As a series of loosely-organized events, “Beer & Hymns” started at the Greenbelt Festival in England in 2006 and migrated to the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina in 2012. Local Beer & Hymns gatherings meet at bars, breweries, clubs, and pubs across the U.K., the U.S., and around the world. Most are not affiliated with a church or Christian denomination, instead relying on the energy of independent local organizers. Some attendees are regular churchgoers, other are not, but all find community in these sing-alongs—congregational singing, that is, outside of traditional congregational contexts. Beer & Hymns is exactly what it sounds like: we raise our cups and lift our voices together to sing hymns, spirituals, praise songs, and folk songs together. The organizers accompany on whatever acoustic instruments are available, provide songbooks, and lead the songs, but are quickly subsumed by the larger group: the sonic emphasis is on the participatory nature of the sing-along, and not necessarily on proper intonation, rhythmic precision, or vocal blend. At Wild Goose’s Beer & Hymns, song choices include both secular and sacred selections, and the nightly gatherings attract participants from a variety of theological backgrounds, many of whom have an ambivalent or troubled relationship with Protestant Christianity (including mainline and non-denominational evangelicalism). Our voices entwine, and often our arms do, too. And by the end of the night, as our singing reverberates in the night, we emerge unified by our singing, even if only for one night. In this article, I analyze the sonic and social fabric of Beer & Hymns as a participatory space that promotes community, contextualized against white U.S. evangelicalism’s contested relationship with the secular.

Author Biography

Andrew Mall is Assistant Professor of Music at Northeastern University (Boston), where he teaches courses on popular music and music industries. His book, God Rock, Inc.: The Business of Niche Music (University of California Press, 2021) examines the ways in which capital, crossover, ethics, and resistance have shaped the market for Christian rock in the United States. He is co-editor, with Jeffers Engelhardt and Monique Ingalls, of Studying Congregational Music: Key Issues, Methods, and Theoretical Perspectives (Routledge, 2021). His writing has appeared in American Music, the Journal of Popular Music Studies, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture, the Journal of the Society for American Music, Popular Music, and several edited volumes, among others. He is also the Book Review Co-Editor for the journal Ethnomusicology.

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