Bluegrass, gospel sounds enliven Threshers Reunion

By John Butters, The JOURNAL


It might have been raining Saturday on the Old Threshers grounds, but it wasn?t raining inside the family tent where the Wissmann Family performed their signature blend of bluegrass and gospel.

The Wissmann family was one of several bluegrass groups entertaining on the Old Threshers grounds this past weekend.

The 11-member family group traveled from their home in Milford, Nebraska to make its 18th visit to the Old Threshers Reunion in Mt Pleasant. It?s a trip they obviously love to take, and with only a few empty chairs, it was equally obvious they are a favorite on the festival grounds.

Loren Wissmann, the father of the family, said they look forward to returning each year.

?It?s a unique place. The people here have a similar background that I have in farming. I drove the tractors that are now antiques,? he said.

?It?s become a family reunion for us. We see so many of the people who have attended our concerts in the past. Many of them have become friends. We would likely come each year even if we didn?t sing,? he said.

Wissmann said he and his wife Gloria both had musical backgrounds in high school and college. And as each of their 13 children arrived, they received piano lessons.

But daughter Hannah had another instrument in mind. She wanted to play the violin, Loren said, though he was originally opposed to it.

?I finally told her that if she would pay for one-half the lessons, I would pay the other half. She did and became very good with it. But after that, all the children wanted to play other instruments,? he said.

So what do you do with seven or more children who want to play different instruments? In 2000, the Wissmann?s  started a band with the intent of sharing the gospel of Christ.

?We want to sing something important. We wanted our music to be fruitful,? he said. ?Our music carries our message.?

It wasn?t long before the Wissmanns were playing regularly, not only in their church, but throughout the Upper Midwest. A few years ago, they were giving as many as 250 performances per year. But Loren said that was too many, especially as the children married and began their own families. They have reduced their schedule to about 100 concerts per year.

The family uses a traditional bluegrass sound played on acoustic instruments. Their delivery is unpretentious, but the instrumentation is sharp, clear and on time. Overall, the sound is both energetic and professional.

A family of musicians, each plays multiple instruments. Loren lays down a solid bass line that keeps the pace steady and even. The solo hand-offs are smooth and effortless. The banjo send-offs are faultless and the mandolin solos, played by several members of the family, are strong and easily heard. The violin soars, but doesn?t overpower the other instruments.

Since many of the family?s appearances are unpaid, he and his sons have kept their painting business going through the years.

The business allows them to support the music ministry, he said, and makes it possible for them to perform in places that they would otherwise not be able to play. Of particular importance to Loren, is the family?s prison ministry.

?There is a living church behind those prison walls. We visit the prisons to encourage people as well as evangelize. In many ways, the prisoners are more open to the word than the society in general,? he said.

The past 18 years have been blessed, he said, but exhausting. Five years ago, he thought the family might have been ready to retire their act.

But new members have joined the group.

?As long as the kids are motivated to continue performing, I?m going to keep doing it,? he said.

Across the fairgrounds, the Punches were bringing their high mountain sound to the audience in Museum B.

A touring group from Fredericktown, Missouri, the family brings their own presentation of gospel/ blue grass music. The quartet on Saturday featured a banjo, Dobro, bass and mandolin.

They enjoy their return visits to the the Old Threshers Reunion.

?It has an old-time feel to it,? said Bruce Punches.

The group uses a three-part harmony in its performances of music both old and new. The group gets a strong performance from its banjo, while the bass keeps time.

The band has a presence on a gospel music show in Savannah, Georgia, and a pubic broadcasting station in Alabama.

?These are good people here. We enjoy playing for them,? Punches said.