The sun sank behind the hills of North Carolina, causing the lights inside the Fair Barn to cast a warm glow on all who entered the historic building in Pinehurst. It was the last day of November, an official start to the holiday season and a time for the community to come together for a fundraiser benefiting BackPack Pals and Bob’s Buddies. It also was the fifth concert on the Home For Christmas Tour with the Mark Trammell Quartet and Whisnants, and nothing spells Christmas better than giving and Gospel Music! (In my opinion, at least…)
The evening began with a few songs from local artist Cooper Ellington. Cooper began singing after brain surgery in 2011 when a tumor attached to his brain stem had to be removed and the doctors weren’t sure if he would live or die. A miraculous testimony! Today, Cooper sings with his dad, Reid, backing him up and he also had his vocal coach filling in the third part when he sang at the Fair Barn. They began their set on stage with “It’s Still The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “He Was King Even Then” and “For All He’s Done.” Before they concluded with their last song, Reid shared how Cooper tells everyone he meets one thing – pray. Reid said he asked Cooper one time, “Son, why do you always say that?” Cooper answered, “Dad, if you don’t believe in the power of prayer, I’m a living testimony that prayer works.” Cooper’s last song was the Whisnants, “I’ll Pray For You.” On the chorus, Jeff and Susan joined him on stage and finished the song with them. A moment like that really puts life in perspective. To add, Reid had a video played of the first time Coop sang that song with the Whisnants at his church a few years ago. Just watching the first verse and chorus play on the screen showed the progress Cooper has made over the last few years. Amazing!
“Folks,” Reid began, “If you’ve not been here before in years past, you’re in for a treat. They started Saturday night and were in Rock Hill last night, this is the Home For Christmas Tour with the Whisnants and Mark Trammell Quartet.”
Both groups walked on stage, the first track kicked off with the glorious sound of strings and “Unspeakable Joy” ushered in the Christmas spirit. The “Faithful Medley” and “Away In A Manger” followed and then Jeff and Nick were featured on a new Christmas tune, “His Excellent Greatness.” Susan stepped up and greeted the crowd, “We’re so glad to be here tonight! If you’re here tonight and feel discouraged or maybe you’re not looking forward to Christmas for some reason or another, we want to remind you that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to be born so He could be our Savior.” I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to praise Him!” The audience applauded their approval and Jeff added, “Aw, that’s good! The song said He left the splendor of heaven to save us. That’s the gospel in a nutshell and that’s what we want you to see tonight.” He continued, “It’s always good to be back at the Fair Barn with our friends the Mark Trammell Quartet. Mark, I’m glad we started this tour four years ago.” Mark replied, “Yes, it only took one little statement over lunch one day…what if we were to. And here we are!”
Mark introduced the Whisnants, who kept the program going with “Christmas Is Coming Again” and “Glory.” Then they joined MTQ by taking a seat on the stools while Blake stood to sing, “Silver Bells.” The audience enjoyed the tenor feature, but from the look on Randy’s face, he enjoyed bringing some bass lines to the last chorus! Next, was a completely new addition to the program – a piano solo from Trevor! He played “The Hallelujah Chorus,” and I thought it was the perfect piece for the occasion. As his last notes carried through the rafters, MTQ stood for their next song. It was the familiar carol, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing.”
Before sitting down, Mark shared a little with the crowd about the next song and its singer. He said, “it is always a joy to be here with you and sing these great, great Christmas carols. What always thrills me at this particular event, is all ages are represented in this building. It’s somewhat like that on the platform as well. The youngest member on the tour…”. Here, Randy stood up, all smiles. Immediately, the crowd laughed. Mark turned and when he saw Randy said, “somebody find a battery for his hearing aid!” Back on topic, Mark introduced, “One of the youngest members of the tour and one of my favorite, youngest person in all the world, please welcome Ethan Whisnant!”
As Austin gently stroked the strings of his guitar, Ethan came up and added a few thoughts on the song he was to sing. He said, “It’s so unique and different from any Christmas song I’ve ever heard.” It was the popular, “Strange Way To Save The World.” Ethan was then joined by Austin and Jeff, who sang, “Jesus Brought Joy To The World.” This is one of my favorite songs from the original Home For Christmas CD and I loved how they mixed it up by having the “Whisnant men” sing it this year. The Whisnants added their rendition of, “I Call Him Lord,” to the evening and then MTQ sang “Glory To God In The Highest” before both groups finished the first half of the concert with “Glad Tidings.”
Before the break, Reid Ellington asked Mrs. Cooper from the food bank to share her experiences working with BackPack Pals and how they help children in the community. Her words were very moving as she re-told the children’s stories, and after, Pastor Jason from Central Baptist Temple prayed for the love offering. Trevor played another solo on the keyboard as the buckets were passed and then folks milled around and visited during the 10-15 minute break.
After intermission, Reid came on stage and explained, “Alright, we’re gonna sing and then bring the Christmas Tour back up.” First on stage was Ron Hise (Aaron’s father) who sang a Christmas song solo. Then Cooper and Reid shared a ballad with a great message, “I Can Pray.”
As they left the stage, Susan and Mark came to the front of the platform and exclaimed, “We need some volunteers!” Hands shot up and a few minutes later, 12 volunteers stood lined up in front of the stage. They each received a card with their lines on it and sang “The 12 Days Of Christmas.” As I gazed down the line of volunteers, I couldn’t help but notice that over half were kids and teens. And they were loving it! When they finished this fun song, Mark was featured on the “Christmas Song,” and yes, the Santa hat ended up in his head once more. Tiara and all! lol! The Whisnants kept the program going with the upbeat, “Come On Ring Those Bells” and “Silent Night,” led by Susan, with all the men on stage as backup singers. The next two tunes were upbeat and featured MTQ; the first was “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and the second “O Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.”
As the evening was coming to a close, Susan invited the audience to sing a chorus of, “O Come Let Us Adore Him,” with her. She pointed out that, “The world is okay with Jesus the baby, but thank God, He’s not there anymore.” This introduced the moving ballad, “That’s Why We Adore Him.” The rich lyrics effected many, for hands were raised all over the building. It was a touching moment, and to add to it, Mark stood and read the Christmas story from Luke chapter two. At the portion that read, “And the angel said unto them, fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy,” Mark reminded us that the phrase fear not is in the Bible 365 times. One for each day of the year. After the reading, he sang “O Holy Night” and Susan closed the night in prayer. But, it wasn’t quite over – before the groups left the stage they sang one more song, “Christmas Times A Comin’.”
Conclusion: The Home For Christmas Tour has always been one of my favorite Christmas programs in the industry and the event at the Fair Barn makes it extra special. There’s something about Christmas, something special about the classic carols and the spirit of unity when a community comes together to give for the betterment of others. When the Home For Christmas Tour comes to the Fair Barn, all these things happen and remind us what Christmas is all about! The birth of Jesus!