, , , ,

Gospel Tabernacle is an amazing piece of Americana located on a private farm 25 miles East of Athens, Ga.

One of my many identities is being the youngest of 5 daughters in a very large and extremely kooky family.

Definition of KOOKY: having the characteristics of a kook : crazy, offbeat

We’re like “Steel Magnolias” meets “Arrested Development” meets “My Name Is Earl”…complete with two hair salons and a family feud that’s about to reach the 7 year mark. But as kooky as we are we’re still pretty normal in that we torment the younger generations, we have crazy uncles, and the one or two (or twelve) skeletons in the closet might make a few in the family blush but they won’t land anyone in jail if they’re ever exposed. My parents have been married 50 years and to this day they’re still the center of our world…which basically means all 31 of us land on the old farm house every weekend we’re in town.

One of the many things we do as a family is search out community events in tiny townships throughout the Southeast. We all share a love for small town Americana and as a result we’ve gathered quite a collection of pretty crazy stories. I’m guessing this fascination stems from the fact that when we were young my father, now a retired School Superintendent , and my mother, who’s full time job was to raise five daughters with their “purity” intact, didn’t have the extra money for swanky vacations so instead of traveling to hotels and amusement parks we spent our summers camping in State Parks and exploring rural life in the South.

Through friendships with locals we were exposed to just about every aspect of country living you can possibly imagine: driving tractors, shooting guns, rodeo’s, cattle auctions, riding horses, cow tipping (mom didn’t know about this one), boating, fishing, BBQ, Sunday dinner…in hindsight it’s kind of shocking considering how strict mom was about raising us to be “ladies”. One of the family favorites became the Saturday night hoedowns, a social event where EVERYONE in the community would starch their Western Shirts and come together to dance and sing to live Bluegrass music. My parents loved them because hoedowns were “good clean fun” and my sisters loved them because these were the few times they were allowed unsupervised interaction with country boys. Considering we couldn’t date until our 16th birthday I was years away from caring about boys so my time at these hoedowns was spent with the elders actually learning how to square dance and clog; in case you were wondering square dancing made more of a negative impact on my high school image than a positive one.  Anywho, after 30+ years my family still spends Saturday nights in old barns, clogging to Bluegrass and listening to wisecracks about the local politicians.

So last Saturday, after 5 o’clock dinner at La Forgota (the only restaurant in Elberton Ga), mom directed everyone into cars and led the way to the Gospel Tabernacle’s “Holiday Spectacular”, three counties over. And what a spectacular it was. There were six Gospel bands from all corners of Colbert County playing for a crowd of 100+ family and friends. The performers ranged in age from 13 – 90 and included Preachers, Pastors, Reverends, Sister Sarahs, Brother Carls and Mother Mothers. At one point 85 year old Reverend Buford Bristol (I can’t be sure of the “Bristol” but I’m positive it was “Buford”) was on stage with his wife, Sister Martha, belting out the story of Christ’s birth to the strumming of dueling banjos.  All the men were dressed in their finest shirts and the ladies were wearing Christmas sparkles galore. The lights decorating the stage were so bright they made it nearly impossible to read the “No Cussin, No Smokin & No Drankin” sign… nearly impossible, but not entirely. We sat there, mesmerized for over 2 hours, listening to the music and chuckling to the church crowd humor. I recognized a few of the songs but for the most part it was all new to me. The experience was priceless and I’m so happy to have recorded the little piece of audio I did (link under the photo). For the record we didn’t clog because it’s considered sacrilegious to dance to Gospel tunes.

Seating in the Gospel Tabernacle barn consist of old church pews and bus seats.

Seating in the Gospel Tabernacle consists of old church pews and expired bus seats

Click here to hear The Gospel Tabernacle House Band

If clogging and Bluegrass are things you’d like to see then definitely make a trip to Bluegrass Express, a live radio show that broadcasts from an old cotton warehouse located on Depot Street in Hartwell, Ga. They play from 7-10 every Saturday night. If you’re lucky (or maybe not) my family will be there, swarming the stage like locusts, clogging and square dancing until the band is too exhausted to play another round…we have a pretty serious “they love us!” complex.  If you want to take the experience a step further then I recommend The Gospel Tabernacle. Unfortunately I’ll have to send you the information offline, advertising is word of mouth and from what I can see they don’t adhere to a set schedule. Mom promises they open the doors one Saturday each month and all are welcome so I’ll be happy to pass that information along when it’s available. I can share that the barn is located on an old family farm 25 miles East of Athens and instead of a door fee they pass the hat for contributions.

As a side note I’d like to say that Gospel Tabernacle is exactly what the name says, it’s Gospel music meant to stir the soul.  We have some good family friends who are associated with this group of churches but for my family the attraction is more about experiencing one of the truest forms of American Folk Art you will ever see. And it is wonderful.

I should probably express a little gratitude to my amazing husband who jumped into this crazy family and its ideas of fun feet first and swears that he enjoys almost every minute of it.  He’s a trooper and watching him make small talk with sweet little old ladies sharing the same church pew makes me love him even more!