Everybody knows who can fill an arena: Elton John, Rod Stewart and … Bill Gaither? No doubt about it, gospel legend Gaither is one of America’s top arena attractions, sometimes outdrawing guys named Elton and Rod.
“To be honest with you, I’ve seen those numbers, too, but I think it’s just because we work more than some of the rest of those guys,” said Gaither, with a chuckle. “We’re out there 50 or 60 days a year. We’re amazed at the crowds – amazed and grateful.”
Gaither brings his Homecoming “Lovin’ Life” 2008 Tour to the Spokane Arena tonight. He’ll deliver essentially what he has successfully delivered for more than 30 years: Plenty of traditional gospel music from a stage-filling lineup of musicians and guest artists.
This tour will include a “young and energetic” vocal group, Signature Sound; a family group named The Hoppers; and virtuoso keyboard player Gordon Mote. Gaither will be accompanied, as usual, by the Gaither Vocal Band.
The tour has come a long way from Gaither’s modest Midwest beginnings. He had his wife, Gloria, quit their teaching jobs about 40 years ago to devote their lives to gospel music.
“We’re like everybody; we started out quite small,” said Gaither from his Indiana home. “We graduated from churches, and then went into high school auditoriums and then city auditoriums. Then in the early 1970s, we started doing arenas, which was a whole other ballgame. That was a leap for a gospel group, although, obviously, pop groups had been doing it for some time. … Now we feel pretty much at home in them.”
The music has remained mostly the same, but the delivery has certainly become more polished.
“Technically, the electronics are better, the lighting is better and the sound is better,” said Gaither. “We have figured out how to make arenas a good place to create community. Arenas make for a little more participation.”
The Christian message has also remained the same, and Gaither strives to make it inclusive and non-denominational.
“We’re pretty much across the gamut and always have been,” said Gaither. “When we zero in on the basics, you find out there’s a whole lot more things that unite us than divide us. You can harp on the divisive things if you want to, which we’ve never done. The Gospel is a pretty broad statement. And it includes everybody.”
Gospel’s musical roots may be from the South and Midwest, but Gaither said he loves coming to the Northwest.
“The Northwest is very open,” he said. “It might not be as uptight as the Midwest is.”
Gaither has been filling arenas for decades, but he strives to not take his audiences for granted.
“If (a concert) comes here to Indianapolis, to get me to leave the grandkids and fireplace?” said Gaither. “It better be pretty good.”