Taffs prepare for fans' return to Bell Buckle

Sunday, September 10, 2017
Russ Taff performs for fans on the front lawn of his Bell Buckle home during a meet-and-greet which kicked off the Russ and Tori Taff Bell Buckle Weekend in 2016. This year’s event will be held Oct. 7-8.
T-G File Photo by John I. Carney

Russ Taff, winner of Grammy and Dove awards and a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (both individually and as a member of the Imperials), and his wife Tori will once again invite their fans from across the U.S. to descend on Bell Buckle next month for a weekend of music.

Russ and Tori Taff’s 2nd Annual Bell Buckle Weekend will be held Oct. 7-8, with vocalist, songwriter and comedian Mark Lowry and the husband-and-wife team of Reba Rambo McGuire and Dony McGuire among the special guests. The McGuires are returning from last year’s event, while Lowry was king of Bell Buckle’s annual R.C. Cola/Moon Pie Festival in June.

More interest

“It’s looking good,” said Tori Taff on Friday. “Ticket sales are higher than last year.”

Russ Taff has worked in multiple genres as a Christian music artist; some fans know him best from the world of contemporary Christian music while others associate him with southern gospel and the media empire headed by songwriter, vocalist and executive Bill Gaither. The weekend event tries to service both groups; just as at last year’s event, a Saturday night banquet and concert will focus on Taff’s CCM career, while a Sunday morning brunch and concert has a southern gospel flavor.

“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel,” said Tori.

Both concerts will be held at Bell Buckle Banquet Hall, where Tori Taff is in charge of marketing. She’s also a writer and a co-host of Gaither’s “Homecoming Radio” program.

More of Russ

Last year’s event was overstuffed with guest stars. Tori said Russ thought he’d need some star power to attract visitors to the new event, and it so happened that all of the artists they invited said “yes,” which was more than they were expecting. In fact, several of last year’s comment cards said that Russ Taff’s fans wanted a little more of Russ Taff. So this year’s event will go a little lighter on the guest stars, especially on Saturday night, giving Taff time to perform more of his own material.

Bonnie Keen of the former vocal group First Call will open for the Saturday night CCM concert and then serve as one of Taff’s backup singers once he takes the stage. Lowry and the McGuires will be a part of the Sunday morning concert.

Tori said that the McGuires had such a good time at last year’s event that they basically told the Taffs they would be returning this year, “or we’re not friends anymore,” she laughed. The friendship has, thankully, been preserved.

Southern cookin’

Tori said the Saturday night menu will have a southern flavor, as a nod to the fans traveling from as far away as Canada anxious for an authentic Tennessee experience.

Admission to each concert can be bought separately, but the full weekend pass includes both concerts plus a gift bag and an informal meet-and-greet on the front lawn of the Taffs’ Bell Buckle home. At last year’s meet-and-greet, fans sat on hay bales on the lawn while Taff performed a few songs, accompanying himself on the guitar. Then, fans lined up for handshakes, photos and autographs.

The Taffs moved to Bell Buckle a few years ago, after their daughters had graduated from high school. They’d visited the town for years and fallen in love with it.

Another Gaither-associated artist, David Phelps, hosts an annual “Barn Bash” in Culleoka for his fans, and the Taffs got the idea from that event to do something similar for their own fans, leveraging Bell Buckle’s charm, its merchants, and its experience hosting special events. When not attending the official fan weekend events, fans are encouraged to take in Bell Buckle and its antiques, arts and crafts merchants.

Gift bags

Tori said she’s working with the merchants to try to arrange for discount coupons or literature to go in the gift bags, and the town’s coffee shop may even offer a special Russ Taff blend for the occasion. The gift bags will also include “I [heart] Bell Buckle” bumper stickers.

Last year’s event had attendance of about 100 at each concert.

Because there are only a few bed-and-breakfast accomodations in Bell Buckle, the event website directs fans to hotels and B&Bs in Shelbyville that have agreed to offer a special rate for the weekend.

For more information about the event, go to www.russtaffweekend.com.

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