Gone Country goes gospel at Memorial Auditorium

WORTHINGTON -- For the seventh year, the Memorial Auditorium is going country, but this year there will be a twist. Gone Country has gone gospel. With songs such as "I'll Fly Away," "Long Black Train," "Amazing Grace" and "Wings of a Dove," the c...

Gone Country
justine wettschreck/Daily Globe The cast of "Gone Country Goes Gospel," part of which is shown during a rehearsal last week, is looking forward to hitting the stage Friday and Saturday night at the Memorial Auditorium, Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- For the seventh year, the Memorial Auditorium is going country, but this year there will be a twist. Gone Country has gone gospel.

With songs such as "I'll Fly Away," "Long Black Train," "Amazing Grace" and "Wings of a Dove," the country-flavored gospel standards are sure to be a hit with all ages.

"I think there is a connection between music and memories, and I'm hoping these songs will really invoke some good memories for people," said Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh, manager of the Memorial Auditorium. "I truly believe that music touches people's lives and can make a difference."

Returning to the show for the seventh time is Bill Shoup of Brandon, S.D., who found out about the auditorium when he was asked to play at a birthday party. There he met Vosburgh, and has been part of the show ever since.

"I think I have the title of music director," he said. "During the first few shows I bossed everyone around, so they finally decided to put me in charge."


Shoup started playing with bands when he was just 14 years old, and played primarily country music at that tender age.

"I grew up around Pierre, where there is more of a market for country music," he said.

Gospel music isn't a new thing to Shoup, who leads the contemporary music group at his church in Brandon and plays "quite a bit" of Christian music, he said.

Another member of "Gone Country Goes Gospel," Sean Benz, has been playing guitar for about five years and considers gospel the purest form of country music.

"Country is based on gospel music," Benz said. "It goes back to the roots."

A 19-year-old music education major at South Dakota State University, Benz is from Windom and participating in "Gone Country" for the fourth year. The timing of the gospel aspect was perfect, he said, because he had just finished another project that involved gospel music.

"We'll really give the audience what they came for," he said. "The band is phenomenal."

Jeff Meyer of Worthington is in his sixth year of "Gone Country," and is excited about the theme this year. His favorite music, he said, is southern gospel.


When he first got involved in the "Gone Country" shows, he had never performed with a live band.

"I've sung karaoke for years, but never with a band," he said. "It is harder -- everyone has to be on the same page."

While it may be more difficult, singing with a band is also more fun, something fellow performer Stephanie Winters of Ocheyedan, Iowa agrees with wholeheartedly. A student at Southwest Minnesota State University, this will be her third year as a member of the "Gone Country" cast.

"The rehearsals are so much fun, especially if there's a little bit of time left over and everyone starts playing around," she commented. "That is fun stuff."

Winters is a fan of many different kinds of music, but country is her favorite. The gospel theme gave her a chance to brush up on several songs she enjoys singing.

Winters and Meyer both said it is gratifying to see many of the same faces in the audience year after year, but exciting to see new people attend also. It is great to know that people keep coming back, Meyer said.

This year, the Friends of the Auditorium Board of Directors chose the gospel theme and contacted people who had performed in the previous years. Next year, Vosburgh said, they will also open things up for auditions.

"I think when people get involved in local shows, especially continuing over the years, they start to develop an individual ownership of that show, the arts and the auditorium," she said.


Between band members and singers, the cast is approximately 20 performers strong, and their music is top-notch, Vosburgh explained.

"They are just so talented," she said. "There's an arrangement of 'Just a Closer Walk With Thee' that is just incredible, and the version of 'Jesus Loves Me' is almost a country rumba."

"Gone Country Goes Gospel" will be performed at the Memorial Auditorium this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the box office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and by calling 376-9101 or by visiting their website at . Sponsors of the show include Radio Works, Bedford Industries, the Jason Vote Agency and Sanford Worthington Medical Center.

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