Dark foreboding clouds hung in the sky and unleashed a downpour that kept me from driving the speed limit. The windshield wipers were on high and everyone (well, the sensible ones!) was driving slow. We had just crossed over the Illinois border and drove right into the storm. I glanced at the clock on the dash board. 5:40 PM. We had plenty of time to get to the Marion Civic Center for the opening night of the Truthseekers Homecoming, but you know how it is when you’re traveling – setbacks are not welcome whether they come in the form of the weather or construction! Then I felt guilty. Last year on Thursday night I stood looking out the window at home watching a layer of ice coat the ground, keeping us from the first night of the Gospel sing. Reminding myself to be thankful, I continued to drive through the storm.
Though my mind knew we would get to the Truthseekers Homecoming in plenty of time, my heart wasn’t happy until I grasped one of the double doors and my feet touched the carpet on the other side. The lobby was loud but it was music to my ears. The first thing I did once inside was walk up to the ticket table where lanyards and sharpie pens lay on the tablecloth. Fishing my ticket from my purse, I turned it over and wrote my name on the back and then slipped it inside its new plastic home. This was something new the sing was doing that I read about in their newsletter. Many folks have been attending the homecoming for years; still, many didn’t know each other’s names. This new venture would fix that! Each ticket had a designated spot where you could write your name and once slipped inside the lanyard, learning names was easy!
This year was extra special for me because I had a front row seat in the center section! The row was so close to the stage, you could set your soda on the edge of the platform! Anyway, it was time for the evening to start and I was seated, anticipating the music ahead. Danny Jones was the emcee for the event and just as he was getting ready to bring out the first artist, everything went black! A staff member from the civic center walked on stage and announced that they were experiencing a power outage. Jim Snider, the Truthseekers lead singer and event promoter, walked out on stage and suggested that we sing hymns until the power came back on. Another one of the Truthseekers, Jerry, exclaimed, “Let’s sing Send The Light!” So we did – but unfortunately, the crowd only knew the words to the chorus. LOL Another one we sang was This Little Light Of Mine. *wink* While we were having fun singing hymns out in the auditorium, back stage the groups that were to sing that night were coming up with a plan…Brian Free and Ivan Parker ran cables to the generators on their buses. A few minutes later, the house lights flicked on. Though not all the stage lights were working, they had enough power to see and run the sound. After a while, we found out that there were two poor people stuck in the elevator when the power went out and had to be “rescued!” (Glad that was not me!) The second time Danny came out on stage he said, “You all know that I don’t have a serious bone in my body. The Devil tried to stop this but the Lord just kept it going.”
Brian Free and Assurance was the first group to sing that night. Walking triumphantly out on stage, Brian asked the crowd, “How is everyone tonight? It’s good to be back in Marion.” What A Beautiful Day (for the Lord to come again) was opened their set. I had to chuckle when they started singing this song – concerning the weather and the situation just moments before, it may have been a good day for the Lord to come, but it wasn’t really a beautiful day! LOL “C’mon everybody! Keep those hands going!” Brian exclaimed as bass singer Jeremy Lile began his solo, If the Lord Says Do It. During the following number, Revival, when Mike sang the line, “We lift this prayer up to you again…” all the lights popped back on. The genuine look of surprise crossed their faces for a moment and a smile broke out across the stage. “Here’s a brand new song,” Brian explained, “Let me know if you like it.” This new one was called Little Bit of Me and You and featured Jeremy. (From their new Unashamed CD that just came out this year!) “We were determined not to let this get us,” Brian said, speaking of the electric going out, “So we just ran a bunch of cables out to the buses – that’s what them generators are for!” He introduced the guys next and had to tease Bill because at this time, he and Michelle were still awaiting the birth of their son. Brian told the crowd, “Right after we found out we started calling him ‘Father Abraham.’” LOL Well, the Shivers aren’t the only ones expecting…Mike and Bekki Rogers are too! Before Brian finished his introduction, Mike said, “You’re next.” Brian exclaimed, “NO!” LOL When it was Jeremy’s turn Brian teased him by saying that Jeremy and Nikki weren’t expecting…to which Jeremy said, “Yes she is.” When Brian asked, “When did you find out?” Jeremy said, “She’s expecting me to call her when I get on the bus tonight.” (He received a good whack with the mic for that one! LOL) Before going into their next song, Brian said, “I thought we were going to have to open a nursery on the bus.” Then they did another new song from their Unashamed project called Tell It Like It Was – a peppy tune written by Brian’s son Ricky Free and Ronnie Hinson. “That song will preach,” Brian grinned as he went into a little preaching himself before his solo. He said, “We’ve got to get back to the basics of the Word of God. People think if they come up with it, then it’s okay, but that’s not the case – the Word of God is the final authority.” He went on to say that Satan is out to destroy the family structure in our homes, but when it comes to men being the Biblical example in the home, he said, “We can tell them (children) what’s right and what’s wrong until we’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean a thing to them unless we live it in front of them. When you’re gone, would they be able to say that they want what you had?” This lead into Brian’s ballad, I Want To Be That Man. One thing that really stood out to me while Brian was talking about this song was his focus – it was all about the lyrics. For a song that went to #1 in February of 2013 and won Video of the Year at the NQC Awards that same year, Brian didn’t brag about that…he bragged on the message. What a special song! The next tune was a favorite of mine, Anything Is Possible, featuring Bill. After a short announcement about their new CD they went on to sing the new single from that same album – Say Amen. This was the moment of the night! That song was packed with power and meaning! Standing ovation! Then they closed with Long As I Got King Jesus. (Another standing O!)
“I get the joy of introducing Ivan,” Brian began, “I could say a lot about this individual. We traveled together many years on the same bus. He’s one of the greatest guys, one of the greatest singers that Gospel music has ever seen…a little on the ugly side…” (He almost was booed on that one!) Anyway, he went on to say how Ivan has great songs and a great guitar player and then brought him on stage with a big exclamation, “Ivan Parker!” Ivan kicked off his program with a song called 24 Hours a Day. “Well, it is a joy to be in Marion, Illinois this year!” Ivan said, “I have been coming to the Truthseekers Homecoming many times and there’s always exciting weather – snow, ice, flood…today it was 75 degrees outside!” Big Change and Sail On followed. “That is so much fun,” said Ivan of that last one, “I really enjoy what I do.” Then he introduced his son, Josh, who plays guitar and let him play a solo. It was a popular Praise and Worship song and when Josh finished playing it, Ivan exclaimed, “That’s what I’m talking about!” He went on to say that we were having a wonderful night and though the Devil tried to stop us, we won! “It’s been a night of celebration – kind of like we let all the barriers come down and we have this freedom that’s the way all God’s kids are supposed to act all the time because I’ve read the end of the book and we win.” After honoring those who have and who currently served/serving our country, he sang God Bless the USA. (Standing ovation!) Then he closed his set with I’m Going Home and Midnight Cry.
If you remember the fun Brian and Ivan had last year at this event with their product pitch…well, they took it to a whole new level this year! By the time they finished, both Brian and Ivan’s tote bags on stage were empty! It all started with a CD tossed here and there…but then the audience jumped in on it. A lady on the front row stood up with both hands in the air, “I’ve been coming here for 20 years and I never got anything free!” When the crowd figured out that they could egg the guys on, someone shouted, “The middle!” Or, “Over here on the right!” Each section was determined to get a chance at catching some kind of merchandise flying from the stage. Ivan was so proud to show off his Midnight Cry T-Shirt when Brian jumped in and said, “I have that one!” Of course, Ivan accused him of snatching it from his product table last year, anyway…if you couldn’t guess, a few minutes later it was sailing towards to audience, complements of Brian Free. So Ivan decided to get a little “payback” in when Brian advertised his new Unashamed T-Shirt. He even pretended to wipe his nose on it! Well, there was one particular lady who was determined to get that shirt. Brian asked, “You want a snotty T-Shirt?…You’re sick!” (LOL) Taking it from Ivan and holding it like one would grasp a dead rat, he said, “I’ll give it to you.” After it landed and was passed to the lady, Brian added, “I’m praying for you!” LOL Needless to say, the audience was in complete control of that sales pitch!
After intermission both BFA and Ivan came back on and sang a few more. Brian and the guys sang one more new song called He Still Saves. This one featured Brian and had more of a modern ballad feel to it. There second song was Jesus Will Pick You Up. Ivan came on after them and sang I Can Only Imagine (a request!) and When I Get Carried Away.
Conclusion: Do you have an idea why this is one of my all-time favorite Gospel sings? Just think…that was just the first night!!! Who knows what the rest of the weekend had in store? (I can tell you in advance that it was just as good!) When you get Ivan Parker and Brian Free and Assurance together you get an unbelievable evening. Not only does that include great singing and comedy, but a good portion of spiritual insight as well. Both of those guys can pick on each other and have fun, but when it comes down to it, they can both preach the truth when they need to. I guess that is what makes them so dynamic when you put them together! I’ll also add that so much more happened throughout the night that I wasn’t able to include because…well, it would have turned this review into a book if I wrote about every single detail! For those who were there, it was a priceless night powered by two generators from two buses that allowed what you just read to unfold. Thank the Lord for bus power!