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from Volume 24 , Issue 8

The 1997 Gospel Steel Guitar Show

Fred Layman

Just outside the I-465 loop in the open countryside on the west side of Indianapolis there is a lake surround by lush greenery and well manicured landscaping. A population of colorful ducks and geese swim on the waters and waddle around the shoreline. These pastoral surroundings were the scene for the fifth annual Gospel Steel Guitar Association show, held at the Best Western Waterfront Plaza Hotel on April 25-26. This show is one of the best kept secrets among the many shows that lovers of steel enjoy today.

The Gospel Steel Association came into being a half dozen years ago, out of the inspiration of its founder, Doug Rolfe. You may not have met Doug, but if you have flown on any commercial airline in the mid-west he was doing something very important for you. On his day job he is an air traffic controller at the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center which controls an area covering parts of seven states in the mid-west.

Doug and his lovely wife Stevie, along with a dedicated staff, went all out for this fifth annual show. New staging and lighting were created. An expanded sound system added to the listening enjoyment of the performances. And, for the first time, video taping of the show was done for the purpose of reproduction. Gospel music lovers will be happy to know that a quality two-hour video is available for $20.00, plus $3.00 shipping and handling, from Doug Rolfe, 897 David Drive, Camby, IN 46113.

As the name indicates, this annual show is entirely dedicated to gospel music. The love of steel guitar and the love of hymns and gospel songs are the twin magnots that have drawn an increasingly larger audience each year to the show. This year saw a record attendance. The music has a way of tapping into our memory banks of faith, inspiring our commitments in the present, and rekindling our hopes for the future, all done in a non-threatening manner which respects persons, and the variety of Christian beliefs in the audience, or even non-belief, for that matter.

Twenty steel guitarists from eleven states appeared on the show, coming from as far away as New Mexico and South Carolina, from Minnesota and Texas. During the day on Friday, Doug Jernigan led a seminar for steel players who wanted to increase their knowledge and playing skills. Jack Heern opened the Friday evening show, playing several familiar hymns mostly on the C6th neck, his favorite. Rev. Wayne Smith from Mequite, Texas, followed with renditions of gospel music in a more country and southern gospel vein. Leonard Bick from southern Ohio was next on the evening program. Leonard is a disciplined player having recently come off the road after playing for Johnny Paycheck several years, and turned in a flawless performance of traditional and contemporary gospel songs. Garri George from Anderson, Indiana, brought his daughter and son with him to play, and they swapped off between bass and drums. This family trio performed well together. They were followed by Dave Jackson, from Bloomington, Indiana. Dave's band performed well together and provided an inspirational program, both with Dave's steel solos and backup work as well as vocals from members of the group.

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