A Better Home For The National Quartet Convention

In 2010, the National Quartet Convention renewed their contract to remain at the Kentucky Fair And Exposition complex in Louisville, KY through 2014 according to an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Prior to making that decision, they were considering a relocation to Indianapolis, IN.

Although no official announcement has been made about the plans of the National Quartet Convention beyond 2014, rumors of a possible move away from Louisville are beginning to circulate again. Several months ago, Pigeon Forge, TN was mentioned as a possible location, and in the last few days, I’ve heard Pigeon Forge may already be NQC’s final choice.

If true, that would be rather surprising, despite the fact that Pigeon Forge is already a popular destination for fall tourists. Pigeon Forge would be a poor choice for several reasons.

Freedom Hall in Louisville seats 19000 people, has an adjacent 200000 square foot exhibit hall, and several other large spaces for showcase events. NQC doesn’t really need a facility that big. There are several areas of the facility in Louisville that aren’t used by NQC, but there is no facility in Pigeon Forge that even comes close in terms of offering several performance spaces plus an adequate exhibit space under one roof. If Louisville has shown NQC anything, it should be that a large arena and a large exhibit hall in the same building is most ideal.

Traffic would also be a major issue in Pigeon Forge. Louisville sits at the intersection of three interstates with an airport next door to the convention center. The nearest interstate access to Pigeon Forge is 12 miles from the city limits, and those aren’t 12 miles you can expect to travel in just a few minutes. Traffic often moves at a crawl in Pigeon Forge even when there isn’t a major convention in town.

That being said, Freedom Hall in Louisville was built in 1956 and really shows its age. The exhibit hall space has been updated in recent years, but Freedom Hall itself is in serious need of a makeover.

So, what location would be better?

One facility that seems almost custom made for a moderately downsized NQC is the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia. They have an arena that will seat 13000 people. In a building next door is a 50000 square foot exhibit hall, a 21000 square foot ballroom that should be adequate for additional showcases, and a 700-seat theater that could be used for smaller showcases. In terms of access, the complex is located just off of I-85 a few miles northeast of Atlanta. The drawbacks are that it is not convenient to the Atlanta airport, and a parking lot separates the arena from the exhibit hall.

The Gwinnett Center does not provide as much space as Louisville, obviously, but it offers a great deal more space than any facility in Pigeon Forge. I hope the NQC board is considering Gwinnett and similar modern facilities before settling for Pigeon Forge.

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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  1. admin
    Reply August 31, 18:23 #1 admin Author

    For further study, here’s a link to the layout of the Gwinnett location:
    The exhibit hall and ballroom are in the purple and green sections. The theater is in red.
    – – – – –
    And that’s just one example. Another would be Charleston, SC.

    Of course, many people would feel that Charleston, SC is too far east for the National Quartet Convention, but aside from the physical location on the map, their facility is even better than Gwinnett. The Charleston Convention Center includes a 14,000 seat arena, 77000 square feet exhibit hall, a 2500-seat ballroom for showcases and a 2300-seat theater.

    Check it out:

    I’m sure there are several other locations this side of the Mississippi that would be more suited to NQC than anything Pigeon Forge, TN has to offer.

  2. jean taylor
    Reply August 31, 18:40 #2 jean taylor

    Pigeon Forge

  3. Scott Lucas
    Reply August 31, 23:01 #3 Scott Lucas

    I say move it back to Nashville where it belongs! It would be MUCH easier for MANY of the groups. Nashville is centrally located to 80% of the country! Bridgestone Arena holds 20,000 & the Convention Center has 118,000 square feet plus 25 meeting rooms. Traffic would be no problem at all. Plenty of hotels within walking distance, plus tons to do within walking distance. To me moving it back to Nashville is a no-brainer!

    • admin
      Reply September 01, 09:35 admin Author

      The idea of having it in Nashville is great. I’m just not so sure it would be practical. A move to an arena the size of Bridgestone would be a gamble, because attendance would need to go up for them to break even. The nearby Nashville Convention Center would certainly house the exhibits, but where would they hold showcases? Also, would fans walk that far to the exhibits if all the performances were held in Bridgestone? Remember in Louisville when they were building the new North Exhibit Hall and everyone had to walk so far to get to the exhibits in the South Hall? It was like a ghost town in the exhibit area.

      A moderate downsizing seems like a wiser choice.

      The problem with Pigeon Forge is that it won’t just be a moderate downsizing. The largest room in Pigeon Forge is about half the size of the exhibit hall in Louisville. That means exhibit booths, if they even have them, will be forced into an even smaller space. Showcases, if they have them, will be in rooms that are tiny.

      If NQC goes to Pigeon Forge (and I’ve heard it’s already a done deal), they will be taking a very large hatchet to the event. It won’t even remotely resemble the event that currently exists in Louisville.

      NQC will no longer be the “granddaddy of them all.”

      • Gerald Wolfe
        Reply September 09, 12:22 Gerald Wolfe

        Nashville is where I attended my first NQC, back in 1984. I’ve been every year since. I personally love visiting Nashville. There are a couple of major drawbacks that make it unsuitable for today’s NQC attendees. 1. Parking – There is not enough adequate bus parking near the Bridgestone Center. The adjacent parking lots are used by people who work downtown during the week. Also, the nearest campground to downtown is almost twelve miles away. Making a Nashville event very inconvenient for the hundreds of “campers” who attend every year.
        2. The Exhibit Hall for the Nashville Convention Center is across six lanes of traffic from the Bridgestone Arena. It is accessible by a tunnel under Broadway, but we already know the trek would be much to inconvenient for the attendees.

        Nashville is building a new “under one roof” Convention Center, but it’s already been stalled several times by budget constraints. Right now, Nashville just isn’t the ideal location for an event like NQC.

        • admin
          Reply September 09, 12:38 admin Author

          I agree with you. Nashville in theory would be a great location, but doesn’t really fit the bill in practical terms at least not until the new convention center is completed.

          On the other hand, Nashville makes more sense than having it in Pigeon Forge. There’s no room for an exhibit hall under one roof there either, and the specs for the new convention center they’re building say it’s only going to have 1600 parking spaces.

          Having the whole thing at the Bridgestone Arena with artists booths set around the outer corridor like the Gaither tour does would accomplish the same thing and allow more people to attend (19000 vs. only 11500) than could attend in Pigeon Forge.

          A better solution would be a complex slightly larger than the one in Duluth, GA or just like the one in Charleston, SC. Of course, I realize Charleston would not work geographically, but if there’s anything similar to that in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama or Kentucky, that would be the place to move.

  4. lee waters
    Reply September 01, 07:59 #4 lee waters

    The NQC don’t care about the fans. They moved the fan awards to Piegon Forge for What.? The facility there seats 2000 @$75.00 a head. Louiville Seats 19,000 at $40.00 a head. Can you do the math? Like I said NQC don’t care.

    • admin
      Reply September 01, 09:13 admin Author

      The NQC did not move the Fan Awards. That event is produced/owned by the Singing News magazine, not NQC. Also, the Louisville tickets have never been more than $29 per night, so your math is wrong.

  5. Diana
    Reply September 01, 08:02 #5 Diana

    Hey, I’d LOVE it if they moved to Gwinnett!!! That’s less 45 miles from my house!

    • admin
      Reply September 01, 09:21 admin Author

      I’m sure you would, but I’m trying to look at this in the most objective/practical terms possible.

      What other locations have an arena with 12,000 or more seats, an adequate exhibit hall, and at least two more spaces large enough to be used for showcases under the same roof…or in the case of Gwinnett, almost under the same roof?

      Gwinnett certainly isn’t ideal. Their exhibit hall space is only 1/4th the size of the one in Louisville, and their theater only seats 700, but at least Gwinnett wouldn’t look like a colossal downgrade like the place they’re building in Pigeon Forge which doesn’t even have an arena for the evening concerts.

  6. Kyle Boreing
    Reply September 01, 09:22 #6 Kyle Boreing

    The only reason I like it in Louisville is because it is less than 2 hours from my home, but if I were to make a suggestion, I’d say Branson, MO.

    • admin
      Reply September 01, 10:34 admin Author

      I know Branson is a popular tourist spot, but I think NQC would lose fans by moving it west. Does Branson even have a facility that would seat 12,000 or more?

      It would be interesting to see figures indicating where the largest concentration of SG fans who currently attend NQC are located. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were more from Tennessee than Kentucky.

  7. DJPhil
    Reply September 01, 09:31 #7 DJPhil

    I wonder if they would be planning on using the new LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge opening Sept 2013, although even it does not look like it would be large enough. http://www.mypigeonforge.com/leconte-center.aspx
    I don’t think traffic would be THAT bad the second week of Sept since school would be back in session and it is not leaf season yet. There would be plenty of reasonable hotel space, and a LOT of other attractions. But it is not close to the Interstate for bus traffic, although a LOT of buses go there. And not close to any airport…
    Convention Center and city wise, Charleston would be great! Location… very bad for the bus tours that make up a huge percentage of the weekend ticket sales.
    Gwinnett would be a good location for me, since I only live 2 hours away, but I think having to travel THROUGH Atlanta from the airport is a big negative. It would be interesting to see a cost comparison though, and Atlanta is a short drive for other attractions.
    Nashville is centrally located, but very cost prohibitive for everyone involved, from the NQC themselves to all the fans having to pay for everything.
    All in all, I think logistically that Louisville is a great place. Airport is a short shuttle bus ride, centrally located geographically, all self contained Convention center for all concerts, showcases, and exhibit hall. The prices are reasonable compared to the bigger cities, especially when it comes to lodging. A short Interstate drive away are a lot of reasonably priced rooms.
    It will be interesting to see what the NQC comes up with!!!

    • admin
      Reply September 01, 10:01 admin Author

      I don’t think people realize just how small the new LeConte Center is going to be. Their largest room is only half the size of the current exhibit hall in Louisville. Assuming that space is used for the evening concerts, they’ll either have all the seats flat on the floor or they’ll have to bring in risers for the event. It will hold 11,500 people in a theater type setting. That seems a touch small after allowing for a downgrade from Freedom Hall’s 19,000 seats, but what about showcases and what about an exhibit hall?

      The LeConte Center will have one other “big” room. It is a mere 12000 square feet. For comparative reference, that is less than half the size of the South Wing location at Louisville where all the free afternoon showcases are currently held. In other words, the largest showcase space outside of the main room would only seat 1300 people, and that’s assuming their intention is to use it for showcases rather than an exhibit hall.

      The other rooms at the LeConte will be too small to be useful for showcases. The highest ceiling is only 14′. There will be three rooms that are 2000 square feet each (225 people), four rooms that are 1000 square feet each (110), and one that is 750 square feet.

      Here’s a link to the layout of the LeConte Center:

    • admin
      Reply September 01, 10:17 admin Author

      Also, I agree the Charleston complex looks perfect except for the location. If there was something comparable situated in one of the outlying towns near Nashville, that would be most ideal.

  8. Ron Foster
    Reply September 01, 12:45 #8 Ron Foster

    Hey Admin. I think we just need to leave it in Louisville, also can I ask what have the crowds been like on Friday and Saturday Night the last couple of years?

    • admin
      Reply September 01, 13:18 admin Author

      I’ve never attended on Saturday, and I’ve only attended one Friday night. That was about 12 years ago, so I couldn’t say.

    • admin
      Reply September 01, 14:38 admin Author

      Here’s a shot from Friday night in 2011 that was taken around 6:00 PM just as the showcase artist winners are finishing up their performance. The scheduled artists for the evening concerts would start a few minutes later, so people were still coming in at this point.

      It looks like there’s a lot of empty seats in the upper level “end zones,” but the lower level and sides nearest to the stage on the upper level are well covered. I’m sure more people were in the room later in the evening when groups like the Gaither Vocal Band were singing. It’s more difficult to see in a photo, though, because most of the house lights were down at that point.

      So, a good guess would be 11 or 12000 people, considering that the place will hold 19000 if sold out.

  9. Gerald Wolfe
    Reply September 09, 14:58 #9 Gerald Wolfe

    The perfect facility is always somewhere else, isn’t it? LOL
    You know what they say… “location, location, location.”

    • admin
      Reply September 10, 00:22 admin Author

      I’m sure there would be complaints no matter where NQC moved. What I’ve observed is that most complaints revolve around one issue…whether or not it’s closer or further from Louisville. Very few fans are going to look at it in any other terms.

      Regional groups, though, who love buying a booth and spending the week at NQC should be the most concerned. If there is going to be an exhibit hall in Pigeon Forge for them, it’s likely to be in a separate building.

      Fans too, since it’s much more likely to sell out with more limited seating, but fans are generally going to be shortsighted until the reality sinks in that they can’t go once the seats are gone.

      And then, for the final shock, there’s those long traffic jams they’re going to face. People think I’m crazy, but I vividly remember a two hour trip last fall where I traveled about seven miles from the Sevierville Events Center to a condo near the Apple Barn. One person said it wouldn’t likely be that bad after school started…except, that was in October.

  10. Gerald Wolfe
    Reply September 10, 01:05 #10 Gerald Wolfe

    You’re right…It doesn’t matter what you do, or where you go…any change will garner a certain number of complaints. That’s just the way it is, and I really doubt that will ever change… this side of Heaven.

    When it comes to distance… No matter where you go, it’s closer for some, and further for others.

    Since no one has seen the Exhibit Space at the new LeConte Center, it’s really impossible to know what it will end up looking like. Sure… lots of people have seen the plans, but rarely does the finished product look exactly like the plans. I remember when the Sevierville Convention Center was constructed…I was told the finished facility would seat 15,000. After tweaks and budget changes, it ended up with a capacity of around 7500. Other buildings I’ve seen constructed in the area end up being larger than their original plans. I’m certain the NQC will do everything possible to make space available for the Artists who want booth space. It wouldn’t make much sense to do otherwise.

    I do believe the new venue seating will sell out quickly…which is one of the reasons for considering a move. Any Artist or Event Promoter will tell you a “sell out” is the preferred outcome, when promoting an event. My advice is always… reserve your seats early…no matter the size of the venue. It’s the only way to ensure getting the seats your prefer…before they’re gone.

    I’ll have to disagree with you on the traffic issue. Living in the area all my life, I could have told you October wouldn’t have been the best time to go to Pigeon Forge, if you were concerned about traffic. October is one of the busiest times of the year in the area, because of the Fall colors. People come from literally all over the world to see the beautiful color palette of the Smoky Mountains. The 2014 NQC will be two full weeks before the “peak color season” begins, and two or three weeks after the Summer Tourist Season ends. It will give attendees the opportunity to really appreciate a more “laid back” time in one of the country’s most popular, family-friendly tourist destinations.

    • admin
      Reply September 10, 01:36 admin Author

      Sure, I understand that unfinished buildings are subject to change. It’s just that the specs provided now are all we have to comment on at this point.

      And sure, a sell out is clearly a good idea. My point is that there’s no way to have the current NQC-type of experience in that building. When you go from 200000 square feet of exhibit space to 12000, you’re going to be lucky if you have enough room for the main stage artists to set up booths. You currently have three showcase spaces in Louisville. LeConte appears to offer just one, unless you use that 12000 room, and then there’s no room for an exhibit hall.
      – – – – –
      The traffic experience I mentioned earlier was due to a convention situation the last full week of October, just to be clear. It’s good to hear the traffic is less in mid-September, but we’re talking about bringing in another 12,000 people or so per day to the area and trying to cram them in the same building at the same time…and based on the current specs, we’re expecting them to fit into 1600 parking spaces.

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