A couple months ago, former Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Lori Kersey thought it would be a cool idea to invite some people to a friend’s house to drink beer and sing hymns.
The Kanawha County native acknowledged the combination sounded a little odd, but not unheard of. Progressive Christian groups all over the country have been mixing beer with the fellowship events for a couple of years.
“They’ve had them in Nashville and in Morgantown — just not here,” she said.
And they were drawing crowds.
Then last year, Contemporary Christian music star Amy Grant showed up to “Beers & Hymns” in Nevada and performed “El Shaddai,” a song that won the singer a Dove Award in 1982.
“It just looked like fun,” Kersey said.
She sent out Facebook invitations. There was interest, but then plans fell through.
The second time might be the charm.
Thursday night, Kersey, with the help of Zack Harold, will debut “Hymns & Hops” at Sam’s Uptown Café as part of FestivALL Fall.
Harold, a former Daily Mail lifestyles editor, plays in a church band and leads Gospel Americana band The Sycomores. He said part of what drew him into the project was a love of sacred music and taking it somewhere outside its traditional setting.
“The thing I like most about sacred music is when you’re standing up front and you hear the congregation singing it back at you.” He said, “It’s my favorite sound.”
There is some novelty in bringing religious music into a bar, but Kersey thought it was maybe an opportunity to bring a little worship music to people who have faith but feel unwelcome at church.
“There’s just something special about singing this kind of music together,” she said.
Hymns & Hops is non-denominational and even drinking beer isn’t required.
Sam’s Uptown Café also sells soft drinks and food.
Like Emily Capece and Ryan Kennedy’s “Choir Now!” events, Hymns & Hops will be sparse and intimate, just human voices accompanied by Harold on guitar.
“Going with a full band might intimidate some people and gets away from the community feel of the singing,” Harold said.
Since July the pair has collected songs, but not everybody has been supportive. Flyers for the event began going up weeks ago. Several were pulled down within hours, but Kersey and Harold have high hopes.
They’re already talking about a follow-up at Christmas with carols.
“And it wouldn’t be just the light secular songs,” Harold said. “We’d want to dive into the deep end.”