Concert Review: Mark Trammell Trio

Last night’s Mark Trammell Trio concert in Marion, Ohio had an audience of between 175 and 215–a decent turnout, though it came nowhere near filling the theater and thus looked smaller than it really was. The most remarkable thing about this audience, though, was the average age. Children under 10 came free, and adding that to the fact that the concert was supported by a church and Christian school made for an average age of roughly 35. At one point, in intermission with the auditorium half-empty, I counted 45 children, and I believe it is safe to say that of the roughly 200 in attendance, at least 75 were children.
The Mark Trammell Trio walked out on stage and began with three mid-tempo songs, “Thank God I am Free,” and “Walking with Jesus” (from Journey Thus Far), and “When Compared to God” (from This Time).

At this point, Trammell introduced the group. Steve Hurst, who travels with the group some weekends, was not with them this week, so the introductions did not take long. Trammell got off a subtle joke, the sort where everyone laughs about ten seconds after the punch line: He referred to a trip his family took over the holiday weekend. They went to California, because his son had never seen the land of the fruits and the nuts.

Trammell then took his time introducing the fourth song of the concert, “Just a Little Closer Home.” The song, which featured lead singer Dustin Sweatman, was written by Dustin’s father Gerald Sweatman and was recorded by the Kingsmen in the 1970s. This is one of those songs that you don’t fully appreciate until you hear it live. To see Dustin put everything he has into the song, to hear the phrases punctuated by amens from a Baptist audience, to be so moved by the end of the second verse that it is only with difficulty that you remain in your seat–that is the experience of the song live that a studio version cannot convey.

The group transitioned into an up-tempo song featuring Mark Trammell with the next selection, “When They Ring the Bells of Heaven.” Incidentally, a close observer (and I was fortunate enough to sit in the center on the front row) would have observed that Trammell took the lead and that Sweatman switched to the baritone part on all the choruses after the second verse.

After this song, Dustin went to the keyboard to play a piano solo, “Wait ‘Till You See Me in My New Home.” He stayed at the keyboard for a no-soundtrack medley of “Something About That Name” and “In the Garden.” Trammell also played his bass guitar for the medley.

The meditative pace of the medley changed when the trio launched into an energetic full-blown quartet song, “Hallelujah, I’m Going Home.” Granted, there wasn’t a bass part, but the three singers sang their parts so energetically that they more than made up for the deficiency.

Trammell introduced the next song by saying that he was going to feature Eric on the group’s most-requested song. Trammell said that he lived in Ohio for ten and a half years, and he knew that Ohioans were honest. If they liked a song, they would let the singer know, and if not, they’d sit and stare like a mule looking at a new gate. At that point, Eric Phillips made that face–oddly enough giving a visual demonstration of a reaction audience members would only have if they disliked his performance.

Trammell finished the introduction, and Phillips launched into “Glory Road.” Before the end of the first line, the audience burst into a round of applause, and only got more enthusiastic from there. Every time Phillips repeated the part where he slipped into a falsetto on the phrase “I can see Him on His throne,” audience reaction grew until, at the end of the song, when he hit the G above high C, he received probably the most enthusiastic round of applause all night.

The trio closed out the first half of the concert with Dustin leaving the piano and returning to focus on singing the lead part as they sang the title song off their upcoming project, “Once Upon a Cross.” To those who have complained that the group has to date recorded material unworthy of their capabilities, let me reply that with this song, they have finally found the right sort of song.

After intermission, the group did four classic songs, “What a Lovely Name,” “Jesus Hold My Hand,” “Had it Not Been,” and “I’ve Got It,” before closing with three songs that had been requested.

The first of these was the group’s radio single “I Needed to Hear That Today.” It went over well, but the reaction to the second requested song, “Stand and Praise the Lord,” was even more enthusiastic.

The concert closed with the song “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary.” The song, featuring Trammell, received more “amens” from more audience members than I have ever before heard at a Southern Gospel concert. Every line was answered by a chorus of “amens,” and the response at the end was, as expected, quite enthusiastic.
Trammell then delivered an altar call and sang the song “Does Jesus Care” solo, asking the audience to keep their head bowed and eyes closed throughout the song. The concert concluded after an altar call.

It had been months since I’d seen a Southern Gospel concert. In a winter filled with many sentences about recorded Southern Gospel, it was nice to punctuate the season with this exclamation point of a live concert.

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5 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Thank you for such an informative review. I feel like I was there. I appreciate that you are able to be unbiased in your criticism even when reviewing one of your favorite groups.

  2. Thanks!

  3. It makes such a difference when you see them in person, doesn’t it?!?!? I love them in person but just like them on their CDs.

  4. I thoroughly appreciated their program when I saw them live. Although it was before they had Dustin Sweatman. I’ve never had the opportunity to hear them with him. The night that I saw them, they shared the stage with the Booth Brothers, and though they are nowhere near as… entergetic and up-beat I guess…:) as the Booths, it was a fantastic set of songs and they are such a talented, classy group. And frankly, as much as I love to be entertained by the high-energy groups, it’s nice to sit back and just thoroughly enjoy good music by incredible guys. I wouldn’t change them, that’s for sure! 🙂

  5. Heidi, catch them again if you can. They had a bit of a country sound with Joseph Smith, but now they have three straight-ahead Southern Gospel voices blending for one of the best blends out there.

    They’ve also added a few more crowd pleasers into their program, featuring Dustin on “Just a Little Closer Home” and Eric on “Glory Road” most every night. Mark Trammell is still doing “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary,” better than ever.