Shuttle buses maneuvered through the parking lot to let folks off at the church doors while guys in neon yellow vests directed even more cars to various areas of the lot. I stood watching from inside the church windows and thought, “Where are they putting all of those cars?” Just that morning, my friend and I came to the 9:30 AM worship service at Indian Trail Baptist Church and had to park in Lot D. With that many folks up and out for a morning service, we knew to arrive early for the Gospel Music Hymn Sing that evening…or, we would be retracing the same long walk from the back of the lot. When I stood by the window, it was 15 minutes before the doors to the sanctuary opened. Cars kept pouring into the lot as I turned from my place at the window to look at the sea of people lined up at the doors and wondered how many more the lobby could hold. After all, folks were already shoulder to shoulder in a line that spanned the length of the lobby.
The Gospel Music Hymn Sing was filming their fourth DVD at Indian Trail Baptist Church in Indian Trail, North Carolina on May 20th. The artist circle had been sold out for weeks and as you can tell, those in the General Admission seats were excited to be at the event as well. Everywhere you looked, folks were thrilled to be a part of the taping. When the doors opened, everyone flooded into the sanctuary. While folks rushed into the lower floor to claim their seat, I was happy to have a front row seat in the balcony!
A few minutes before the concert officially started, Gerald came out on stage and explained that the video crew needed to record a few applause and laugh tracks before the concert began. This is one of my favorite parts of DVD tapings because you get to be a part of the behind the scene things you wouldn’t have at a regular concert. We went through a series of “regular applause,” “polite applause” and “standing ovation” tracks, and then a few “laugh” tracks. When we got the thumbs up from the video crew, Gerald announced that the band was going to play for a minute before the artists came on stage.
The band played a verse and chorus of “I’m Bound For The Promised Land” and then the artists walked on stage. Being the first song of the night, Gerald led us in the traditional style of the song. When we reached the last chorus, Stan took the beat up a notch and we ended the tune with a snappy tempo. “Oh, here’s one you haven’t heard in a while,” said Gerald, as the intro began for the next hymn, “Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord.” Afterwards, Gerald talked about the songwriter Albert E. Brumley. We know him from his famous song, “I’ll Fly Away,” but, that’s not the only popular song he wrote! For example, there’s another of his called “He Set Me Free” that folks have enjoyed down through the years, which came next. The audience enthusiastically joined Gerald as he led everyone in singing the hymn, and then the Whisnants stepped up to sing the second verse. From one hymn to another, Gerald turned to the piano and said, “Stan, put us in B flat. This is a beautiful song.” The tempo slowed and the words to “He Leadeth Me” appeared on the screens for the crowd to sing along. “He Leadeth Me” has always been a favorite of mine and I loved that it was included in this taping. In Gospel Music, I’ve mostly heard it performed on instrumental recordings, and hearing the audience sing the words reminded me that the message is just as beautiful as the music. Up next, was a good old tune arranged for a male quartet – “Heaven’s Jubilee!” Even better yet, it didn’t just feature one quartet, but two! The Mark Trammell Quartet was featured on the first verse and then Tribute Quartet on the second. I really liked how they featured both groups, it was unexpected, yet fitting. In fact, the crowd must have liked it too because Gerald called for an encore!
As the next group came to sing, Gerald explained that if you’re familiar with the Hymn Sing program, then you’ll recognize this group. They’re known for singing convention style hymns, and as Gerald pointed out, “They sing it the way it was written.” The Mylon Hayes Family came with the Red Back Hymnal and sang “I Rejoice In The Lord.” Though the program had just barely began, Gerald turned to the side of the stage and welcomed Trey Ivey to the piano. Trey has a position in the church music department and Gerald asked him to arrange a certain song for the choir to sing on the video. As Trey took his seat at the piano, music minister Matthew Slemp took his position facing the choir and with a simple hand motion, had the choir stand. For the next several minutes, we heard a full voice choir sing an old tune called, “Glad Reunion Day,” with a bridge of “What A Day That Will Be” and “I’ll Meet You In The Morning” mixed in. The number was fantastic and received a standing ovation from the crowd and artists on stage. Afterwards, Gerald grinned as he explained to the crowd, “I asked him to come up with a big ending for the choir, and well, four songs later…!” Everyone chuckled and gave another round of applause. It was a beautiful selection for the choir.
As we waited for another song to begin, Gerald looked towards the foot of the stage where a young lady stood with powder and brush in hand. He asked her, “Are you wanting to do something to me?” With an innocent smile, she bounded up the steps and began dabbing his forehead with a cloth and touching up with a makeup brush. The antics drew a little chuckle from the crowd, but it wasn’t until she pulled out the powder – that the crowd outright belly laughed. Oh, but it wasn’t over yet… From the right side of the stage, here came Rodney! He stopped next to Gerald and bent forward so the lady could “take the shine” off the top of his head! I couldn’t help but think, “That’s what they should have done when they filmed the laugh track!” LOL!
Where do you go from there?! Well, Gerald drew our attention to the back of the stage where Sandy Peyton sat behind the B3 organ. Then he called up Chris Allman (Greater Vision) and Mark Trammell (Mark Trammell Quartet) to add harmony as they sang “I Must Tell Jesus.” With the organ singing just as much as the artists, it’s no wonder the choir popped out of their seats in a standing ovation! The live music and unique combination of singers was outstanding! Following came another classic hymn sang by a “never before heard” trio, “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be” with Aaron Hise (Whisnants), Matthew Slemp (First Baptist Indian Trail) and Nick Trammell (Mark Trammell Quartet). When they finished, Gerald shared how the next hymn was added to the program because of a request on the Winter Hymn Sing Tour a few months back. During the tours, they take an intermission, gather requests during the break and then sing them on the next half of the evening. Well, they were in Gulf Shores, Alabama when he spotted this old song on the list of requests. He thought, “Nobody knows that one but me and the guy who requested it!” But they sang it anyway and the hymn went over better than he thought, so they decided to add it for the taping. It was “My Heavenly Home,” and he had Sandy Peyton and Mark Trammell sing it with him. “Shall We Gather At The River,” “His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” “Rock Of Ages” and “Praise Him, Praise Him” followed.
The next hymn, “More About Jesus,” featured Greater Vision on a verse, then Rodney sang a verse and finally Mark Trammell finished up with the last verse. The funny thing was, while they were singing Gerald was getting patted down again by a makeup brush and missed his cue for the chorus! For the first time during the evening, they had to do a song over again. But before they re-started it, Gerald said, “Ladies, you can have it!” (Speaking of the makeup.) “I’m over here trying to worship and listen to these guys sing,” he went on, waving his hanky, added, “and here she comes!” LOL! Everyone chuckled and then they went over the song again, with the chorus in between Rodney and Mark’s verses.
Getting back on track, Gerald called up Riley Clark (Tribute Quartet) for a verse of “I Am Thine Oh, Lord.” Afterwards, Gerald teased him and said, “I texted him this song and said I wanted him to sing it, he replied and said he didn’t know it. So I sent him a Youtube video and then he recognized it.” This led into the story behind the next hymn and how it was written by a 16 year old boy who fought in the Civil War. The hymn he wrote wasn’t popular at first, but over the years, it has become a favorite among Believers – it was “My Jesus I Love Thee.” When the congregation finished singing those beautiful lyrics, Gerald went on to say that maybe the reason young people don’t listen to this kind of music isn’t because they don’t like it, but because they’ve never heard it. When he was a kid, every time he got in the car with his mom she listened to the Chuck Wagon Gang and he said he didn’t care for their music back then. But just a few weeks ago he was in his car listening to the radio and the Chuck Wagon Gang came on – and he knew every word to the song. He said, “I didn’t even think I was paying attention to the music as a child, but it stuck with me.” He then encouraged grandparents to play Gospel Music in front of their grandkids. Next, Gerald had four of the younger guys from the tour come up and sing “Precious Memories.” Austin Whisnant, Ethan Whisnant, Bailey and Conner Hayes sang that tune as a male quartet and the folks loved it. Up next, Aaron and Suzanne Hise were accompanied by Kennedy Hayes and Randy Byrd on “Someday, Someday.” Gerald introduced the next few hymns as ones they’ve held back for the last three or so years. The first hymn was Gerald’s favorite, “Jesus Paid It All.” Halfway through the tune, Gerald paused and asked just the balcony to sing. Then, he asked the floor to stand up, turn around and sing to those sitting in the balcony. It was beautiful! Gerald was grinning from ear to ear and at that moment, there was no hiding how much he loves congregational singing. The next tune was “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” just as a congregational. You always get to hear a male quartet replicate the Cathedral’s a’cappella arrangement of this tune, and to hear it as a congregational was really neat.
The evening was beginning to wind down, and with it came a few slower songs whose lyrics really emphasized the gospel message. “Pass Me Not,” featured Blake Buffin (Mark Trammell Quartet) on a verse and then Maria Wolfe, Melissa Brady and Susan Whisnant sang as a ladies trio on the second verse. This led into “Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary,” that featured Melissa Brady on a verse. The highlight of the evening though, had to be when Gerald brought up Jeanie Johnson, who sang with the legendary Speer Family, to sing “God Leads Us Along.” What a moment! To close the night off, everyone sang the upbeat “We’ll Understand It Better In The Bye and Bye” and then the band played as Gerald dismissed everyone.
Conclusion: I was privileged to be at the second DVD taping of the Hymn Sing in 2015 at Dr. Stanley’s church in Atlanta, Georgia. Honestly, it’s hard to believe that was three years ago and now the Hymn Sing just recorded their fourth DVD! My, how time flies! Yet, as I sat in the balcony and enjoyed the evening at Indian Trail, I couldn’t help but think this could be the best DVD yet. The moments were unpredictable and had a really nice flow to the program. Though the Hymn Sing has always pulled out singers from different groups to form unique blends, they really knocked it out of the park this time! Configurations like Kennedy Hayes, Randy Byrd and Aaron and Suzanne Hise as a mixed group and Gerald Wolfe, Mark Trammell and Sandy Peyton as a trio…well, there were some really neat moments during the evening. Gerald said that it will be three or four months before the DVD is released, but when it is, I’m going to be one of the first to get my hands on one! It’s going to be fantastic!