Concert Report: The Homecoming that Nearly Sunk (Charlotte, NC)

Last night, I attended a Gaither Homecoming concert and videotaping in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was held in an open canvas tent on the grounds of the Billy Graham library.

  • Daddy Sang Bass: Bluegrass mega-group Dailey and Vincent wowed the audience and proved why they have been winning seemingly every award Bluegrass has to offer these last few years. They did a tenor and bass routine that featured tenor Jamie Dailey trying to sing bass and bass Christian Davis successfully singing tenor. This was taped before the main program commenced due to the setup time a bluegrass group needs, but the audience ate it up anyhow. It is tough on a group to sing a song this challenging first thing in the program, without any warm-up, and so they will probably do some vocal fixes later. But they got what they needed visually for what will probably be one of the favorite numbers on the DVD.
  • On the Other Side of the Cross: Dailey and Vincent, who recently recorded a Statler Brothers tribute album, did this song with Jimmy Fortune. Their vocals were much stronger here; the additional time warming up with the previous song helped. This was also warmly received.
  • Yes, I Know: This featured solos from Ivan Parker, Jason Clark (of the Nelons), TaRanda Greene, Reggie Smith, and one or two others whom I couldn’t quite pick out from the back row.
  • When the Saints Go Marching In: This featured Stephen Hill (I think) and Ivan Parker.
  • Jesus, Hold My Hand: This featured the Gaither Vocal Band and TaRanda Greene. The vocal dynamite of this interaction makes it quite likely this one will make the cut onto the final product.
  • When He Calls I’ll Fly Away: This didn’t get as strong a response from the live audience as later songs, due to live sound issues. Yet it appeared to be a visually solid performance and, perhaps with audio fixes, should play quite well on the videos.
  • Just Over in the Gloryland: This featured a verse from the Hayes Family—a strong rendition vocally, but again plagued by live sound issues.
  • Life’s Railway to Heaven: This strong and energetic arrangement featured Marshall Hall, TaRanda Greene, Karen Peck, Sue Dodge, and several others. (Sitting in the back row, with about 1/3 of the stage obstructed by the center video camera setup, limited ability to see everything.
  • My Savior’s Love: This classic hymn featured three singers; the second two were TaRanda Greene and David Phelps. Greene’s and Phelps’ powerhouse renditions brought strong reactions.
  • The Old Rugged Cross: Bill Gaither set up the song by saying that Franklin Graham had told them to sing whatever they wanted—but to be sure to include songs about the Cross. Gaither said that he’d replied that that certainly wouldn’t be a problem, with this bunch! The live sound was much better with this song—and remained better than for the opening songs from here through the end. Partially because of this, and partially because it was perfect for that moment in the program, Ben Speer’s solo got what was one of the warmest responses of the night to that point.
  • The Ninety and Nine: When this song was recorded on a Gaither Homecoming several years back, it featured Donnie Sumner and the Talley Trio. The Talley Trio was not there, and I didn’t notice Donnie Sumner (not to say that he definitely wasn’t there.) This time, then, the song featured Guy Penrod and the Nelons. While I consider the Talley Trio’s rendition of the “But none of the ransomed ever knew” verse to be one of the strongest performances of their career, if not the strongest, this rendition will certainly hold its own.
  • Then came the highlight of the night. Bill Gaither introduced George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows, and the audience came unglued. They got a standing ovation at their introduction, and the audience remained standing throughout the entire segment. George Beverly Shea—now 102—delivered a remarkably strong rendition of “The Love of God.” Even if his voice isn’t quite what it used to be, it is still as strong as probably any centenarian’s voice has been, at least since the advent of recorded music. Shea and Cliff Barrows sang “He Whispers Peace” together. Then Cliff Barrows led the audience in singing “Blessed Assurance.” It is hard to say how this will play in the more sterile setting of a commercially released video, but on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library, this was the moment that the live audience will never forget.
  • It wasn’t just the live audience that was moved by the Shea/Barrows segment. Before the program could proceed, makeup artists had to come on stage to fix many of the ladies’ makeup.
  • Down to the River to Pray: This featured a number of ladies—Charlotte Ritchie, Becky Isaacs, Karen Peck, Janet Paschal, and others—and Stephen Hill.
  • Greatly Blessed, Highly Favored: The Gaither Vocal Band and the Gatlin Brothers traded verses on the song, and got a huge response.
  • Heartbreak Ridge and New Hope Road: The Gatlin Brothers turned in a strong performance that had the audience on their feet.
  • I Need Thee, Oh I Need Thee: This featured Buddy Greene on harmonica and Jeff (Easter? not sure) on pump organ.
  • Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Marshall Hall kicked off the song. Jason Crabb took a verse, and Angela Primm—a black female vocalist whom I had not seen before—brought the song to a powerhouse ending.
  • I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me: Angela Primm was featured on the song; she did a dueling power soul vocal lick conclusion with Jason Crabb.
  • Heavenly Sunrise: The Hoppers pulled out a hit from way back. If my notes are correct, and I’m not mixing songs up, they were joined on stage by Gene McDonald, Reggie Smith, Kelly Bowling, and Charlotte Ritchie.
  • I’ll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus: The Hoppers offered a standout amidst an evening of strong performances with this one. Mike Hopper joined the group on stage, doubling Claude on the bass part.
  • How Beautiful Heaven Must Be: This featured Mitchel Jon.
  • I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted: While Mitchel Jon stayed in safe, mellow territory for much of the night, he let loose on this one. Before the song was up, he was joined by Larnelle Harris, Michael English, and Angela Primm.
  • His Eye is on the Sparrow: This featured Larnelle Harris; afterwards, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it edited to be an intro, Bill Gaither talked with Cliff Barrows about Ethel Waters’ landmark performance at the New York City crusade.
  • At this point, the Oak Ridge Boys did some secular song. Since I needed to take a bathroom break at some point, this was the most natural opening. (Gaither said the cameras weren’t rolling; they were changing tapes, or something to that effect—seemingly odd, now that camera systems have rolled over to digital.)
  • Lead Me To That Rock: The Oak Ridge Boys engaged an enthusiastic audience with this one.
  • Bill Gaither brought Reba Rambo McGuire, her husband Dony McGuire, and their daughter Destiny on stage. He led the Homecoming choir in a Rambos medley that included “Sheltered in the Arms,” “Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome,” “Remind Me, Dear Lord,” and “He Looked Beyond My Fault.”
  • At this point, there was a probably unplanned interruption; Cliff Barrows said that there was a sweet, sweet spirit in the room, and volunteered to lead the audience in “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.”
  • Reba, Dony, and Destiny then sang “When I Lift Up My Head”; they were joined by Buck Rambo for “Too Much to Gain to Lose.”
  • Gaither brought Stuart Hamblen’s daughter and grandson on stage, and talked about his friendship with Hamblen and Hamblen’s connection with Billy Graham. The homecoming choir sang “It is No Secret,” and then Gene McDonald and Larry Gatlin sang what was evidently an unrehearsed version of “This Ole House”—made evident since Larry Gatlin forgot the second half of his verse!
  • At this point, a rain storm started coming in. Trust it to a stage full of lifelong performers to know how to kill time; Mark Lowry sang part of “It Won’t Rain Always” and did some impromptu comedy with Bill Gaither.
  • Returning to the Hamblen segment, Janet Paschal sang “Until Then.”
  • Do Right and Come Smiling Through: Stan Whitmire did a convention-style piano solo.
  • At this point, a thunderstorm came on in full force, and recording had to be shut down for a half-hour or more. Fierce winds started blowing the tent, shaking lighting and sound structures vigorously, and blowing in heavy rain to flood electronic equipment.
  • Trust it to lifelong performers to live it up; Ben Speer and Sue Dodge came down for a totally impromptu rendition of “Didn’t it Rain,” and, naturally, Sue Dodge’s “Rain rain go away come again some other day” got a soaked audience laughing.
  • It looked as though the taping might have to be scrapped, but after 30-45 minutes, it resumed with “Heaven’s Jubilee,” featuring Gordon Mote, Michael English, and Larnelle Harris.
  • Rock My Soul: Featuring one of the Imperials groups—it appeared to be the one with Terry Blackwood, Royce Taylor, Darrell Toney, and Joe Moscheo (hat tip, Dean).
  • Old White Flag: Triumphant made a triumphal Homecoming debut with their perennial concert favorite.
  • Since Jesus Came to Live Inside of Me: Booth Brothers
  • In Christ Alone medley: Booth Brothers – Michael Booth acknowledged Michael English when they got to his “In Christ Alone”
  • Consider the Lilies: Charlotte Ritchie led a ladies’ trio
  • This is Just What Heaven Means to Me: Tanya Goodman Sykes led this Goodmans classic; she was joined by Charlotte Ritchie and Becky Isaacs Bowman.
  • I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary: Isaacs
  • I’ll Meet You in the Morning: This was done by a quartet with Ben Speer, Gene McDonald, and two others whom I did not see
  • Old Camp Meeting: Les Beasley led a scrap-iron quartet (also including Gene McDonald) on his first-ever Homecoming solo.
  • Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho: The Martins
  • Help Me: Russ Taff
  • Now More than Ever: Karen Peck and New River
  • Sometimes I Cry: Jason Crabb’s live band took over the band area, to give his song a distinctly different feel than the songs from the remainder of the program.
  • Then Came the Morning: Guy Penrod delivered a performance that would have gotten a standing ovation with a crowd with more energy. In a sort of odd symbolism, Guy began the song almost precisely on the stroke of midnight.
  • There Is a Fountain / The Blood of Jesus: Courtney Collingsworth did a violin solo on “There is a Fountain”—amidst an evening of big ballads and high energy, the stark simplicity was a perfect and memorable change of pace.
  • Before Jeff & Sheri Easter sang, Jeff Easter did a comedy monologue about his daughter, drama, and puppies. Though this is perhaps unlikely to make the final cut, there was some great impromptu humor here for the live audience; after the craziness of the evening, when Jeff Easter started talking about puppies, Gene McDonald offered a monster bark into his bass microphone. Jeff Easter looked back at the bass section and said “What?” – at which point Gene barked again, and assorted other performers began barking and yapping!
  • Sweet Bye and Bye: Jeff and Sheri Easter
  • That Sounds Like Home to Me: Michael English had the solo, with the rest of the Gaither Vocal Band (except possibly one of the two tenors) joining on the choruses.
  • He’s Alive: David Phelps hit a home run with this big finish.

A few general observations:

  • The parking situation was atrocious. The staff was going to start parking at 5:30, and they didn’t have either the capability or the infrastructure to handle the influx of cars. The cars backed up down their entrance, down the access, road, and quite a ways down the Billy Graham parkway. Meanwhile, they reassigned a number of the early birds (including me) to park in the other direction, facing out the exit ramp—leaving it to us to figure out how to work our way back into the line, much later, without any guidance.
  • Oddly, they didn’t have the infrastructure to check tickets, either. I came in the entrance by which about half the traffic was coming in—the entrance where people who walked across the grounds of the library from their parking lot, instead of taking the shuttle, came in. I eventually figured out where my seat was, but oddly they did not check my ticket at any point.
  • Also oddly: This was the first live taping I’ve attended where there was apparently nobody designated to enforce a no-cameras-or-video-devices rule. I saw several cameras rolling at points. This was completely understandable during the time period when the building was shut down and flooding, but it was rather irksome during the regular program. If you are sticking a video camera (cell phone or otherwise) over your head and obviously recording a video during a professionally produced live video taping, it both obstructs the view of those around and behind you and gets them thinking that you must clearly be too cheap to buy the real thing when it comes out!
  • It took about eight songs for the live sound crew to dial in the live sound. Since I was sitting in the back row, I could see the monitor for the sound crew’s Pro Tools setup, and they were recording all microphones—not the live mix—so this should not affect the final product. Yet as they were scrambling to find out who was on each microphone, several of the early songs had unamplified vocals for most or all of the verses.
  • If the extent to which she was featured tonight is any indicator, expect to see TaRanda Greene playing a role as one of the most prominent Homecoming soloists in the future. (That’s not a bad thing at all, since she was easily one of the most talented and versatile vocalists on the stage.)
  • There were about 124 performers on stage. Since they kept moving around practically every verse of every song, it was hard to get a precise count.
  • Though they will undoubtedly work fine on the video, several of the slow songs, particularly the second-to-last “That Sounds Like Home To Me,” were actually rather challenging in the live setting. At 12:30 AM, it was hard to focus on a song that mellow; my mind shifted to planning an escape route for a prompt and efficient exit walking across the grounds to my car, and then in the car out of the rather confusing complex layout!

A Homecoming live video taping experience is not for everyone. Five and a half hours—perhaps without a break, since the only one here was unplanned—is not for the faint of heart. Yet there are also sure to be numerous memorable moments you will never forget.


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48 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Daniel, I believe the song that was sung during your “sorry, notes indistinguishable here” moment was sung by Jeff & Sheri, and was What Heaven Means to Me.

    (I’m running on literally a few minutes of sleep during an-almost 30-hour period of time now, so I’m not the most clear-headed at the moment, but I’m almost positive that’s what it was). 🙂

    • That’s not it – Tanya Goodman Sykes sang that one. I’m running on very low sleep, too. 🙂

  2. Very interesting, Daniel. I almost felt like I was there. Wish you could do a live feed from there, but understand that you can’t.

    So glad to see Vincent and Dailey back. They are incredible. Also, Taranda is one of the best in the biz! God will continue to bless her ministry.

    • I think Gaither has done some live feeds for premium fan club members.

      • Well, you could Twitter. (Not that I’d be listening, though.)

      • Phones are supposed to be off.

      • Really? I had mine muted to incoming calls, of course, but I actually used it for making notes…and of course, to get a video of the water running over the electrical cords next to my feet.

      • Hmm. I guess they didn’t enforce that – it’s customarily asked at most tapings, but I guess they didn’t this time. But then, they didn’t check my ticket, either. 🙂

  3. Sounds like you had a good time Daniel! How do you think this video will stand up against all the prior videos?

    • It’ll be good. The ones with George, Jake, Glen, and Vestal have something special, but of recent ones, it’s easily one of the strongest.

      • I agree. This should turn out to be a very sharp looking production. If the Alaska videos were some of the weakest in recent memory, this should be one of the strongest.

        Also, it’s worth noting that the weather was beautiful on Monday here in North Carolina. I’m sure they got some great footage of the grounds and did some interviews and tied in the classic cars then.

  4. There seems to be some interesting groups with song selection, could you clarify a couple for me.”Now More Then Ever”- Karen Peck and New River is that the Gaither Vocal Band song? Isaacs “I Believe in a Hill Called Mt. Calvary?” How did these or did these turn out good? Mitchel Jon “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be” I bet that was AWESOME!

    • The first two were indeed very strong.

      Mitchel Jon’s rendition of “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be” was surprisingly subdued, slow-tempo, laid back.

  5. I wish you could have caught up with Tim Duncan to ask him about his upcoming solo project.

    I wish Tim could have been included in one or more of the bass features (songs which included bass parts).

    Thanks for the report, Daniel. Nicely detailed (which I like).

  6. I agree about the parking, too. For a crowd of less than 1500 including artists and crew, it took a surprising amount of time to find a spot. I’m of the opinion that people can generally park much faster if they’re directed to the lot and then allowed to find an empty spot on their own.

    Directing every car down the exact same line and making the whole line wait as each one is painstakingly directed into a spot is ridiculous when there are five or six lines where cars could be parking during that same time.

    • Totally agreed. It was an entirely unnecessary mess.

  7. Daniel: Sounds like it was an experience every Southern Gospel music fan should attend at some point. The singing, not the parking or traffic.

    • Oh . . . I don’t know if every Southern Gospel fan could handle 5 and a half hours, getting out right around 1 AM with a two-hour drive home! 🙂

      • If I lived in the area, I would probably do it.

  8. All right; I’m finishing up a late lunch, and finally finished this post. My missing item in the list was actually a comedy routine, not a song. When my notes say “Gene yapping,” looking at it later, I work from the assumption that my handwriting must be too messy to decipher—not that a bass singer was actually barking on stage!

    (Check it out above; it’s funny!)

  9. Wow! What an adventure! We all would have loved to experience it, and were wondering how it went for you last night! Now we know… 😉

    Just wondering…could it have been Jeff Taylor playing accordian/pump organ with Buddy Greene on “I Need Thee”? He has been performing quite a bit with Buddy on recent Homecoming Videos.

    Again, thanks for the report! Sure sounded like – for the most part – lots of fun! 🙂

    -Taylor for TGF

    • That sounds right; I just hadn’t caught his last name well enough to remember it. (I can see, though, why you would remember it!)

  10. Thanks Daniel for a great report. Wonder how many videos Gaither will make out of the 5 1/2 hour session. Guess he’ll probably get at least two out of the session. That’s about what he usually gets.

    • I doubt more than 3 max, but the plan is for two.

  11. Hidee,
    I apologize if I missed it in your review; however, were the Blackwood Brothers featured on a song?

    • I wish, but no. They may have gotten bumped given the time delays and the fact that it went to 8:30 as it was. I did see several choir shots during others’ solos that clearly cut to Jimmy’s face, but I didn’t notice the others that visibly.

  12. First of all, it sounds like an adventure, but a fun one.

    Second of all, is the “I Need Thee” the song “I Need Thee Every Hour?”

    Third of all, I hope some of the comedy and stuff that doesn’t make it on the DVDs (due to pacing etc.) is put on as bonus stuff.

    Forth of all, my understanding is the Oaks song they sang was “Elvira” which is Kyle Boreing’s favorite song of all time and is the song the Oaks are best known for. People expect to hear that about anywhere the boys go.

    This is related to the above post. I can see if you had gone to the taping when they celebrated Bill’s 60th. birthday and sang “Happy Birthday” to him.

    “The day of the taping was Bill’s 60th. birthday. A cake was brought out and the Homecoming gang burst into an impromptu secular song.” 😀

    • I wonder if Tim Duncan joined in on Elvira…

    • The only point I’m making here is that – especially since the tape was not rolling – it was the least crucial part of the taping to catch, and made more sense than skipping out during a Nelons, Collingsworth Family, Janet Paschal, or Guy Penrod song.

      I did notice that, at one point during the flood, the roving cameras started catching all the sawdust washing away. I think that including information on the near-disaster would make for a far more interesting DVD than pretending that the evening went off without a hitch!

      Yes, I Need Thee is I Need Thee Every Hour.

      • I was just ribbing you. I was mostly joking as if you hadn’t ever heard “Happy Birthday”. This goes back to us picking you for not knowing the Disney characters etc. 😀

        I understand trying to find a place to leave when you had to go. Ordinarily that wouldn’t have been my place to go, but I am a huge Oaks fan. Nonetheless, I also understand your wanting to not miss the taping, so it did make more sense.

      • OK, good. 🙂

        By the way, the rain was pouring so hard – one of the hardest storms in my recollection – that going to the port-a-pots would not have been feasible during the rain-out. So, counting the five and a half hour taping and the two-hour drive home (without any rest areas until within 10 minutes of home), that was my one chance to go in a seven and a half hour period, and still cover every song taped. 🙂 (I get that you’re joking, and I’m making my perfectly logical case with a huge smile on my face, too! 🙂 )

      • You could have just gone prepared by wearing some Depends. 😛

      • Yes, and I was only ribbing you too, but my comment got lost for some reason. All I said was that the ORB were obviously the highlight of your evening, and that quartetman’s example was funny. 🙂

      • You say that, but we all know you’re just baiting Kyle. LOL

      • David, when in 1988 (I believe) (when I was a few or more years younger than Kyle is now) I was in the mall on the way to an Oaks concert (likely my second with the first being the year before). I had on an Oaks T-shirt (which is why I knew it wasn’t my first) and a couple of girls in the mall said “Oak Ridge Boys…oooh!” I am here to tell you it ticked me off and I turned around and gave them a look. Had they not been young ladies (or maybe I should say ladies isn’t the right term), I might have given them a piece of my mind. 😉 Okay, I am exaggerating on giving a piece of my mind, but I certainly turned around and was mad. I never said anything except tell my friend who was walking with me what they said. It did make me stop and turn around. 😀

      • DBM – no, actually I was hoping Kyle wasn’t going to come over here and stir the pot. 🙂

        It is honestly how I felt about it – it was a secular song, and not part of the program – just while tape was being changed – so in that context, it was irrelevant to me what the secular song was (and fairly irrelevant who was doing it, though I would have been a little surprised to see, say, Triumphant Quartet, the Blackwood Brothers, or the Collingsworth Family doing it).

  13. The down pour should make the video if you want it to be realistic.
    Tent Revivals went on rain, shine and the heat of night. There was no air conditioning or fans, except the hand fans at those meetings. I can remember several we had in our area with big name preachers conducting the services. It is great memories of my younger days. Only on occasion do you see one of those tent meetings now with the tent pitched in a field with grass half knee high. Praise the Lord for such great days.

    • That all sounds about right, except here the tent was pitched in the middle of a parking lot!

  14. Doesn’t Gaither ususally get two videos out of one taping?
    And, I wonder how he chooses who gets to do the special singing, such as quartets, trios, and solos. I have always thought about that.

  15. I had never heard of Angela Primm either, but that girl can SING! Her voice blended beautifully with Jason’s. Their “sing-off” was a highlight of the night, in my humble opinion. 🙂

    • It was pretty impressive, indeed. There were so many highlights through the evening that I would have a hard time doing a short list of standouts – other than the one that would obviously head my list, due to the location, their age, and everything else, the Shea/Barrows segment.

      • Thanks for the review Daniel! Sounds like it was a great time!

        P.S. If you haven’t heard of Angela Primm before, watch this clip from the Gaithers’ “Freedom Band” taping from 2001 – it’s one of my favourites:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OG38WvTvO8U

      • Thanks! I may actually have seen that before, but if I did, her name just didn’t stick out in my head.

  16. The penalty for living up north is not being able to attend these type of things. So glad Bill in including TaRanda Green as she is an elite singer and I am sure looking to find the right niche for herself. This is one of the recordings I will for sure buy.

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