Who would stand outside in the August heat for an hour waiting for the doors to open when you could sit in an air conditioned car? Folks who were expecting an exceptional night with their favorite artists, I’d say. Then again, look who’s talking? The person who drove eight hours to be at that particular sing! As you can see, even though The Mark Trammell Quartet Homecoming was the first weekend in August, it was definitely a staple for all of us who couldn’t wait to get through the doors and find ourselves the best seat in the house!
For 2014, MTQ was celebrating their 9th Annual Homecoming and Mark Trammell was celebrating 40 years in Gospel Music. Throughout the weekend we were encouraged to Tweet and post on FB using the hashtags #MarkCelebrates40yrs and #MTQHomecoming . If you go to Twitter and search those hashtags – you can still see everyone’s posts!
This year was my fourth MTQ Homecoming and once again, I sat in the same section as years previous. (That is the advantage of being one of the first ones through the door! *wink*) When it came time to begin, our host, Mark Trammell, walked across the stage and thanked all of us for coming. After some announcements he introduced us to the Master of Ceremonies for the weekend. “My Minister of Music,” Mark announced, “Jay Parrack!” The crowd applauded enthusiastically as Jay popped on stage with his energetic personality. He even snagged a standing ovation out of the folks! (Guess they were ready for a good evening, eh?) “It is always good to be in the house of the Lord!” Jay exclaimed. He quickly quoted a verse from the book of Psalms and said, “As long as it’s about Jesus, we’re going to enjoy it.” Then he asked us to bow our heads as he prayed.
“From Morristown, Tennessee please welcome Greater Vision!” Jay hollered enthusiastically into the mic. Greater Vision came onto the half-moon shaped stage and kicked off the night with their upbeat tune, He’d Still Been God. This went right into Come Unto Me, For All He’s Done and When They Ring the Bells of Heaven. “That’s my workout song right there,” said Gerald of Bells of Heaven. LOL He went on to say that, “Last night at 10 O’clock we were in New York, and we drove and we drove and we drove and we didn’t stop the bus until we got to Knoxville to get a sandwich, and it wasn’t until ten till four when we pulled into this parking lot.” (They had a LONG drive!) Gerald took a moment to recognize Mark’s “40 Anniversary” in Gospel Music and let everyone know that he helped Gerald found GV. “There would be no Greater Vision without Mark Trammell,” he boasted. Continuing, “Tonight we are going to sing some requests, but the real reason we drove 17 and a half hours is to tell you the story – the Gospel story.” That story was told through the thoughtful lyrics of Gerald and Chris’ solo, Seeking For Me. After their following number, My Name is Lazarus, Gerald set his hanky on the keyboard and explained that Lazarus is still their most requested song.
“We wear boots while we’re on the platform,” said Gerald, beginning one of his classic “picking on Rodney stories.” “They’re good for your posture and they help you sing better. Rodney wears a 9 ½ boot and one day we were sitting up in the front of the bus waiting to go into a church and I noticed his boots looked a little funny. I asked him, ‘Rodney, what size boot you wear?’ He answered, ‘9 ½.’ ‘What size boot you have on?’ He said, ‘13.’ ‘Why did you buy a size 13 if you were a 9 1/2? Rodney said, ‘Because they were the same prize and I thought they were a better deal.’” The crowd laughed as Gerald introduced our Gospel Songwriter of the Year – Rodney Griffin! After a story like that, it was only appropriate that they sang one of Rodney’s best songs, and this one was Preacher, Tell Me Like It Is. “We meet some discouraged preachers,” Gerald said concerning the message of that Country tune Rodney wrote for pastors. “In our denomination we lost 35,000 pastors last year…” When Rodney wrote the lyrics he told Gerald he wanted the music to sound like a Country song and when Gerald asked him why, Rodney said, “So when they hear it they crank it up!” LOL “So this is going to be different than anything we’ll do tonight musically, but we love it we call it our preacher song.” So they sang the “Preacher” song and quickly introduced the trio. Gerald sat down at the keyboard and began playing I Know a Man Who Can, which they sing with just Gerald at the keys and Rodney playing bass while Chris sings. This one always stirs the crowd and brings everyone to their feet and that evening was no exception – standing ovation indeed! The crowd shouted, “Do it again!”…and so Gerald skipped back over to the keyboard and Chris sang another verse. Even though the crowd just sat back down they didn’t wait for the end of the song to stand up again, but popped up once the encore began!
“Sing this,” Jay encouraged the crowd, “What a friend we have in Jesus…” Gerald kept at the piano as MTQ set up the mics and waited for Jay to end the hymn. “It is now time for your host group,” Jay began, “I had the privilege of traveling with Mark Trammell for years. I’ve seen him live what he sings… and he would bring this little boy with him occasionally on the bus. He was the meanest little boy, snot-nose kid who would walk around saying, ‘My daddy’s Mark Trammel and I can do anything I want because he sang with the Cathedrals.’” Jay turned a little to peek at Nick – who had this look on his face like, “You talking about me?” All the teasing was done in good humor, but Jay really should have stopped before he teased Nick about his hair… Anyway, Jay asked us to stand and welcome the Mark Trammell Quartet who kicked off their set with Meet Me Over on the Other Side. “Amen!” The crowd responded. How Long Has it Been and Ransomed and Redeemed followed. “I love those men,” Mark said of the GV guys, “Truly, God knows that I am so thrilled to have been a part of the beginning days of that ministry and I’m really glad that they’re here tonight. When I sat down last night to relax for an hour or so before we went to bed, I got online to see what was going on out there in the Facebook world and realized that they would have to travel 1108 miles to be here. The first thing that crossed my mind was, ‘They’re idiots,’ then again, we’ve known that for many years! That aside, the fact that they were willing to do that spoke to me personally.” Mark went on to introduce the quartet and when he came to Nick he said, “Jay Parrack singled you out and called you things less than nice…and let me tell you son, you may be losing some hair, but you can fix that.” Then Mark turned to where Jay was sitting and addressed him, “Jay, you can’t fix you’re problem…you can’t fix plain ugly.” (Nope, you shouldn’t mess with a proud Dad!) LOL They went into their radio single, Your Walk Talks and a request for Randy to sing I Thirst. (One of Mark’s favorite songs!) Don’t Stop Running followed. “Here’s what we’re gonna do,” said Mark, setting up what was to follow, “I believe that God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. When I found out that Pat was going to leave I asked the Lord for peace…that’s all I ever asked when someone has decided to go do something else with their lives.” After a few more words, Mark invited Pat up on stage once more – much to the audiences delight. Randy teased him, then added in a serious tone, “Let me say this, when Mark called and asked me to fill in, I was asking God for His direction in my life and when Mark asked if he could consider me I said, ‘God would almost have to speak audibly for that to happen,’ but inside I was doing back flips. We took it day by day and prayed very specifically like Gideon did, for three specific things to happen, and God answered all three. I said this the other day and I mean it in all sincerity, I would fight any other day-singer to try and get this job, but if God ever worked it out for Pat to come back I would support that, and I mean that with all my heart.” The crowd applauded generously and Mark interjected, “There’s never been a quartet that’s had two bass singers.” LOL Then Mark said to Pat, “We have something we want you to see.” Our attention was then turned to the big screens as a video paying tribute to Pat’s five years with MTQ scrolled before us. At the end Pat turned to the media booth up above and mouthed the words “Thank you” to Bev, who was asked to create the video and was running the slides for the Homecoming. Pat’s signature song, How Big is God, came next. (Never has another song fit Pat so well than that ballad. Hearing it one more time, at the Homecoming, and in appreciation of his time with MTQ was a moment…and a little bit of a tear jerker!)
Mark said they couldn’t close without doing this one – their first #1 as a quartet: I Want to Know. The crowd went wild on this one! Now, that doesn’t mean that they were just a little more enthusiastic than usual… they were plain into it! On the chorus folks starting standing and it took two encores to pacify them! There was such a great energy in the room – both on stage and off! “Let us do one more before we take a break,” said Mark. A little kid from the back hollered out, “Okay!” Mark giggled, “That sounded like my granddaughter. I know it wasn’t her, but it sounded like her.” Gerald slipped back on stage and sat at his keyboard while Mark set up the song with these words, “If you’re called, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in life, it doesn’t matter what people or man’s regulations try to throw over you, if you’ll just be willing to be used, God will open a door. I can tell you that from firsthand experience. I could not have dreamed this [MTQ’s ministry] up by myself – the twelve years God has allowed us to grow this ministry and seen the things that we’ve seen? Impossible. I want to sing a song to you to those who might be involved in ministry and in your heart there have been times recently when you just wanted to throw in the towel. I’ve been there. You can ask my wife, there have been many Monday mornings where I’ve resigned from my own job. Only to have the Holy Spirit of God square me away and get me back to where I needed to be. Listen, I hope this will minister to your heart…and remind you why should get up tomorrow and do for the Lord what you’re doing today.” – Too Much to Gain to Lose. (Another standing O.)
As they were getting ready to break for intermission, Mark had us welcome his pastor, Rick Reaves to the stage. Rick talked about the offering and Gerald played Great Is Thy Faithfulness while the plates were passed. When all the ushers returned to the front of the church, Mark said to the crowd, “Watch this,” then to the ushers he said, “Go on, men.” The ushers filed out of two sets of double doors behind the stage. Mark grinned, “You have to be a preacher’s kid to appreciate organization.” *smile*
The second half began with Mark saying, “Let’s make a quartet!” As they pointed out that they already had a tenor, lead, baritone and of course, pianist, all they needed was a bass singer… Gerald hummed a low note and sang, “I want to know!…I can do that part!” When Pat hopped up on stage Gerald sighed, “Do you never leave?” LOL But they had their bass singer! They kicked off with When the Home Gates Swing Open For Me, Treasures Unseen and Wedding Music. That last one had the crowd on their feet and even Gerald hollered, “Man! That’s good!” Boundless Love followed and then Gerald asked the audience, “Y’all ain’t in a hurry are you?” He paused for a minute then added, “Well, there’s not much to do in this town, so you might as well be here.” LOL Thanks to Calvary followed. “That’s beautiful,” said Gerald. Someone from the crowd yelled out Master Builder, so they found the key of G and sang it. (I never tire of hearing that one live!) Mark mentioned that they had a request to do something a cappella…well, Gerald got all excited until it dawned on him that he wouldn’t get to play! So he said, “Well, I would sing bass but it would make Pat upset ‘cause I’m better than he is.” LOL (Gerald was sure in a teasing mood that night!) The a cappella suggestion was fulfilled with Wonderful Grace of Jesus and received a standing ovation. (The crowd was giving ovations out left and right that evening!) Champion of Love was the closing ballad – when we left, it’s powerful message and easy melody was still pulsing through my mind.
Conclusion: There is something special about Homecomings, and especially MTQ’s. It seems like every year they pay tribute to someone, welcome another person into the “ministry family” or make a special announcement. That night the tribute was for Pat Barker – the video summing up his days traveled with the ministry and having him come up and sang with them again…one more time. Where does that happen but at Homecomings? It was a perfect evening and I didn’t want the night to be over. In my mind, it all happened so fast and too quickly. I wanted the concert to last forever…