National Quartet Convention 2011, Day 4

Moment of the Night

My personal favorite was a stunning Karen Peck & New River rendition of “On the Banks of the Promised Land” in an invitation-only media showcase; she hit her high notes perfectly despite feeling quite sick and having laryngitis. But since that was an invitation-only event, I’ll select the best-received moment from the public evening concert:

Mark Trammell Quartet: Statue of Liberty. Of all the sets I witnessed first-hand in Freedom Hall—a good percentage—this had the strongest audience reaction. I didn’t see a single person sitting, even in the farthest reaches of the balcony, and it is rare that a performance brings virtually everyone—Inspirations and Lauren Talley fans alike—to their feet.

Runner-up: Wilburn & Wilburn: Mainstage Fire in the Choir spotlight, singing “Church on Fire.” Wilburn & Wilburn is top-tier right out of the gate. They brought the energy and even the humor to cover a track malfunction.


As reported here, Guy Penrod was indeed absent from the Gaither Vocal Band reunion, making it something like a Happy Goodmans reunion minus Vestal. But, to continue the metaphor, Rusty, Sam, Tanya, Johnny Cook, Mike English, and Eddie Crook all showed up. (Literal-minded readers: Please note the metaphor part!) 

That said, it had its moments. “Let Freedom Ring” was huge. “The Love of God,” “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy,” and “Mary Did You Know” were very big. Steve Green’s one and only feature was on “No Other Name,” and he got an enthusiastic standing ovation. For a number of years, Steve Green held the record as the most-awarded singer in Inspirational / Contemporary Christian Music (though Steven Curtis Chapman holds that crown now). Given the huge career he has had post-Gaither, it would have been nice to see more than one song.

That quibble aside, the reunion was a great show—as good of a show as was possible without Guy Penrod.

Evening Performances

Click “more” for a song-by-song set list from Daniel’s siblings, with commentary in bold from Daniel.

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National Quartet Convention 2011, Day 3

Moment of the Night

Perrys / Wilburn & Wilburn: Jonathan Wilburn’s triumphant return to the NQC main stage; the Perrys called him up for an encore of “I Wish I Could Have Been There,” and the energy in the room was electric.

Runner-up: Tributes to the recently deceased Hayes Family patriarch Howard Hayes from Greater Vision (dedication of “Till the Storm Passes By”) and The Perrys (photo on screen during “Celebrate Me Home”)

News Tidbit of the Day

Great news from Gold City: despite the recent personnel change, they confirmed at their table today that their upcoming album will still release as scheduled.

Other Notes

I was in Freedom Hall, though in the vendor’s hall much of the night; my siblings were taking notes from the video feed. Their notes form the core of each presentation; I’ve added some notes in bold.
  • Showcase Performance: Ryan Seaton: I Feel a Song Coming on.
  • Sisters and Jason Crabb: Leaning on the Everlasting ArmsI’ll Fly Away, I’d Rather Have Jesus.
  • Freemans: Three Rugged CrossesThe Father and The SonSending Me AngelsChildren of the Dust.
  • The Browns: Instrumental: I Sing the Mighty Power of God / Canon in D.
  • Tribute Quartet: He is Leading the WayMakes Me Wanna Go, Sweeter as the Days Go ByBring on the JoyHomecoming Day (brought up Melissa and Jim Brady).
  • The Perrys (Matthew Holt on Piano): Every Time I need HimCelebrate Me Home (photos on screen of passed on saints), Bryan Walker did Great is Thy Faithfulness, Libbi’s solo song I Need Thee Every HourI Wish I Could Have Been There (with Wilburn and Wilburn)–standing ovation. Celebrate Me Home was an incredibly powerful tribute, with a round of applause with as each picture appeared on the screen; these were, at least for the part I caught, primarily Southern Gospel singers. When Wilburn & Wilburn—Jonathan and his son Jordan—came on stage for the “I Wish I Could’ve Been There” encore, the place was electric.
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National Quartet Convention 2011, Day 2

This live blog will be updated through the night.

Moment of the Night

Jeff & Sheri Easter, “Thank You Lord for Your Blessings on Me.” Jeff Easter’s mother passed away five weeks ago; it was already a special moment when Jeff dedicated the song to his father, but when his father came on stage to sing the second verse . . . there aren’t quite words to capture the moment. It takes a deep faith to sing those words in public just a month after losing a wife of more than fifty years.

Runner-up: Mark Trammell Quartet, whole set. A delightful and perfectly paced tribute to the Cathedral Quartet. Mark didn’t say it was a tribute, but he didn’t need to—it stood on its own.

Second runner-up: Chris Allman’s unflappability (see Christmas segment).

Christmas Segment (10:22)

Set List: Love Me Some Snow (Crist Family); It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Greater Vision); I Wonder as I Wander (Matthew Holt); Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child (Triumphant Quartet); Away in a Manger (Talleys); I Wanna Hear the Angels (Hoppers); Joy to the World (Legacy Five); Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel (Greater Vision); Hallelujah Chorus (Jeff Stice piano solo); Silent Night (audience)

Highlights: The gigantic red Santa Claus hat which one of Gerald Wolfe’s sons slipped onto his head mid-song! It was also amazing to see Chris Allman sing a pitch-perfect performance of his song despite holding a stack of brightly presents stacked so far above his head that one slipped off and hit his head toward the end. That’s how good he is.

The acapella rendition of “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel,” also by Greater Vision, was perfect.

Booth Brothers (10:02)

Set List: Look For Me at Jesus’ Feet; Welcome to the Family; She Still Remembers; Since Jesus Came; Trading This Old Cross for a Crown

Highlights: An all-live rendition of “Look for Me at Jesus’ Feet” with Whisnants pianist Eric Ollis on piano.

Whisnants (9:39)

Set List: King Jesus is Coming; Be Not Afraid; Ready to Leave; All is Well; New Day Dawning.

Highlights: Consistently strong throughout; it’s hard to pick a moment that stood head and shoulders above the others.

Showcase Spotlight (9:37)

Voices Won sang “I Was There When it Happened.” They haven’t had a breakthrough hit to move them into the top tier, but they have the tight sibling harmonies to stand out if they get that big song.

Mark Trammell Quartet (9:09)

Set List: Wedding Music; Old Convention Song; Gentle Shepherd; It’s Almost Over.

Highlights: They walk on stage to the strains of “Wedding Music,” and the audience goes crazy. Well, okay, this is NQC, and given the average age, they don’t go crazy, but they definitely welcome it appreciatively! Gerald Wolfe joins on piano for the set.

It was a brilliantly paced and delivered set of Cathedrals songs. Much like a Cathedrals set, almost all the songs were completely live; the closing song had a track. It left the audience on their feet.

(Pat Barker: As to your looks, you look better than I do, but you sing better than you look!)

Click “more” for the rest of the coverage:

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National Quartet Convention 2011, Day 1

This live blog will be updated throughout the evening.

Moment of the Night

The Perrys’ “Plan of Salvation.” It would have been one of the evening’s strongest moments with no introduction, but with Tracy Stuffle’s introduction (see below) tying it to the one-year mark of his return to the stage, it was an incredibly emotional moment.

Runner-up: Collingsworth Family, “At Calvary.”

Brian Free & Assurance (10:38)

Set list: What a Beautiful Day, Anything is Possible; I Believe; God Will Close the Door; Long as I Got King Jesus.

Highlights: “Long as I Got King Jesus,” of course. The Collingsworth Family came back up for the encore, and the groups left the audience on their feet.

Collingsworth Family (10:18)

Set list: I Feel Like Traveling On (with Brian Free & Assurance), Part of the Family; Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho; I Found It All (When I Lost Everything);  At Calvary.

Highlights: Kim’s piano solo on “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho” got a standing ovation—despite the late hour.

“At Calvary” was utter magnificence. The hymn has quite possibly never been done better. It, too, got a standing ovation.

Click “more” for the rest of the coverage: 

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Concert Review: Daniel’s Siblings catch the Mark Trammell Quartet (Green, OH)

Today (September 11, 2011), Daniel’s Siblings traveled 1 hour 20 minutes to Temple Baptist Church in Green, Ohio to hear the Mark Trammell Quartet.  The Temple Baptist Church was celebrating their 44th Anniversary.  Singing groups associated with the church opened the concert and sang just after the offering.

The Mark Trammell Quartet Concert:
Song list & comments:
  • Plan of Salvation. They kicked the concert off to a good start with several songs from the past.
  • Hallelujah, I’m Going Home. This featured the amazing tenor voice of Joel Wood.
  • An Old Convention Song.  The first song of the night about other songs. 
  • Hide Thou Me. 
  • Echoes from the Burning Bush. This song featured slower, quieter lines towards the end, and then they built it back up to a powerful ending.
  • Wedding Music. Dustin Sweatman had been playing keyboards and Mark Trammell had been playing the bass guitar for the first 5 1/2 songs, at which point they started using their soundtracks. They clearly do not need soundtracks to sound great; they sound superb both with or without them.
  • Testimony featured Dustin Sweatman who seems to do a great job at anything he attempts. They had a pleasant tenor and lead duet for a line in the second verse.

Next, they introduced all the group members except for the ever-dignified Mark Trammell (who has been at the church numerous times since the first time 29-30 years before, consequently he needed no further introduction.) 

  • How Long Has It Been.  
  • One Drop. Dustin Sweatman wrote this song and sings it well. It was well-placed between two ballads.
  • It’s Almost Over. The MTQ delivered a very strong rendition and received the first full standing ovation of the afternoon. We did find it funny that they sang this song right before the offering.
  • After the offering, they sang The Sweetest Song I Know. (The second song of the night about other songs). It was a enjoyable up-tempo song.
  • I Want to Know. Note: the placement of this song is properly after the offering 🙂 The “notably handsome Pat Barker”  did a stellar job on this song, and there was a partial standing ovation. (How did we do, Mr. Barker?)
  • Carol of the Bells. Mark Trammell introduced this song by saying that the others had recently been playing a game of “stump the baritone,” pulling out old songs, so he would do it to them. He whispered something to Dustin Sweatman who made a funny face. Then they started the track to this song. It was fun to hear Christmas music out of season.
  • Beautiful Star of Bethlehem, identified as a Bluegrass song.
  • O Holy Night. Mark Trammell again demonstrated his amazing range in this wonderful Christmas song, and the audience responded with a prolonged standing ovation.
  • In closing, Mr. Trammell asked the veterans and currently serving military personnel to stand. After alluding to the terrorist attacks 10 years ago, he led into a stirring rendition of Statue of Liberty. This song received a prolonged standing ovation. Thank you, Mr. Enloe, for writing this song. It was fitting for the occasion, and we are sure many people sang it today.
  • During the altar call, the MTQ sang There’s Just Something About That Name.
Our highlights:
  • The Double Hand Some Pat Barker

    The Double Hand Some Pat Barker

    We enjoyed getting to hear tenor Joel Wood once more before he goes off the road. We have grown to enjoy his singing, but are glad he will be able to be with his family more.  And Mr. Trammell said Mr. Wood had 5 sons.  We think that is an excellent start to a Southern Gospel Quartet. Maybe God will grant them a girl. (After all, wouldn’t it be nice for Mrs. Wood to have extra help cooking for all the boys?)
  • Pat Barker made a point of informing us that he was handsome, so we have photographed evidence. Although he informed us that he wouldn’t have driven 1 hour 20 minutes to hear his singing, it would have strained our ears to listen from this far away, so we certainly found it worthwhile to drive the distance to hear him up close.  He remains one of our favorite basses. We especially liked his Christmas Bell “dong.”
  • We enjoyed hearing the Christmas music.  Most SG groups don’t come to Ohio when there is snow on the ground, so we appreciated this early Christmas gift.
  • Favorite Songs: A contested three-way tie between Statue of Liberty, It’s Almost Over, and O Holy Night.

Photo Gallery:

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Concert Review: Ball Brothers (Asheville, NC)

Last night, the Ball Brothers appeared at Trinity Baptist Church’s Land of the Sky Jubilee event. (Despite the name “Jubilee,” it wasn’t actually the fiftieth year; it was the forty-second!)

The biggest change from the last time I caught them in a full concert was that youngest brother Josh has grown noticeably more confident in holding down his fourth part. It was less a doubling of the baritone part and more of a bass part (though keyed in a low baritone / high bass range). Also notable was Daniel’s continued growth as a lead singer. He has gotten better every time I’ve seen the group, and this was no exception; he should now be numbered among Southern Gospel’s ten best lead singers. 

New pianist Cody McVey has been with the group a little over a week, but already knows the material well. Not only was he playing the right chords and fills—he was playing them at the right openings in the soundtracks. One thing the Ball Brothers’ music is not is simple, and he is already admirably up to speed.

The group opened with the energetic acapella number “There is a Mountain.” While a fair number of the songs they sang came from their latest major-label release, Breakthrough, and their just-released table project Recharged, they reached as far back to their debut project at several points, notably “Peace of God.” (It was intriguing since it appears they no longer carry it on their table.) They got their strongest response of the night with their final song, “It’s About the Cross.”

Here are several pictures:


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Concert Review (Bostic, NC): Blackwood Brothers, Bill Shaw, Ken Turner, Ernie Phillips

We’ll do a news roundup at some point—either later today, Monday, or next weekend—and catch up with regularly scheduled programming.

Last night, my schedule unexpectedly opened up in time to catch the Blackwood Brothers in concert. Within the last year or so, they have added Billy Blackwood as baritone and Mike Hammontree as full-time pianist. This was my first time to see them perform (outside of NQC) since the changes.

When baritone/pianist Brad White left, there was some concern that the group would suffer for the lack of his Energizer-bunny spark of endless energy. But Billy Blackwood—Jimmy’s brother, making this the first time in a half-century that two brothers have had singing roles together in the Blackwood Brothers—provides that spark of energy (not to mention great vocal talent).

Hiring a full-time pianist was also an excellent move for the group. Though Mike Hammontree does not put the keyboard through its paces with quite the same energetic abandon that Brad White would use to terrify grand pianos within an inch of their lives and delight audiences in the process, he brings other diverse and prodigious talents to the group. He is conversant with a wide variety of instruments and a wide variety of styles, and is particularly adept with playing a guitar, also doing a guitar number or two in many of their concerts. He is also a great improviser; more on that momentarily.

Despite the fact that bass singer Randy Byrd was fighting seasonal allergies—though he was still so on top of his game that it would take someone who had seen him a number of times before to even notice—this was easily the best I have seen the Blackwood Brothers. Adding a full-time live pianist and a real-life brother with Billy’s level of talent and stage presence was certainly the right direction to go. They are, more than they have been at any point in the last two decades, a group you most certainly do not want to miss when they come through your area.

I walked into the concert having no idea that anyone besides the headliner group would be appearing. But I was pleasantly surprised; you see, if you will walk into concerts across the United States, you’ll often find local talent opening. Sometimes they are near or at professional quality; other times it might be a challenge to keep a smile on your face through the set. Well, in North Carolina, local/regional talent will also appear before concerts—except here, it just might be Bill Shaw, Ken Turner, and Little Ernie Phillips!

Ken Turner sang bass with the Blackwood Brothers in the 1970s; he sang several solo songs, including his sugar-stick vocal trumpet/trombone rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and between vocals and comedy soon had the audience in the palm of his hand. One of the other performers commented that he was glad it wasn’t a competitive setting, because if it was, nobody would want to follow Turner! He also joined the Blackwood Brothers for several songs, commenting afterwards that it was the first time he had sung with them since 1986. Blackwood Brothers pianist Mike Hammontree provided impromptu live accompaniment on piano and guitar for his set.

Little Ernie Phillips sang tenor for the Kingsmen at the peak of their glory days, in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Phillips followed Johnny Parrack, and raised the bar; the two have been the gold standard by which all Kingsmen tenors since have been measured. Phillips must be at least in his fifties by now, an age by which many tenor’s voices start to deteriorate. But in the years since his Kingsmen years, he’s moved toward the classical-technique-influenced clear-as-a-bell tenor singing, and it has paid off. If it were a singing competition, he could out-sing most Southern Gospel tenors half his age.

One unforgettable highlight from his time on stage: At the request of Mike Hammontree, Ernie Phillips put together a scrap-iron quartet to sing “Glory Road.” Current Blackwood Brothers bass Randy Byrd joined, and played the Jim Hamill role perfectly. He stopped the song halfway through, after Ernie didn’t even try for the high falsetto note in the chorus. He first recognized Ernie as his hero (okay, that part is something Hamill wouldn’t have done!); then he said that he was really hoping Ernie would let it loose and hit some high ones. So Hammontree kicked the chorus off, and Phillips did not disappoint.

He hit the iconic high falsetto note on “see” in “I can see Him on His throne.”

Then he blew the roof off mid-chorus on the high power tenor line “I’m Heaven bound.”

Then he went from blowing the roof off to blowing my mind: In the ending, he went for the super-high notes he would hit in the Kingsmen Big-N-Live days, singing at least an E above high C, though I suspect it may have been a G, and holding it forever—only coming back down once the other singers were nearly out of breath!

Impressive as that was, the evening’s standout performance belonged to Bill Shaw. This 87-year-old legend is the last living link to the days when the Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen were one of the hottest tickets and concert combinations in the country. And much as Ernie still has what it takes to single-handedly recapture the spirit of the Kingsmen’s Big-N-Live days, Bill Shaw still—as an 87-year-old tenor singer—has that onstage charisma and the voice to make that era come alive one more time. There is occasionally a tremor in his voice which reminds you of his age, but there are far more moments where one would not guess that he was the oldest singer to share the stage that night. His clear-as-a-bell singing style, influenced by his classical vocal training, remains strong. He joined the Blackwood Brothers for several songs at the end of their first and second sets—”Old Country Church,” “Just a Little Talk With Jesus,” “I’ll Meet You in the Morning,” and one or two others.

Earlier in the program, though, he sang a three-song solo set. He was joined by Buddy Burton and Burton’s wife on background vocals for “I’m Thankful, That’s All” and “I Should Have Been Crucified.” Then, singing solo, he commanded the stage with his signature song, “The Holy City.” This got the most unanimous and prolonged standing ovation of the night.

Turner, Phillips, and Shaw: Not bad at all for local talent, right?

Note: Because my availability and decision to attend the concert was literally at the last minute, I didn’t have either a camera to take pictures—which I most certainly regret!—or a pen to note a set list. Yet the evening was so incredible that I had to capture what I could from memory alone!

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Concert Review: LeFevre Quartet (Baxter, MN)

Our family trooped into the bus, all smiles and excited to experience some great Southern Gospel music on a Sunday evening, May 8th, 2011.  The destination?  Baxter, Minnesota.  The group?  The LeFevre Quartet.  (Or as nine-year old Jayme innocently called them: “The LeFeather Quartet” and “The LeFever Quartet”. 🙂 )

Seeing the LeFevre Quartet’s bus sitting in the church parking lot several hours later heightened the excitement, and we all hurried into the church and claimed our favorite front pew spot.
The Minnesota crowd was excited to welcome this group from the deep South, and did they fall in love with this powerful quartet!  Mike LeFevre, David Staton, Mike Allen, and Jeremy Easley started out with several upbeat songs, showcasing their smooth, strong blend.  Their song selection and confidence on stage warmed up the audience, as well as their easy smiles and interaction with the people.

To be honest, we were expecting a more progressive feel to their songs, and while they do have a more modern flavor to their tracks (but nothing different from many current groups), we were pleasantly surprised to hear all the wonderful “old songs” they presented in their special way.  Mike LeFevre drew from his rich heritage in Gospel music (being the nephew of Alphus LeFevre, an original member of the LeFevre Trio) and brought the audience back into Southern Gospel history with the songs from the past.  The songs they featured from their recent New Gospel Singing Caravan: Keeps On Rolling CD with the Blackwood Brothers and The Chuck Wagon Gang were very well received, and their a capella versions of many classics were a gentle relief from this age of big tracks and large orchestrations.

Their current radio single, “Jesus Saves” was a powerful closure to their first half of the concert, and received a standing ovation for the strong message as well as their emotive performance.  This song has to be one of the  greatest message songs currently singled, and deserves to be played on radio stations across the nation.

Each vocalist had a unique styling to his voice and stands out in a crowd of gospel singers.  David Staton handles the lead part extremely well and is very versatile with his voice.  Jeremy Easley has one of the smoothest tenor voices in the genre (you can’t even tell he’s from Texas when he sings!), and easily hit the high notes on songs like “Little is Much” without any vocal strain.  He is the perfect replacement for former tenor Gus Gaches (who left to  join Legacy Five two years ago).  Mike LeFevre still has one of the most distinctive baritone voices in gospel music, having won the award for Favorite Baritone three times, and equally matches David’s and Jeremy’s power.  And of course, Mike Allen’s well-known, country-style bass voice was clear and deep, and supported the group well.

The LeFevre Quartet’s solid gospel message was well presented and passionately proclaimed from stage.  In a time when churches today are preaching to the “itching ears” (2nd Timothy 4:3-4) and “saying, ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14b), the LeFevre Quartet boldly stood for the inerrant Word of God and plainly laid out the salvation story.  This was appreciated by our family and many others.

On a side note, it was interesting to note Jordan LeFevre, Mike LeFevre’s son, ran the sound from the center aisle.  We haven’t seen too many groups run the sound from this position, especially the large groups.  This avoided the distraction of a group member fiddling with the equipment during the middle of a song.

Again, what we greatly appreciate about this genre of music is the personal interaction and connection with the artists who present the gospel in song.  We very much enjoyed conversing with the quartet members after the concert and their friendliness and genuine interest in our family and other concert attendees.  This treasured interaction between “artist” and “fan” is what make Southern Gospel music so unique and creates special memories.

Our family is grateful for groups like the LeFevre Quartet, their devoted families, and their commitment to their ministry which the Lord has given them.  Remember to keep your favorite artists and their families in your prayers, especially as they travel long distances and are separated sometimes for many days from their loved ones.  This life on the road is a walk of faith, a dependence on God’s provision, and a total commitment to God’s call of service.

Overall, we had a wonderful time, and cannot wait till the LeFevre Quartet returns to the North country.  If you hear of the LeFevre Quartet coming to your area, be sure to go and see them!  You will be blessed and glad to experience this powerful quartet.

Here’s a photo gallery featuring several snapshots from the concert (click on the pictures for a larger view):


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Concert Review: Talley Trio (Shelby, OH)

On May 22, 2011, Daniel’s siblings traveled to the First Lutheran Church of the city of Shelby, Ohio, for a Talley Trio Concert. Following is a brief summary of the concert:

  • Mr. Talley and Promoter Paul Martin began by making several announcements at the beginning of the concert.
  • “Good Things”- Featuring Lauren and Mrs. Talley. Microphone stands were removed during the second verse.
  • “Hands of Grace”- Featuring Mr. Talley.
  • “Amazing Grace”- Featuring Mrs. Talley. Extended applause included Lauren. The audience sang a last verse encore- some standing.
  • “He Keeps Me Singing”- Mr.Talley’s piano solo.
  • Extended talking break- Included mention of Lauren’s upcoming wedding.
  • “The Promise”- Featuring Lauren. After singing she stated that it was “always good to be in Shelby, with the rowdiest bunch of Lutherans” she knows.
  • “Broken Ones” merged with “Orphans of God”- Featuring Lauren. This song was followed by a comment about the world ending yesterday, and the verse which states that no man knows the day or the hour.
  • “My Hope Is in the Lord”- Featuring Mr.Talley.
  • “Mountain Mover”- Featuring Lauren.
  • More talking- including updates on Mr. Talley’s Parents.
  • “Applause”- Featuring Mrs. Talley. Soundtrack included applause. there was a partial standing ovation.
  • Love offering- during offering the Talleys sang “That’s Enough” with a soundtrack version of Jake Hess.
  • “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”- Featuring Mrs. Talley.
  • “He’s Alive”- Featuring Lauren. There was a reprise and a partial standing ovation.
  • More Talking- Lauren mentioned she was “sure there were other things you could be doing in Shelby tonight, though I’m not sure what!”
  • “If He Carried the Weight of the World on His Shoulders”- Featuring Lauren.
  • Prayer / Altar Call (that does not include calling one to the altar).
  • “O How I Love Jesus”- sung by audience.
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  • The most interesting comment of the night: Mr. Talley made a comment about us and Daniel, and told us not to tell Daniel. For more information contact a member of the Talleys.
  • “Testify”- Featuring Lauren. There was a prolonged standing ovation.

One of Daniel’s Siblings is also a photographer, and offered photos from the concert:

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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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