With images of the snow-frosted Smoky Mountain National Park in my mind and the frigid clean air in my lungs, we meandered off the mountain and down to New Hope Church for the last session of Praisefest. Could I believe that in a few short hours the Gospel Sing that started only a few days ago would forever be regarded as past memories? Though it didn’t seem possible that the event had passed so quickly, it did. More than ever, I was determined to enjoy every second of what was left.
Once again, Mike Speck started us off with some congregational singing with the audience requesting the songs. For the very first one, a lady from the back was very insistent that we would sing When They Ring Those Golden Bells. Mike, on the other hand, didn’t know the words and had to call Gerald out to lead it! LOL Frowning, Gerald clarified, “Ma’am, that’s a funeral song.” But he sang it and it seemed like everyone (the audience and Gerald) knew it but Mike! LOL The next request was Beulah Land, and once again, Gerald was asked by Mike to come lead it.
With Gerald already on stage, he introduced the group that gave him his start in Gospel Music – the Dumplin Valley Trio. “This is the group I started with 32 years ago,” Gerald said. He and Carol Barnett (also a member of the Dumplin Valley Trio) went to High School together! “Kyle and I put the first Praisefest together 22 years ago – they haven’t missed one Praisefest and if they couldn’t come there wouldn’t be one, welcome my friends, the Dumplin Valley Trio.” When Kyle came on stage he instructed, “Let’s sing some more, everybody sing,” and went into Victory In Jesus. After, Kyle explained that his wife, Donna (not to be confused with Donna Wolfe!), wasn’t on the road this year because of her cancer treatments, so another lady by the name of Dianne was gracious to fill in. They had Dianne come out and sing I Am His and He Is Mine with them. “We’ve enjoyed being with you,” Kyle said, “I love this song, it’s my favorite.” The Dumplin Valley Trio all gathered around and sang their last song – Haven Called Heaven.
Before Gerald introduced the next group, he desperately tried to harass a poor lady walking down the aisle towards the rear of the building – however, she ignored him! LOL So he just went into the intro, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Collingsworth Family.” A medium tempo song called I’m A Part Of The Family opened their set. All eyes were on Kim as she seated herself before the grand piano and played a medley of old songs. Most stood in ovation from the inspiring music they heard. Phil had to pick on her a little too! He said, “This is the only event in the United States where Kim will agree to sing on a Wednesday night…because there will be Tanger Outlets on Thursday morning.” LOL The family gathered around the piano for their next number – That’s The Place Where I Am Longing To Go. The encore brought the family back to center stage where they sang acapella around one microphone, it was absolutely beautiful! The crowd loved it so much they encored it twice! One of their more unique songs was next, it featured Phil Jr. and Courtney on the verses and is called If God Says Build An Ark. “Amen?” asked Phil before introducing his family. Once Olivia was introduced, she was featured on her solo, Grandpa, Tell Me About The Good Ole Days. Phil went on to tell us what they did this summer, “When the temperature in our van ran 100 degrees, the Collingsworth Family was in the studio recording Christmas music.” He asked if they could sing some for us. So a mixture of Winter Wonderland and Sleigh Ride tingled our ears and set us in the Christmas mood! When Courtney sang I Can Trust Jesus, Phil pondered the message, “Sometimes, it’s the simplest messages that stick with you during the night.” Then he told of a man by the name of David Foster who wrote a piece of music 10 short years ago, and already, it has become a classic – Mr. Foster simply called it “The Prayer.” Turning to Brooklyn and Courtney, who were then holding their violins, he said, “Play it girls.” As Kim accompanied them on the keys, the sweet swelling sounds of the violins filled the room. Beautiful! It didn’t just touch me individually either, ‘cause when they ended, everyone stood. “Is it okay if I say that makes me a proud Mama?” asked Kim. She went on to talk about the blood of Christ and how important it is to the faith. If we didn’t have it, “we might as well put a for sale sign in front of our church,” shared Kim. This introduced a powerful ballad that they sing called The Blood of Jesus (can cleanse your every sin.) When this ballad transitioned into the Blood Will Never Lose It’s Power, all stood in ovation. It was a very powerful moment. Their final song, God Bless America, also received a standing O.
Intermission came and passed, bringing the Specks back on stage with Somebody Ought To Testify, a song the Talley’s have made popular over the years. A little medley of Go Tell It On The Mountain and Look What The Lord Has Done came next. But the powerful ballad they ended with, was one that a 17 year old girl wrote – There Is A Remedy. This was the first time I heard it, and though it had a more progressive sound, I enjoyed both the music and the lyrics greatly. Mike prayed, “Father, I thank You that You sent the Remedy.” After the prayer he let Gerald know that they were done, and GV came out to sing.
“This song crossed my mind,” Gerald announced as Greater Vision took the stage, “so I’m going to have Rodney sing it.” It was a song from their Christmas project called Grace Has A Face, and as Rodney took a step closer to the audience to sing the second verse, he asked us to listen closely to the words. A nice fast song, He Is to Me, followed. Applause signaled the end of the song and Gerald walked over to the piano. Fingering a piece of paper, he mentioned the requests fans have asked for and how confusing it is when they ask for songs they don’t sing! LOL “This is one of those songs that everyone asked for,” Gerald said. Before going in to the song, he used an illustration of why it’s so popular. Just that morning a group of four people who attended that week had to leave after the morning session because their son was put in intensive care. (He didn’t give details.) The next two songs, It Pays To Pray and Til The Storm Passes By, poured out through the lyrics how we cling to the promises of God in times like those. As Gerald sang the second verse to the later song, he stepped off the stage onto the landing and sang as if there were no one in the room but him and God. The crowd rose to their feet as he pointed to each of the four sections of the auditorium and exclaimed, “He’ll do it!”
Changing the program, Gerald brought out the Collingsworth Family again and let them sing a few more songs. The first one the family sang was a tune they’ve done every night for the last three years – I Know. Phil’s statement proved to be true – the crowd loved it so much they encored it twice! The girls gathered around and sang the first verse of Fear Not Tomorrow, with the “boys” coming in later on. Another piano solo from Kim, Battle Hymn of the Republic, closed their set with a standing ovation.
Walking out on stage, Gerald asked us to sit and sing Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome. “He’s met with us these three days, hasn’t He?” asked Gerald. “You welcomed Him when He came and that’s why it has been a wonderful three days. He doesn’t come where He’s not invited.” Right then, Gerald had us bow our heads while he prayed and thanked the Lord for the wonderful week had at Praisefest. When he finished with the prayer, he went on, “I don’t believe that our problem is political – I believe that our problem began four decades ago when we said we didn’t want Him in our schools anymore.” Continuing, Gerald explained that the Bible’s first requirement for a nation to turn around is found in the verse that says, “If My people with humble themselves…” So he asked us to pray for revival in the church. “We’re the ones with the problem,” Gerald concluded, “it’s not Washington, it’s God’s people.”
Changing topics, he shared that this was the first Praisefest that his wife wasn’t there with them (because of surgery) and took out his iPhone and requested that we all say, “We miss you Donna” so he could video it and send it to her! Afterwards, he wanted to sing a Christmas song and someone cried out “O Holy Night!” So it was agreed that Gerald would sing it, but before he did, he insisted that Phil play his trumpet! Phil played, and then Gerald sang the Christmas carol. When the second verse rolled around Gerald told Kim to take it up a half-step and play a little. Later on he joined back in and finished the song off with a standing ovation. “Let’s go home and put the trees up!” Gerald shouted. Before the Grand Finale began, Gerald gave us some stats on “who” came to Praisefest.
Represented at Praisefest were 27 states and 2 foreign countries…
#1 – 290 people came up from the state of Georgia
#2 – 168 people attended from the state of Tennessee
#3 – the state of Michigan
#4 – the state of Indiana
#5 – the state of North Carolina
#6 – the state of Kentucky
Praisefest also had 50 fans from the state of Texas present, 9 people from Canada and attendees all the way from New York State!
Mike put the Grand Finale together and formed a choir. It began with Gerald singing the first verse of Who Am I and went into another song, and then Rodney sang He Came To Me. The event closed with O What A Savior!
Conclusion: If I could describe what that night was like – I’d write a book! There was such a sweet spirit in the room the entire night, the singing was great and when it came time to talk, the Lord Himself was the topic. I can’t say that I would change a thing that happened that night – even if I could! Well, I have a lot more to tell you about than what I can say here, so keep your eyes peeled for another post that’s coming called “Magnificent Mountains, Fabulous Fellowship in Snowy Sevierville.” This one will tell you the parts about Praisefest that didn’t make it in the concert reviews, show you our little trip into the winter wonderland on Wednesday afternoon and hopefully tell you something about Sevierville you didn’t know! God bless…