to offer a different type of entertainment option and showcase the gospel talent that exists in central Indiana.
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“When you have an event like this that’s away from church, you have a better chance that people who just don’t want to go to church will hear your program,” said Allen Wiggington, lead singer for Witness, the headlining band. “Hopefully, if we choose our songs correctly and everything works out right, we can touch people’s hearts and help them on down life’s road.”
Gospel Fest comes from a persistent interest within the community for a gospel event. Theater manager Rob Shilts has been to church events in the past where people have come up to him wondering about organizing something similar at the Artcraft.
“People are very interested in this type of thing, and most of it is people would love to have it here, they’d love to have it in our theater,” he said.
The theater has started staging an increasing number of live events for its multipurpose stage. On weekends when organizers aren’t showing “Annie Get Your Gun” or “Grease,” they’re hosting the Glenn Miller Orchestra or Branson On the Road.
The Artcraft hosted Witness, the headlining band for the festival, for its 20th anniversary concert in 2008. Nearly 400 people came, so Shilts felt confident about booking a larger event this time around.
“We get a lot of requests for people who think they’d work well here. We’ll watch their video, and it just won’t work in this theater,” Shilts said. “With the gospel and some of the other things who have been successful, there is so much support for that kind of thing, that we’ll try it and see how it goes.”
For Witness, whose members live in and just outside Johnson County, the festival was an opportunity to spread its music to an audience that might not normally come to a show.
“When we played in 2008, we got a huge turnout and really packed the place. We could see that people in general, not just church people, were interested in seeing this,” Wiggington said.
Witness formed in 1988, performing traditional Southern gospel style quartet music with four-part harmonies. Wiggington and his brother, Stacy Wiggington, had been singing together for a number of years, eventually joining up with tenor Sam Hinkle and bass Dan Swanson.
“We try to stay really true to the roots of Southern gospel music and sing the old gospel songs. We still like to sing the songs that we all sing together, singing our own parts within that to keep the harmony real tight,” Allen Wiggington said.
For Wiggington, Southern gospel had been a family tradition dating back to his maternal grandparents. They traveled as a singing group, and often he would go with them to set up equipment.
Eventually, he joined in and substituted when a member couldn’t make a show.
“It’s one of those things, some people play golf and are almost addicted to it. I’m that way with gospel singing,” he said. “It gets in your blood.”
Another band performing Saturday, the Woodsmen Quartet from Batesville, brings much of the same ethos to gospel music, only with its own flair.
Lead singer Tim Woods founded the band after attending a gospel concert. He was discouraged by the way organizers, the band and the audience treated each other. That went against everything that gospel music should be, he said.
“I thought it would be great to put a quartet together to be able to reach people instead of showboating all the time,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with sounding good while I’m on stage, but offstage and in my daily life, I want to treat people like I think Christ would.”
Though steeped in Southern gospel, the group likes to weave in contemporary influences and sounds into its quartet. That way, it’s appealing to a wider variety of people.
“Gospel brings people together,” Woods said. “It makes people feel good, and we want to share the Gospel, so this is a great way to do it. If we can sing or say something to make people forget about their problems, to get their mind off worldly things and just enjoy music, that’s our goal.”
Those involved hope that the gospel festival can become an annual or more regular event for the Artcraft. If this initial festival is successful, there’s a good chance that could be the case, Shilts said.
“The new live series that we have has such variety to it. We want to see what kind of audiences are out there and build off that,” he said.
Style: Southern gospel
- Allen Wiggington, lead
- Stacy Wiggington, baritone
- Sam Hinkle, tenor
- Dave Swanson, bass
What they’re like: The band tries to hold true to the harmonies and tries to make sure the songs have a message. “We don’t want to sing songs about someone’s dog running off. We try to have a message of Jesus Christ in what we sing,” Allen Wiggington said.
Style: Southern gospel with contemporary accents
- Tim Woods, baritone
- Daniel Rivera, tenor
- Jim Hutson, lead
- Steve Waggoner, bass
What they sound like: “We do the old-time quartet music, but we’re also starting into more modern-sounding music. That sets us off as different. You’ve got to try to please everybody. You’re not always going to, but you’ve got to try,” Tim Woods said.
Style: Piano-based gospel
Home: Mount Vernon, Ohio
What’s his music like: Though only 16, he has fused gospel themes with prodigious piano talent for a unique musical experience. He has opened for vocalists and groups such as the Kingmen, Southern Sound and Tim Lovelace.
What: Gospel Fest, a night of gospel music by three regional acts — Witness, the Woodsmen Quartet and Timothy Noble.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Historic Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St., Franklin
Cost: $10 in advance, $12 day of show
Tickets and information: historicartcrafttheatre.org