Our NQC live blog posts take shape through the evenings.
Moment of the Night
It’s hard to pace a four-song set at NQC. Start fast? Start slow? Finish fast? Finish slow?
The Mark Trammell Quartet’s set was perfectly paced. They started with the peaceful, relaxed “Gentle Shepherd.” They picked up the pace with “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” sung as a tribute to the Couriers (whom Mark saw at his first National Quartet Convention, 35 years ago). Then Mark introduced Pat Barker. It’s clear that the NQC audience loves him; he just had to say Pat’s name, and the audience let out a cheer.
Now, we’re talking about a song that’s a recent #1 hit. It’s the most successful radio single the group has to date. It’s also huge for them live. Pat conveyed the song with passion and confidence, and the audience responded in such a big way that two encores seemed like too little, not too much.
You might think that would be the highlight of their set. But you would be wrong.
“The King is Coming” was the moment of the night.
I have many versions of the song, including the Speer Family’s landmark live 1972 version on Jesus Sound Explosion—a version so powerful that it got the strongest response of the album in front of a Jesus Music audience, surrounded by the strongest Jesus Music artists at the time. Of course, the Bill Gaither Trio’s rendition was also incredible—and many others have been, too.
Despite all that, I suspected that I would eventually make the following conclusion. After seeing the Mark Trammell Quartet’s version live, I am ready to state that theirs is the strongest version ever recorded.
Kingdom Heirs. The Kingdom Heirs’ set was solid. All four songs—”I’m Not Worried About Forever,” “Tell Me Why,” “Just Preach Jesus,” and “We Will Stand Our Ground”—come from their latest recording, We Will Stand Our Ground. (In fact, they’re the two opening and closing songs, in exactly that order!) The set captured exactly what quartet night is supposed to be.
Brian Free & Assurance. They started their quartet night set with a classic, “What a Beautiful Day (For the Lord to Come Again). They then went progressive with their second song, “When the Lord Says Do It.” Their third song, “Guard Your Heart,” was more mellow musically and put the spotlight solidly on the message. “No one is invincible / you gotta watch and pray / every hour of every day / guard your heart…”
They went from the serious to the fun with their next song, “Looking For a City.” By the final key, he sang the lines “where the sainted millions / never sing this high”!
The set was well-balanced for a night honoring quartet music. They portrayed the progressive side of what they do accurately, but was still something that traditional quartet fans can love.
Triumphant Quartet. They kicked off with some welcome energy with “When the Trumpet Sounds.” They slowed the pace down with the second song, “He Loves Me.”
Jeff Stice introduced his piano solo by talking about his mother’s recent battle with breast cancer, and how he played for her on the piano he learned to play on during her recovery. He said she asked him to make his next piano solo CD just-piano, and that she asked him to include the first song he ever learned to play—”Mansion Over the Hilltop.” It would have been a special moment on its own musical merits, but the story made it a highlight.
They made a smooth pivot from tears to smiles with their next song, “Old White Flag.” They then ended their set blazing with “Almost Home.”
Finale: Gerald Wolfe: “You would think they wouldn’t have to call in a trio man to end a quartet program.” He says he’s sat there all night, and not a single quartet has sung the greatest quartet song of all time! So he has Triumphant Quartet, the Mark Trammell Quartet, and Legacy Five sing it “Just a Little Talk with Jesus.”
The vocalists and band stumble over the transition into verse two, and the rendition grinds to a halt. A priceless comedic exchange follows:
Gerald Wolfe: “Guys! How long have you been playing quartet music?
Scott Howard: “Evidently longer than this band’s been playing quartet music.”
Gerald Wolfe: “You know as well as I do that it’s tradition that after the turnaround, there’s a 1-7-4 chord, and the tenor takes the lead.”
David Sutton sings verse 2. Then the bass singers shine on a chorus. By this point, a fourth bass singer (Paul Harkey of the LeFevre Quartet?) has joined the ensemble.
After the big ending, Gerald Wolfe says “That’s quartet night!” And, ladies and gentlemen, that’s a wrap for the night.
9:56: Gold City. After a presentation honoring Gold City for having a #1 song in each of the last four decades (1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s), they started their set with “I Cast My Bread Upon the Water.” They continued in a similar vein with their second song, their recent #1 hit “Peter, James and John.” Third up was “When I Get Carried Away.”
The presentation at the start of their set made specific mention of “Midnight Cry,” in such a fashion that they practically had to include it. They did, and got a standing ovation.
They cut out almost all talking from their set, and so were able to fit in five songs. They closed with “Get Up, Get Ready.”
9:34: Legacy Five. The set began with the first major technical difficulty of the week; Scott Fowler’s microphone was off, at least in the live feed mix, for most of his featured verses. But the group soldiered on through the technical difficulties and came back for a strong ending.
The Scotts (lead singer Scott Fowler and baritone Scott Howard) were up next, with “Living in the Palace.”
Scott Fowler introduced their third song, “Life Will Be Sweeter Someday,” by saying he wasn’t sure he had even set the song to Matt Fouch to learn, and asking him if he knew it. Then, amusingly, it was Scott who forgot a line—whether intentional or not, nonetheless turning it into a fine comedic moment.
They finished with “I Found Grace.”
8:53: Paul’s Journey. There was a track malfunction just as Paul’s Journey walked onstage. It has to be unnerving for a group to walk onstage for their first set, but even more so when the track won’t play. The tenor did a remarkable job filling the dead time, with some audience banter and humor. He referred to a Statesmen video which had just been played, and said, “Now you know why they never sang with tracks, because it’s just a pain. Instead, they traveled with their own band.”
They started with “This is Just What Heaven Means To Me,” featuring their tenor. Their baritone was featured on their second song, “You Better Get Ready.”
5:41: Tim Lovelace is doing Fan Cam. More updates to come after church; consider this an NQC-related open thread till then.
5:15: Showcase Winners. The showcase winners of the day kick off the evening’s program. Revelation Trio from McKenzie, Tennessee was up first. They were a mixed trio—regrettably, not the Northern Irish trio that records with Crossroads. But they were good. The Mark Dubbeld Family was up next, singing an original song, “Inside the Gate.” It was a solid performance. The Diplomats were up third; they had a mainstage slot last year, but only appeared in the showcases this year. Thankfully, they at least got this song this year. They sang “I’ll Soon Be Gone,” from their latest album (reviewed here).
Then—fittingly for quartet night—they picked the strongest quartet from the day’s showcases, Union Street. Members are tenor Toby Hitchcock, lead singer Ryan Seaton (formerly of Ernie Haase & Signature Sound), baritone Andrew Goldman, and bass Aaron McCune (Palmetto State Quartet, Gold City). All members except McCune had a solo.