NEW HAVEN — Gospel music lovers from all over the eastern part of the United States will come together this weekend, just outside of New Haven, for the 34th annual “Singing in the Pines.”
The event will take place Friday beginning at 6 p.m., and Saturday beginning at 1 p.m., at Union Campground. It is held rain or shine, and admission is free.
Kenneth Bledsoe began the event in 1983 when he was vice president of the now-defunct Mason County Gospel Singers Association. The association wanted to start a gospel music event in an outdoor venue to draw people who might be uncomfortable in a traditional church setting. He and wife Evelyn have been organizing the event each year since.
Evelyn said the sing draws soloists and groups from not only West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, but also from Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Anyone wanting to sing can sign up an hour before the event begins each day. A drawing is then held to see the order in which the singers will perform.
Among the singers already committed to attend this year are The Sheltons, New Salvation, Martie Short, Charlie and Ellen Rife, Heavenly Angels, Golden Street Singers, Called, Heaven’s Call Trio, Delivered, Rick and Ginny Towe, Journey, and many more.
There are normally between 40 and 45 people signing up each day, according to Evelyn. The sing goes far into the night, sometimes not ending until 3 a.m. the next morning. Soloists and duets are given 10 minutes to sing, while trios or larger are given 15 minutes.
Many of those attending arrive as early as Wednesday. They bring campers, tents and even sleep in cars. A potluck dinner is held Thursday, followed by a preaching service. The grounds are then anointed and prayed over.
The campground is equipped with a picnic shelter, concession stand, large restroom and shower house. There are wooden benches for seating, but Evelyn said many bring lawn chairs and blankets.
People can come and go as they please during the event. Families are welcome and there are large open areas for children to play.
Evelyn said volunteers have been working on the grounds for the past several days. She added there has been much sickness among the volunteers recently, however, including herself. Evelyn had heart valve surgery a month ago. The man who operates the sound system annually is unable to attend this year due to illness, but Evelyn said people have stepped up to fill in, and the sing will go on as planned.
One of the traditions of the sing is a free drawing for a pine tree pattern quilt made by Mazie Camp, of Ashton. Camp uses the same pattern each year to make the quilt, with this year’s being in shades of yellow and white. All those attending the sing can sign up for the drawing, which is held Saturday evening. It isn’t necessary to be present to win, Evelyn said.
For more information on Singing in the Pines, contact the Bledsoes at 304-895-3845.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing who lives in Mason County.