Gospel music

SPARTANSBURG — When the Summer Gospel Concert sponsored by the Valley View Mennonite Church in Spartansburg rolls around each year, Connie Bell often hears the same question.

“Why do you do it if you don’t make any money?”

For Bell, who has helped organize the free event for about 15 years with her husband, Sonny, the answer is simple.

“We just want people to enjoy a good, uplifting afternoon,” Bell said. “We’ve had people tell us the music has brought them to the Lord. To me that’s worth the whole thing. Music touches every soul.”

The Spartansburg Township church’s 19th annual gospel concert will be held Saturday at the Spartansburg Fairgrounds. The music — by the Thurstons, Justified, the Songsters and additional local musicians — will begin at 2 p.m.

Concert patrons are welcome to come early and enjoy a meal that is available from noon to 2 p.m. Barbecued chicken and ox roast dinners will be served by the Spartansburg Volunteer Fire Department. Meals are $8.50 for adults and $4.50 for children. All proceeds are used to pay concert costs.

“We pass the hat, too, for a love offering,” Bell said.

The Rev. Rob Esh, pastor of Valley View Mennonite Church, said the church’s intention from the beginning has been to offer free entertainment.

“We do this as a ministry to bring the community together,” Esh said. “It’s not designed to be a fundraiser. It’s been self-sustaining for years.”

The Thurstons are a Michigan-based musical family that performs about 100 concerts each year. This family has three recordings to their credit.

Justified, a male quintet, is also based in Michigan. Its members either sang or played with other gospel groups for the past 20 years.

The Songsters are based in Akron, Ohio.

Besides the three main performers, the concert will feature a couple of songs by a brass ensemble composed of more than a dozen youth from Valley View Mennonite Church.

Also, Spartansburg-area musician Angelia Renniger will play the saxophone.

“We thought it would be nice to have some instrumental music,” Bell said.

The concert will be held outdoors — rain or shine — under a pavilion with a stage and limited seating. Patrons are asked to bring their own chairs for lawn seating outside the pavilion.

Camping sites also are available at the fairgrounds. Call the Bells at 654-7741 for information.

As the free concert nears the end of its second decade, Esh said the church congregation will meet in the fall to discuss the future of the event.

“We’ll talk about seeing if we want to expand or get other congregations involved,” Esh said.

However, Esh is confident that gospel music lovers will still converge on Spartansburg in 2015, when the event celebrates its 20th year.

“Why stop at 19?” Esh said with a laugh.

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