Hymns poured forth yesterday for Easter in churches big and small, in sanctuaries bedecked in lilies and the finery of worshipers. And then there was the drafty converted barn in Howard County, where the songs came with a country twang and the congregation came with cowboy hats.
"You got a hymn you want to do for us today? A hymn or a her?" Frank Gosman quipped as one in a string of soloists approached the microphone.
Lucille Murphy and Tommy Donaldson await Donaldson's turn onstage at the Country Showcase America Jamboree in Howard County.
(Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
This was no solemn man of the cloth in long, black robes. Instead, the 81-year-old Clarksville resident sat in jeans at the table where every Sunday he broadcasts on the Internet the homegrown and home-produced Country Showcase America Jamboree -- which yesterday brought an eclectic mixture of songs of betrayal and loss and praise to the Lord.
"I told all the people to learn a gospel song," Gosman said before the start of the two-hour program. "We're doing Easter Sunday. I want to hear country gospel."
Jeanne Serig took the mike, confessing that "I'm heaven-bound; I'm just a pilgrim in search of a city." Behind her and the band hung a large American flag. A poster of Patsy Cline looked down from above. Two oil drums converted into a wood-burning stove emanated heat, although hardly enough.
Cindy Alden, the wife of a band member, came onstage to sing the Lord's Prayer a cappella. She acknowledged the applause that followed and then belted out a robust rendition of a Linda Ronstadt hit: "I've been cheated, been mistreated. . . ."
Then a guitar-strapped Joe Carta -- "Cowboy Joe," as Gosman announced him to the live audience and the folks listening through www.wcsa.fm -- launched into "These Hands." "These hands aren't the hands of a gentleman, these hands are callused and old," he crooned. "These hands are raised in praise for our Lord."
It was that kind of a show.
The jamboree is a weekly offering devoted to a purity of music that's hard to hear much these days. Several dozen people typically fill the barn at 3 p.m., having found their way to Gosman's property off of Brighton Dam Road and following the signs to "the barn." They park in front of the chicken coop. Fresh eggs are sold after the show.
No admission price is charged, and only donations are requested for the buffet supper that Serig brings. Yesterday, tables were laden with ham and mashed potatoes, succotash and deviled eggs, rolls, cornbread and three kinds of dessert -- fine fare for any Easter dinner.
"It's enough to fill up the belly," said Serig, who began cooking the meal, as she always does, Friday evening. She has known Gosman since he owned his first true country music club more than three decades ago in Beltsville. She cooks for the musicians and audience for the same reason he puts on the show -- a labor of love that's hard to explain in any other terms.
"It's a lot of fun," said Gosman, a ponytailed former drummer who writes his own lyrics. "Why would I do it? There's no monetary gain."
The jamboree started in 2002, its master of ceremonies turning the cathedral-ceilinged barn into an entertainment venue by sweeping out the hay and clamping spotlights on the rafters. News of the music spread by word of mouth, and some 65 people packed in for its third anniversary.
Yesterday's crowd was far smaller, perhaps because of Easter or the cold, misty weather, or both, Gosman speculated.
For Gosman, the religious holiday offered a natural opportunity to broaden the usual selections.
"Country music's history has a great deal of gospel in it," he said. But in keeping with the unrehearsed style that has characterized performances from the start, he didn't want anything too formal. Even for Easter. Gospel tunes were far preferable to hymns.
The difference? "Hymns are five verses you sing in church with an organ," he explained with a laugh. "Gospel is more hand slapping and fun and a joy to sing."