NQC: Day 1, Monday
Brian Free & Assurance kicked day 1 off with an energetic rendition of “Long as I Got King Jesus.” They had a live band—Roy Webb on keys, Dean Hopper on bass guitar, and Mike Hopper on drums.
After an encore or two, they left the stage. Gerald Wolfe came on to lead the audience in “There’s Within My Heart a Melody” and “Because He Lives.” Tim Parton, pianist for Legacy Five, was at the piano as the group was first on stage. The flawless accompaniment seemed fairly unrehearsed; Wolfe called the keys (G for “There’s Within My Heart” and A-flat for “Because He Lives”) and called for a turnaround at one point.
Legacy Five was the first group to take the stage. Scott Fowler sang the first song, “God Will Go Before You.” Glenn Dustin was featured on “Roll On”; I noticed Tim Parton singing a fifth part on that song. After the first two songs, Fowler said enjoyed singing at NQC as it was their most politically incorrect audience. While he would often use that as a preface to a political discussion, he instead focused on watered-down theology, segueing into an introduction of Scott Howard’s “Take it to the Cross.” They closed their set with a convention song, “We’re Leavin’ Here.”
Side note: As a manner of explanation for the shorter sets, I was talking later in the evening with a friend from a group that had a shorter set than in previous years. He told me no group this year has a set longer than 17 minutes, allowing groups to fit in three or four songs at most.
The Kingsmen were the second group to take the stage. Their first three songs were from their most recent CD (When God Ran), “This Could Be the Cloud He’s Coming Back On” (featuring lead singer Phillip Hughes), “Gospel Road” (also featuring Phillip), and “When God Ran” (featuring baritone singer Bryan Hutson). “When God Ran” got a strong response—the first standing ovation of the night. (It is worth noting that there are virtually no unanimous standing ovations; a strong standing ovation is when 1/4 of the people in the room stand, and a very strong standing ovation is when 1/2 of the people in the room stand. I only noticed one point on day 1 when virtually the whole audience stood; more on that later.) The Kingsmen closed their set with a rousing rendition of “Beautiful Home” that got the audience back on its feet. Eric Ollis from the Whisnants was playing piano; perhaps to avoid rumors that arose when Ollis was with them last weekend, Kingsmen emcee Bryan Hutson did make clear that Ollis was filling in.
Kingsmen bass Ray Dean Reese introduced the Mark Trammell Trio by mentioning each member’s connection with the Kingsmen. He said that one member’s father wrote many songs that the Kingsmen sang (Gerald Sweatman, father of Dustin), another member’s father sang tenor with the group (Ernie Phillips, father of Eric), and the group’s leader, Mark Trammell, was a “long-time” member of the Kingsmen. The reference struck me as odd since, as I recall, Trammell wasn’t with the Kingsmen for two years before getting the call from George Younce and Glen Payne and joining the Cathedrals. (As an aside, I am not drafting the posts with Internet access handy; I post them later in the day on a friend’s computer. So I’m working from memory here and elsewhere.)
The Mark Trammell Trio sang four songs from their new CD, Always Have a Song. They started off with the project’s opening track, “I Know that I Know.” Lead singer Dustin Sweatman was featured on two songs, the ballad “What Good Would a Crown Be” and the uptempo convention-style song “Coming Out and Moving In.” Mark Trammell closed the set with a powerful new ballad from Rodney Griffin, “If Only Just a Few.” While some stood and applauded at the end, most everyone in the room was hearing the song for the first time; look for a bigger response later this year (and possibly even later this week). Tenor Eric Phillips was not featured on any songs; however, since he has several strong solos on their new project, look for him to be featured later this week.
I decided to head for the vendors’ hall for a while. On my way out, the King’s Heralds sang an acapella rendition of “You’d Better Run.” Speaking of my time in the vendors’ hall, my find of the day was the Mark Trammell Trio’s latest, Always Have a Song. I knew it would be good, but this is one solid CD! More on that in a couple of weeks when a review comes out.
While I was out, the Primitive Quartet sang a strong set that included renditions of “No Longer an Orphan” and “I’m Walkin’ in the Highway.” The Dove Brother’s set included “Have a Nice Day,” “You Don’t Know God’s Love,” “I’ve Never Ever Been the Same,” “You Can’t Fix It,” and “Alive and Well.” The Booth Brothers joined them on the last chorus before starting their own set. Accompanied by Roy Webb on the piano, the Booth Brothers sang “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” “Going Back,” “Tears Are a Language,” and “This Love is Mine.” I caught most of their set on live video feeds in the vendor’s hall, and it looks like they got a pretty strong response. Interestingly, they didn’t seem to feel the same compulsion most of the other groups to focus on songs from their most recent CD; perhaps they are working under the idea that if you put a good set together, people will stop by your booth and pick up your latest CD while they’re at it. It’s an interesting concept, at any rate.
The Dixie Melody Boys took the stage to “Give the World a Smile.” They also sang “Roll On, Jordan,” “A Soul Such as I” (featuring Steve Cooper), “It Will Be Worth it All” (featuring Joe Kitson, a relative of Jacob Kitson, though I don’t recall whether they are brothers), “What a Wonderful Day” (featuring Jonathan Price), and “When I Cross to the Other Side of Jordan” (featuring Ed O’Neal). The Dixie Echoes came on the stage for the final song’s encore, and the song ended up being encored a few times. Before the final encore, the Dixie Melody Boys were leaving the stage and seemed to clearly view their set as over. But Michael Booth, who was on drums, sensed the crowd’s enthusiasm and started a drumroll; most of the audience not yet on their feet got on their feet (except the audience in the nosebleeds, who seemed to never stand) and they did a final encore.
By the time the final encore was done, the Dixie Echoes had the two vintage microphones set up for their own set. As usual for they group, the accompaniment was simple (and completely live), with Stewart Varnado on piano and Scoot Shelnut (also the baritone) on bass guitar. By cutting out virtually all commentary and not encoring any songs, they managed to squeeze six songs in: “I’ll Be Ready,” “Miracle Will Happen On That Day,” “How Big is God” (featuring bass Pat Barker in one of the night’s strongest performances), “Gonna Move to the Sky,” and “Little is Much.”
I went back to the vendor’s hall for a while. But on the various monitors spread throughout the hall, I caught a decent portion of Gold City’s and the Inspirations’ sets. Gold City’s set started with three songs from their new CD, “Cast My Bread On the Water,” “Walkin’ and Talkin’ About My Lord” (featuring bass singer Aaron McCune), “What Children Believe” (featuring baritone Danny Riley), and “In My Robe of White” (featuring Steve Ladd).
The Inspirations’ set was of interest due in part to lead singer Matt Dibler’s departure a couple of days before NQC. Darren Osbourne, who has filled in for Archie on tenor, filled in at the lead part for Matt. Baritone Melton Campbell stepped forward to sing lead on some songs as well. Probably due in large part to this last-minute re-arranging of parts, they stuck to familiar songs. They started with an acapella rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and also sang “I Have Not Forgotten,” “If You Only Know,” and “Touring That City.”
I didn’t return to the vendor’s hall until partway through Soul’d Out Quartet’s set. I didn’t really get to focus on their set since I was finding a seat, but they appeared to be coming to a strong finish, punctuated by the bass threatening to blow out the subwoofers on the song’s ending (and again on the encore).
Reggie Sadler sang bits of secular songs for ten minutes. It seemed to be roughly the same set of songs he sang last year. I was puzzled why this audience of Southern Gospel fans responded more enthusiastically to this than to any of the Christian songs sung for the rest of the evening (well, with maybe two or three exceptions). He did have a couple of good jokes, but the show was absolutely stolen by a lady in the front row who he asked to faint at a certain point in a song. She did a very convincing job.
The Perrys’ was the last complete set I caught that evening. They sang four songs, starting out with “I Wish I Coulda Been There.” I was slightly surprised at the round of applause when the soundtrack for Libbi Perry Stuffle’s “The Potter Knows the Clay” started. Either the song has been singled to radio (I don’t listen to radio often enough to recall) and really started connecting with people there, or enough fans have their latest project to know the song. Either way, the song was well received. The group’s third song was “I Wish I Coulda Been There.” This was the closest to a full standing ovation I saw that night; from where I was sitting (er, standing), it looked like roughly 1/4 of the audience stood at the end of the main song. Roughly another 1/2 of the audience stood after the first encore, and most of the remaining 1/4 was on their feet by the time lead singer Joseph Habedank started into another encore.
They closed their set with “Holy Shore,” which got another regular (i.e., partial) standing ovation. By the way, I’m writing this before I read any other coverage, but (whether or not yesterday’s performance was discussed), Habedank has been criticized in the past for his elaborations to the tune. The most ludicrous of the charges was that he was elaborating and changing the tune because he couldn’t sing the song as recorded. In that light, I particularly noticed that Habedank sang his verse of “Holy Shore,” a slightly more challenging number, in a straight-ahead fashion with virtually no elaboration.
The evening closed with Triumphant Quartet; they closed with “I Remember the Day,” and were joined by the Perrys for an encore as the evening’s grand finale.
Notes: Many of these song titles are guesses. Those of you familiar with current songs by groups covered are welcome to post correct titles in the notes; I’ll eventually edit the post. Also, a note of thanks is due to Sony Elise, who kept helpful notes of sets I missed.