"They say, 'Every time you make a change, we think...oh, you lost something special,'" said Gaither, 82, from his Alexandria, Ind. office.
"But they also say, 'You always surprise us...' And they are loving this current group."
After last year's departure of long time tenor David Phelps, singer Reggie Smith signed on with the Grammy Award-winning quintet. Smith is no stranger to Gaither's "Homecoming" array of artists – he and his wife Ladye Love Smith have sung with Gaither's wider group of artists for the last 18 years.
Lead singer Adam Crabb and Todd Suttles have been on board for the last few years, and Wes Hampton for well over a decade. All of them were part of the group's latest release, "We Have This Moment."
"These concerts give us a wonderful opportunity to show these guys off," Gaither added.
The Gaither Vocal Band and a handful of guest artists bring their tour to DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids on July 20.
A HISTORIC TRACK RECORD
Gaither has presented his "Homecoming" concerts to Van Andel Arena several times through the years, showcasing legendary artists from the past while also spotlighting newer ones in large roster shows that are popularized in their music videos. But there are advantages to lower scale concerts in smaller-sized venues.
"It's more up close and personal," Gaither said. "And people get a chance to see us at a level they can't in an arena."
On their latest release, the Vocal Band offers a mixture of selections. Bill and his wife Gloria co-wrote wrote "I'll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus." There are several Southern gospel style anthems, but the quintet also covers Zach William's "Chain Breaker," and Chris Tomlin's "Jesus, Messiah."
"We always love good songs, we don't care what the source is," Gaither stated.
But the music veteran is always careful to include songs from long before he formed his Gaither Vocal Band - back in the days when the former Bill Gaither Trio sung songs such as "Because He Lives," "He Touched Me" and "The King is Coming." Those decades-old songs and others have found their way into numerous hymnbooks.
Throughout his career Gaither also has mentored younger artists – featuring them on his Homecoming platform and introducing them to new audiences. Sandy Patty, Steve Green and even industry giants such as Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant rose into prominence with some assistance by the Gaither spotlight.
In 2013, the Vocal Band was honored with induction into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. Members past and present were in Nashville for the ceremonies. The singers were acknowledged for their dynamic musical contribution going back to their start in the early 1980s.
"I can say I've sung with some of the best male vocalists in this field," said Gaither of band alums such as Larnelle Harris, Russ Taff and Michael English. The singers are planning a reunion weekend/concert for this fall.
What does the word "retirement" mean to Bill Gaither? "I will tell you that we're not out as much as we've been in the past, and I like it this way," said Gaither of his current touring schedule. "By the time we get to Grand Rapids I'll be going full throttle and you'll see me at my very best," he smiled.
"I love what I do and I'll continue to do it."
Meanwhile, Bill and Gloria still live in Alexandria; the same, small Indiana town where they first met as school teachers in the 1950s (They celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary this year). They have three children and seven grandkids. "We got a little 20-acre place that was just a field when we bought it, but now it's beautifully landscaped with a stream going through it," he said.
Gaither Vocal Band, with special guests Charlotte Ritchie, Gene McDonald, Kevin Williams
7pm Friday July 20, 2018
DeVos Performance Hall, Monroe Ave. NW, downtown Grand Rapids.
Tickets: $23 to $72, plus service fees. Available at Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 800-745-3000, or online. Group rates may be available: 616-742-6500.
Watch a promo video online.
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