The lights were dimmed low as I walked into the Hill Crest Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama. Before me, lay a half-moon shaped stage and pews surrounding it like the stars of heaven. This beautiful church, decorated in green and tan, is the home church of Mark Trammell – and the building that hosts the Mark Trammell Quartet Homecoming Anniversary Concerts. Friday night kicked off the event, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to be present for it! The weekend was grand, and with a line-up of the Lester’s, Greater Vision and the Mark Trammell Quartet, how could it be anything less?
Friday evening, the first night of the event, the featured artists were the Lester’s and MTQ. I settled into a third row seat on the right side of the church, watching the power-point images waiting for the night to begin. When Mark stepped on stage, he drew our attention to the screens for a short video tribute to his mother, Elizabeth Trammell, who went home to be with the Lord a week before the Homecoming. After the video, Mark shared that if it wasn’t for the Hill Crest Church family, there wouldn’t be a Homecoming this year. He didn’t lift a finger in putting the event together – it was all the church. So we gave them a round of applause. Then he shared a memory of how his mother, a pastor’s wife and church pianist, taught him to sing on pitch. “She made sure that I could sing on pitch if I couldn’t do anything else,” Mark reminisced, “she was the church pianist and she didn’t like folks singing off pitch.” Heading into announcements, Mark called for a gentlemen from the church – if you were interested in the Golf Tournament, you were to see that man at intermission. Then, Mark introduced the “master of ceremonies” for the night…Jay Parrack! Jay skipped on stage and reminded us how great this year was going to be. “No matter what happens on this stage,” he said, “don’t leave thinking about anything else but Jesus Christ.” And so, the 10th Anniversary began…
“Make welcome my friends from Saint Louis, Missouri, the Lester’s!” Jay exclaimed. The Lester’s began their set with a variety of hymns, the first of which was In The Sweet By and By, and then When We All Get To Heaven and Revive Us Again. Briefly introducing their first original song of the evening, Brian Lester announced, “This is our message right here.” The song was called I Believe In The Lord, and featured Brian’s sister, Ginger. “Thank you so very much,” Brian expressed, and introduced the trio. An old Gold City song, Surely Goodness and Mercy, followed. Another song, (this one made popular by Legacy Five) featured Brian’s son, Jonathan, and was called What Faith Does. “This song talks about our family tree,” Brian began, “and I want Ginger to come sing a song about our family tree in heaven.” So, she came and delivered My Family Tree. Afterwards, Brian exclaimed, “I believe I heard a few amen’s out there. I want to straighten this out right now, applause is cool, but no one is going to freak out if someone says amen.” LOL He went on to tell about their new hymn project titled, Foundations, which went into an up-beat version of Nothing But The Blood…that slipped into Power In The Blood! Brian whirled in a half circle and cried, “Let’s do another one!” So they did! This one featured Jonathan on a bluesy rendition of We’ll Understand It Better Bye And Bye. When the song ended, Brian interjected, “The only thing that was lacking was one of those Pat Barker,” then he tried his hand at one of those dives we hear bass singers do. Continuing, he talked about “The Cave” (Meramec Cave) and how the following song was requested by many before the concert – I’ll See You Again. “This song was written during the time of World War II, and there is no way we can thank them (the soldiers) enough.” That song received a standing ovation and they closed off their set with It’s Gonna’ Be Wonderful.
“Tonight, I want to introduce to you the host group for this weekend,” said Jay, and then he asked us to stand and applaud the Mark Trammell Quartet as they walked on stage. Their set began with Gentle Shepherd and Hallelujah I’m Going Home. As Dustin played an encore to the latter, Pat shot him a “warning” look and Mark just smiled. As Dustin tried to play yet another encore, Pat jumped over and wacked the keys so he would stop. Mark explained, “Some things just don’t change. That one over there, he loves that song, and he’ll play it three or four times before we can get him to stop.” LOL Mark introduced the guys next. He expounded on Eric’s return to the group by telling us Eric’s simple reasoning, “I’d much rather dodge a tomato from an angry Christian than dodge bullets.” (AMEN!) When Mark came down to the line and reached Pat, well, you can always count on him having something funny to say, and this time it went something like: “Everyone has a cross to bear in their Christian life,” said Mark. Pat grinned real big and laid his head on Mark’s shoulder in jest, as Mark explained, “this one is mine. If you look up ‘crazy’ in the dictionary, his picture is next to it.” LOL Then, he directed everyone’s attention to the screens once again for a video giving tribute to Dustin’s many years with MTQ. (Dustin will be exchanging “singing” for “teaching” in mid-September, and the guys wanted to give him a special send-off.) As pictures from on the road slid across the screen, Karen Peck’s song, “I want to thank you, for the witness you have been…” played along. It was a very special video! As the audience stood in ovation, Dustin stood up to sing the next song, one that he wrote, called One Drop. After the up-beat tune, Mark spoke about their new project, Lifetime, and how it spans 40 years of Gospel Music. Pat whistled at that and Mark pondered aloud, “I wonder if they make handcuffs for your mouth?” He went on to introduce the next song by informing us that the first time he heard it was at the NQC – and what he meant by that was, he was never fond of it until he paid attention to the words, and after that time, it became a favorite – I Sing The Mighty Power. Immediately, Tis So Sweet followed. Pat cut loose on Wonderful Time Up There and received a standing ovation. “I wouldn’t try to take the lead on that and sing all them words for a 100 dollar bill,” Mark acknowledged, “I’d done pass out.” As their last song drew near, Mark spoke about how it was his favorite message on the project. “There was something about this song that stuck to a teenage boy,” he said, “listen, and you’ll see why.” That ballad was Too Much To Gain To Loose – and Mark sang it with a thoughtfulness that must have resembled what he’d saw in Buck Rambo so many years ago…
Pastor Rick came up on stage to, (in his own words), “sprinkle a little Hill Crest on us.” A little tradition they have down there is to say “amen” and then stand to applaud heaven…so that’s what we did! Next, he prayed and took up the offering and the guys told about their product before intermission. When intermission was through, Mark came back on stage and announced what the #1 request was at the table – I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t a song – but his granddaughter Tessa! So Jessica brought baby Tessa up on stage and Mark introduced them. Nick ran up on stage and stood with his family (he was still taking care of the product table). Afterwards, Mark asked the crowd to let his family know we loved them, then handed the platform back over to Jay.
Jay officially kicked off the second half by bringing the Lester’s on stage. They sang a song called His Redeemed, and then Brian announced, “A lot of people asked about this one right here, Rocks Dropping.” Jonathan came and sang this neat twist on the Bible story we’re so familiar with. (Bet you can guess which one!) Brian and Ginger then explained that at that point in the set, they let Jonathan surprise them with a random song to sing. That night he picked Joy To The World, and Ginger and Brian pretended like it was silly. After, Brian sighed, “Well, in case no one has told you this today…Merry Christmas.” The following song, He Didn’t Throw The Clay Away, featured Brian and received a standing ovation. As Ginger sang the last song, Brian brought Mark up on stage to dedicate it to him – ‘Til We Meet Again.
Jay came back on stage to introduce the next group, “Ladies and gentlemen…The Mark Trammell Quartet!” Nick stood to the side and let Dustin sing lead with MTQ on their first song, O Holy Night. Considering that the Lester’s reluctantly sang a Christmas song, and here Mark was singing one too, caused laughter to ripple across the audience. Only difference was that MTQ sang theirs with passion and power, bringing the crowd to their feet without any hesitation. Dustin returned to his keyboard and Nick to the mic as Meet Me Over On The Other Side came on. Mark mentioned that there would have been no way they could sing all of the requested songs, but there were two things that he wanted to do. First, he was going to sit down and let Dustin sing…so he walked off the stage and sat down as the guys sang a few songs. Pat exclaimed, “Make welcome the Pat Barker Quartet!” (I personally think that he thought that one through a little too much! LOL) Pat explained that he use to hear a song by the Cathedrals when Mark sang with them called Where Ever I Go. Nick was featured on this oldie and when the audience applauded their approval, Mark motioned for them to encore it. Pat asked, “You want it again?” – So they sang it again. Afterwards, Mark came back on stage and said, “Ahhh, it was okay – but ya’ll don’t get any ideas, the title to the bus is in my name and you’re welcome to it, but my group you can’t have.” LOL Continuing, he said this of the next ballad, “I live to tell people this story: it’s what makes me get on the bus and leave my family, I believe this story.” That story was told in the Gaither tune, The King Is Coming. “That’ll make you charge hell with a water pistol,” Mark said of the powerful message, “You cannot imagine what it is like singing a song like that and having every confidence that it’s true. Why? Because I have trusted all of me into all of the sufficiency of the King that is coming. You have heard it all your life, but it doesn’t make it any less real.” Then he asked for everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes as the invitation was given. After we were seated again, Mark encouraged us with a play on words and phrase of Scripture, he said, “It came to pass – nothing ever comes to stay.” Then he called for “Jay-Bird” to come on down and they sang Glory Road. As Eric was hitting one of those gut busting notes, Jay cried in the background, “Don’t do that!” LOL Everyone stood and Eric gave Jay the mic for another round. In the middle of the chorus, Jim Cox (the tenor who filled in for MTQ while they searched for a replacement last year) came down and pretended to bow down to Jay, who pretended to be afraid of Jim and took a few steps over and back to hide behind Nick! LOL Even after all the fun, Mark dismissed the evening with prayer, “Thank You Lord, for what we felt here tonight.”
Conclusion: This was such a great night to kick off the Homecoming! Some of my personal favorite moments were Mark singing “O Holy Night,” (especially, after the Lester’s sang Joy To The World,) and of course, all the new material that MTQ performed from their new CD, Lifetime!