The Pennsylvania State Singing Convention has been bringing well-known gospel singers to the Cove for 39 years, and this year is no exception. But it has not always been easy.
For instance, The Hemphills were to appear at this year's event, but had to cancel because of health issues. Three years ago, the Freemans were to take the stage for the Saturday night show, but their bus broke down in Kentucky.
Not wanting to disappoint the crowd or his backers, festival organizer Steve Aungst has to scramble to find replacements when those last minutes hiccups occur.
(Courtesy photo) Janet Paschal will make an appearance at the singing convention on Aug. 10.
When The Hemphills had to bow out, he said he spent two days on the phone getting a replacement.
Filling the bill will be Janet Paschal, who Aungst called "one of the top five female singers ever" in gospel music. He said the first time he saw her perform, "I thought she was the best singer I had ever heard."
Paschal of North Carolina said during a telephone interview that the great thing about accepting the invitation is that it is a beautiful drive from her home to Martinsburg.
If you go
What: Pennsylvania State Singing Convention
When: 6 p.m. to midnight Aug. 7; 1 p.m. to midnight Aug. 8 and 9; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 10
Where: Morrisons Cove Memorial Park, Martinsburg
Admission: Free, offerings will be taken
Special guests: Larry DeLawder as Barney Fife at 8 p.m. Thursday; Three Bridges at 7 p.m. Aug. 8; The Freemans at 7 p.m. Aug. 9; Worship with the Jacob Brothers at 10 a.m. Aug. 10; Janet Paschal at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 10
"And we will have a great time when I get there," she said.
Paschal's performance is on Aug. 10 of the four-day gospel music festival that begins Thursday with special guest Larry DeLawder impersonating Barney Fife. The other headliners are the Three Bridges on Aug. 8 and The Freemans on Aug. 9. In between the major shows, soloists and groups from the local area as well as several states will entertain almost nonstop.
Sponsored by the Vicksburg Quartet, the convention is free and is held at Morrisons Cove Memorial Park rain or shine. Donations to defray expenses are requested throughout the event. Aungst said the event continues to be popular with crowds in the past numbering 1,000 to 2,000. He noted that this is the next to the last year for the show. A 40th convention next August will be the grand finale.
Appearing on the final day for this year's show, Paschal said she may sing some of her more well-known songs such as "Another Soldier's Coming Home," "I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel," "God Will Make a Way" and "Written in Red."
She said she wrote "God Will Make a Way" when she was going through a tough period in her life. She said it was a time when Scripture did not make sense to her, especially Romans 8:28 that says all things work for the good of those who love God.
Paschal said she learned through that difficult period that God can make a way.
"It says in Isaiah that when you pass through waters, they won't overtake you. When you pass through rivers, they won't sweep over you. God will make a way for you to pass through," she said.
She said the message of the song is simple, but it is a universal one.
Paschal said her program will be upbeat, and she likes to get the listeners involved.
"I usually try to get the audience to sing with me as much as possible," she said.
In addition to her singing engagements, Paschal is fulfilling a promise she made to herself more than 30 years ago.
She is attending college.
A student at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, she is majoring in business.
"I've always loved business. I've always loved numbers," she said.
She explained that her singing career took off when she was 18 and she is now at a time in her life when she can navigate career and get an education.
Aungst said he is glad Paschal is coming because he tried to get her to Martinsburg a few years ago but it did not work out.
Having worked on the show for 39 years, Aungst believes the problems can be turned into positive experiences.
When the Freeman's bus broke down in 2011, he had to find a replacement quick. He learned that the Three Bridges were heading to Pennsylvania and could squeeze in a performance at Martinsburg.
Elliott McCoy, owner and founder of the trio, remembers the request.
"We were not booked for Saturday night and said we would be there, but it would be late. We went straight to the stage and lit the place up," he said. "We are looking forward to coming back.
The trio consists of McCoy, baritone; Shannon Smith, lead; and Jeremie Hudson, tenor.
McCoy who has sung in several quartets, including the Premiers Quartet, has performed with Bill Gaither and the Gaither Vocal Band, Michael W. Smith, Mercy Me and Donnie McClurkin.
Beyond the age when most people retire, McCoy admitted he did get off the road for awhile, but felt God was leading him back. He said he formed Three Bridges 13 years ago and Smith and Hudson have been with him for 4 years. McCoy said the group's sound is not traditional Southern gospel but more like the Gaither band's sound.
The men also sing black gospel or songs that would be familiar to black congregations, including "Cooling Water."
He said black Christians have responded favorably to the group and Three Bridges performs at a black quartet convention where it is the only white group to take the stage.
"It's a hoot. They love us," he said.
For the trio's performance in Martinsburg, McCoy said the group will introduce songs from its brand new album which will not be officially released until the first week of September.
"We are excited about it," he said.