WASHINGTON — Five years ago, the annual Christmastime GospelFest concert in the Caterpillar Performing Arts Center at Five Points Washington had a 1940s radio theme.
The concert was held less than two weeks after an EF-4 tornado devastated Washington. Donated toiletries and other essentials for tornado victims were stacked in the hallway at Five Points.
"We didn't know if we were going to do the concert that year," said Shawn Degenhart, director of the not-for-profit GospelFest Ministries. "We're glad we did. It was a wonderful getaway from the stress, the reality of what had happened."
The fifth anniversary of the tornado was Saturday, Nov. 17. The 14th annual Christmastime GospelFest concert will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, in the Caterpillar Performing Arts Center, where Christmastime GospelFest has been held since 2008.
This year's concert theme is, "Christmas Jubilee: a Live 1940s Radio Broadcast."
It's not a connection to the significant tornado anniversary.
"No, we didn't plan to do another 1940s radio theme concert on the fifth anniversary of the tornado," Degenhart said. "It just worked out that way. We go back to a theme every few years."
Admission to Christmastime GospelFest, always held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, is free thanks to financial support from GospelFest Ministries underwriters. Concert-goers can make a free-will offering that will help fund ministry events and projects.
Degenhart and the other nine members of the GospelFest Singers will perform two dozen traditional Christmas favorites and southern gospel Christmas songs, all with a big-band twist, during the approximately two-hour show.
Accompanying the GospelFest Singers will be a 10-piece GospelFonics Orchestra featuring area jazz musicians. Retired TV news anchor Bob Larson will be the "radio announcer."
Former TV weatherman Lee Ranson was the "radio announcer" in 2013.
"We asked Lee to be the 'radio announcer' again, but he told us he'll be out of town for his birthday Nov. 24," Degenhart said. "So we asked Bob Larson to be the announcer, and he said he'd be more than happy to do it. We're thrilled to have him."
The set for the 2013 Christmastime GospelFest concert replicated a radio studio. Degenhart said this year's set replicates a ballroom.
"Think of a USO show, with performers in formal attire," he said.
"The 1940s produced some of our favorite Christmas songs and radio was an important way for that music to reach the masses. Gospel music also has a rich history in radio for more than 100 years, so it's a great marriage of the two styles."
Seating for Christmastime GospelFest is general admission. Doors will open at 6 p.m.
"Some folks arrive two to 2 1/2 hours early to the concert so they can get good seats," Degenhart said. "The place is usually packed."
Degenhart said Christmastime GospelFest is a labor of love for him.
"I love Christmas," he said. "I could do Christmas concerts all year long. This is a great time of year to share our message. We look at Christmastime GospelFest as a kickoff to the Christmas season."
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.