We try to minister to people through song and we feel that we will go anywhere because we feel that our message is so strong and people need to hear it," said Forest McCain, president of the Tabernacle Echoes, a Washington-based gospel choir founded in 1955. The Echoes, sharing the bill with the Dixie Hummingbirds of Greenville, S.C., will perform in a free concert tonight at Carter Barron Amphitheater. Tickets are available at Woodies, D.C. Department of Recreation (3416 16th St. NW) and the Carter Barron box office.

The Echoes' willingness to travel shows up in their versatility as well as in their full schedule of concerts up and down the eastern seaboard: They combine traditional spirituals of the Baptist and the Holiness churches with the contemporary sounds of progressive gospel. And on a recent Savoy album accompanying WUST gospel storyteller Eugene "Flip" Forest, the Echoes even went country.

McCain emphasizes that "most of the music we do is original--if it's not, it's rearranged." Co-directors Harold Sutton and John Watson and assistant director Esther Bell write much of the group's materials as well as lend their voices to its presentation. Patricia Stokes Dennis is lead alto and Carlo Thomas lead tenor.