The GMA - Gospel Music Association - is the definitive body for the Christian music industry in the USA, uniting and supporting the Gospel network of publishers, broadcasters, artists et al. Each year culminates in a 5-day convention of seminars, showcases, luncheons, extravaganzas and the popular Grammy-style finale -the Dove Awards. Having graciously been handed a free trip, Jonathan Bellamy packed his dickie-bow and comb and jetted off in search of sun, sound and stets. '

If nothing else, GMA week is an experience. As Ecclesiastes says, "There's a time for everything" and so, in the music industry life, the GMA week represents a time of celebration, recognition and encouragement; a time to rediscover lost hope and to freshen commitment; a time to fondly remember the old and generously herald the new; a time to make new acquaintances and build strong relationships; and above all, a place where would-bes, wanna-bes, have-beens, will-bes and are's can mingle, muse and munch to the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom.

And who's to say that's not what happens? Of course, down here no-one and nothing is perfect and certainly at GMA all that glitters is not gold. But I have to say, breaking through my preconceptions, fears and general feeling of being like a school boy in a sweet shop, I was surprised at how often the glitz and gloss was removed to reveal the truth of God. Moments that encouraged and challenged not just my heart but I'm sure many others as well. And the funny thing is it's those moments that seem to linger most. Moments like Andrae Crouch, back with a stonkingly good album and a trendy baseball cap, simply being touched to breaking point in between songs as he recounted the faithfulness of God in his life. Like Bryan Duncan, a witty and popular host for the Word Showcase luncheon, just honestly and openly sharing his relationship with God and how he struggles to understand and grasp the intimacy of the love of Jesus. Like Twila Paris leading, and so obviously entering into, worship at a Monday morning meeting. Like the strong witness of an uninhibited O'Landa Draper as he unreservedly let loose his limbs in joy and excitement for God and in the meantime led his bold and bubbly Associates Choir in a five minute plus musical extravaganza of the word 'hallelujah'. Like Steve Camp, a more genuine, fervent and captivated Christian you're never likely to meet, as he gently inspired and hosted a Sunday evening worship service, encouraging us all to hunger for holiness. And like the moment they played the video to Ray Boltz's "I Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb" - a track that unashamedly presents the possibilities and realities of persecution -and you could simply chew the tension as people's faiths were grabbed and squeezed and held before their eyes.

Memorable. Musically too there were plenty of highlights: like Michael W Smith singing us a song before lunch (don't you just love the thought of getting someone like him to do something like that? - Sorry Lord); like Scott Dente's deft guitar work as his well pregnant wife Christine swanned some classic Out Of The Grey tunes; like 20-30 female singers swapping the leads and singing with real soul an amazingly heartening song from the new concept album 'Sisters'; like the revamped, reformed and re-committed Michael Sweet giving us a right good rocking from his new album, and declaring they "were going to take it to the world"; like Margaret Becker's rousing reception and enthusiastically received version of "I Will Be With You"; and for alternative rockheads the truly awesome line up of the Prayer Chain, The Lost Dogs, Dakoda Motor Co, Love War and The 77's all at the same gig! But, no doubt about it, the biggest buzz of the week surrounded another, totally unique, incredibly original, bogsmackingly brilliant, alternative band -The Vigilantes Of Love. And the word had certainly been out. Rick Elias, Gene Eugene (Adam Again) and Mike Roe (77's) were all spotted in the downtown club to check them out. I can't say I've ever been so impressed...

But then again, the gimmicks at GMA were quite something too. How about an artist/DJ reception where the big record labels basically bring out their stars and get them to play games with you. For example, the Benson 'We're Making Hits' baseball bat with which you get artists like Pam Thum, Dana Key and Eddie Degarmo to sign, and once you've got 10 autographs you are eligible to win a trip to some baseball world series thing! Or what about the Integrity 'Summer Of Slamdunk Singles' basketball game to win an Integrity basketball vest. Or the life size padded sumo wrestler suits, or the Reunion 'Hit After Hit' bat and elasticated ball, or the brand new release from Cheri Keaggy (niece of Phil), which on opening pleasantly turns out to be a chocolate CD. Tasteful?...Not half!

This year even the Dove Awards had its own, 25th anniversary gimmick, or should I say souvenir. Yes - a Special Commemorative, non playable, never before been done anywhere else in the world, souvenir CD ticket. Unique.
And what of the Dove Awards anyway? Well, two hours, seven awards and lots of fine performances - in particular DC Talk - was hosted live by Amy Grant and beamed all over the States on cable TV. And a good advertisement for CCM it was. too... in between the advertisements that is! But the undoubted star of the night was not the four times winner Michael English, not the outrageously ridiculous presentation by Steve Taylor and the Newsboys and not even 'those cute kids who sang with Amy'. No, the award for best entertainer has to go to the comic genius of Mark Lowry as he effortlessly engaged a whole audience through more than 20 potentially tiresome pre-telecast awards, and in the process mimicked, impersonated and parodied the best and the worst in the CCM world. I doubt if anyone will ever again feel comfortable wearing a toupee following his quip, "I'm sure if the Lord were to return tonight it would take two minutes for all the hairpieces to fall to the ground."

But anyway, 'there's a time for everything' and perhaps this was a time for hairpieces. It was certainly a time for fun and I made the most of it because it wasn't much longer before it was a time to fly.

Praise And Worship Album Songs From The Loft
Producer Wayne Kirkpatrick
Contemporary Black Gospel Song Sold Out/Helen Baylor
Contemporary Black Gospel Album Start All Over/Helen Baylor
Traditional Black Gospel Song Why We Sing/Kirk Franklin
Traditional Black Gospel Album Kirk Franklin And The Family
Rap Song Socially Acceptable/DC Talk
Metal Song Psychedelic Super Jesus/Bride
Metal Album Tamplin/Ken Tamplin
Rock Recorded Song Jesus Is Just Alright/DC Talk
Rock Album Wake Up Call/Petra
Country Album Walk On/Bruce Carroll
Recorded Music Packaging The Wonder Years 1983-1993/Michael
W Smith
Short Form Music Video Hand On My Shoulder/Sandi Patti
Long Form Music Video The Live Adventure/Steven Curtis
Contemporary Song Go There With You/Steven Curtis Chapman
Contemporary Album Hope/Michael English
Inspirational Song Holding Out Hope To You/Michael English
Inspirational Album Season Of Love/4 Him
Musical Album God With Us/Don Moen
Children's Music Album Come To The Cradle/Michael Card
'Male Vocalist Michael English
"Female Vocalist Twila Paris
'Song In Christ Alone/Shawn Craig/Don Koch
'Songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman
'New Artist Point Of Grace
'Group 4 Him
'Artist Michael English
' = Televised Awards
Since the awards ceremony Michael English has returned his Four Doves following his confirmation that he had an extra-marital affair with First Call's Marabeth Jordon. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.