The sounds of southern passion are coming to Nevada City Saturday with the first Nevada City Gospel Music Festival in what organizers hope will evolve into a growing annual event.
Nevada City is no stranger to gospel music. Marysville’s Bethel AME Choir has performed at Miner’s Foundry Cultural Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration for several years and is one of the headliners for the gospel festival. In addition to Bethel AME, the festival boasts locals Paige Anderson and The Fearless Kin; Karen Westbrooks and Zamar; Carl Walden, the “Duke” of gospel guitar; Scott Hickman; the Gospel Motivators; Inheritance; and Kalyani.
The lineup represents more of an eclectic gathering of performers, all of whose music either embraces or is inspired by gospel but doesn’t necessarily preach it.
“Some of our performers are very much gospel, and others describe themselves as Americana or bluegrass,” Joshua Jones, artistic director for the event, said. “While pure gospel music has very distinct beginnings that you can trace back to the 18th century, the kind of gospel you’ll hear at the festival is influenced by a broad spectrum of folk genres. I think that you often find that gospel, bluegrass or any other kind of folk music that has been around for a while, ultimately tends to borrow from one another.”
Though gospel is inherently spiritual, the common thread among this weekend’s music is its ability to uplift and inspire, feelings that Jones and festival organizer Andy Gonzales are hoping will bring the community together and connect people of all different backgrounds and walks of life.
They also hope to harness all that good will to raise awareness and funds for Old Mutare Hospital in Zimbabwe. Proceeds will benefit the United Methodist Committee on Relief to provide fresh water to villages in Zimbabwe. The donated funds will specifically assist Old Mutare Hospital in providing fresh water and delivery kits to pregnant women, according to Gonzales.
If all goes according to plan, the festival will be benefiting others for years to come. Gonzales notes that there aren’t many gospel festivals around, and once word got out around Northern California and the Bay Area, he had to turn performers away and is already booking for next year. His goal is to let the event evolve into a multi-day festival, perhaps to be at the fairgrounds.
“I wanted to start this off kind of out of the garage, kind of small,” Gonzales, who is from Colfax, said. “And in a relatively short amount of time, it exploded, much in part to social media.”
Both Gonzales and Jones are musicians and perform at the Nevada City United Methodist Church, where the festival will take place. When Jones approached Pastor Charles Smith with the idea, he was fully on board.
“Andy Gonzales came to me in January with the idea (for the festival), and I think it’s turned into a wonderful thing,” Paige Anderson said. “I think it will be great for the community. There are a lot of great acts.”
Anderson, 19, is one of the local highlights of the weekend. She’s been playing guitar since she was 9 and began writing music in 2009. She’ll perform with her younger and equally talented siblings (the Fearless Kin) along with their mother. “We’re really looking forward to it.”
The festival will kick off with the AME youth choir (consisting of about 40 kids) followed by an R&B-country-gospel rendition of Amazing Grace on the harmonica by Scott Hickman. A rousing and passionate afternoon full of everything from jazz, funk and folk will follow.
“It’s very charismatic,” Gonzales said. “It’s a cultural rendition of spiritual music.”
The event goes from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Guests will be given a wristband upon entry and may come and go throughout the event. Cost for the festival is a $15 suggested donation for adults and a $10 donation for seniors, students and children. Nevada City United Methodist Church is located at 433 Broad St. For information, go to http://ncgospelmusic.com.
Katrina Paz is a freelance writer in Grass Valley.