Past the cotton fields of Missouri’s bootheel, the natural border of the Mississippi River and into the state of Illinois is the city of Marion. Sitting on the corner of town square is my favorite theater – The Marion Culture and Civic Center. Since 2012, when I first attended the Truthseekers Homecoming, this building and event have become very special to me. You can always count on warm hospitality, great talent and a lively crowd that will encourage the groups on stage to do something unique just for them…even if they have to shout it out from their seat in the middle of the program! I still remember the thrill of being at the Homecoming this year when the Truthseekers announced that they were going to be one of the host cities for the Gospel Music Hymn Sing Tour. From that day forward, my calendar was marked – October 22, 2015.
It just so happened, the Hymn Sing in Marion kicked off the tour!
From my seat on the back left side of the theater, I had a view of the stage and audience below. We had a FULL HOUSE!!! The stage was decorated for fall with hay bales and pumpkins. On the left was the band, the center was lined with chairs for the choir and the right side of the stage had more chairs for the groups. Each of the venues during the Hymn Tour will have a choir either from the church or a combination of choirs from churches in the area. I smiled when I saw the “hymnal” elevated on the stage in front of the curtain behind the choir. The Truthseekers have always made special stage props for their Homecoming and the large book, which has served as both a hymnal and Bible, made another appearance! As the concert was set to begin, the Marion choir was already in place and when Gerald walked out on stage a round of applause arose loudly from the audience.
The applause died down when Gerald asked everyone if they were excited to sing some hymns. “I brought some friends me with,” he added. “Would you make welcome the Mark Trammell Quartet, Greater Vision, The Mylon Hayes Family, Jim Brady Trio, Pat Barker and TaRanda Greene?” As each group was called, the members walked on stage single file to their seats. The Hymn Sing began with He Keeps Me Singing. “Man, we’re going to have an awesome time tonight!” Gerald exclaimed. The next hymn was one they tried out at the NQC Hymn Sing – Heavenly Sunlight. Conner, Baily and Kennedy Hayes were featured on one of the verses as a trio. Because the next song had the “birds eyes” (fermatas) Gerald thought it best to instruct the crowd on what some of his hand motions meant. “When I do this,” he said, “It does not mean come here!” LOL The band launched into the music and we all sang He Lives. “Don’t you wish your church sounded like that on Sunday morning?” Gerald asked afterwards. As he continued with that topic, suddenly, I heard a phone ringing. It was the lady behind me. A moment later I heard… “Hi, I’m at the singing. No, that’s alright…” Meanwhile, Gerald said something on stage and a lady from the crowd shouted, “No preachin’!” Whatever did I miss? LOL! We sang Showers of Blessings and then I Feel Like Traveling On. That last one is well known in Gospel Music; that night it featured two groups – the Jim Brady Trio on the first verse and the Mark Trammell Quartet on the second. Gerald then turned our attention to the band, “I don’t know about you, but I think we have the best church band!” He mentioned how he and Stan are the same age and since they entered their music careers at the same time they’ve known each other for a lot years. Facing the black grand, Gerald said to Stan, “Play us something!” The number was page 112, I’ve Got That Old Time Religion in My Heart. After, Gerald teased, “He played that arrangement just the way I taught him!” From the crowd, a lady added, “He needs a fire extinguisher!” Surprised, Gerald asked, “Ma’am?” She repeated, “He needs a fire extinguisher…for his fingers.” Gerald replied, “Ma’am, are you on any medication?” LOL! He went on to introduce Sandy Payton, who was playing the organ. There was a tune she played during sound check, and he wanted her to play it for us. So she did! It was No, Not One. A little ways into the solo Gerald held his mic for her to sing and then Gerald had everyone join in. Nothing But the Blood followed and we had fun with this one – taking it up a half step for the last verse and repeating the chorus a cappella. Introducing the next feature, Gerald explained how the choir was made up of local singers and members of church choirs. From where I sat, I could make out Mary and Jane from the Truthseekers and Mary’s daughters Jill and Lindsey. The choir was featured on I’ll Meet You In the Morning and they received a standing ovation! They encored it once and Gerald complemented the Altos by saying how their singing reminded him of Mom Speer when she would sing that song. “Y’all got any CDs,” he asked the choir? You can’t have a hymn sing without letting the Bass singers have a number. “If you don’t feature them,” Gerald grinned, “they’ll pout all night.” Pat Barker and Randy Byrd took the mics followed by Conner Hayes. As Conner stood next to the other two Gerald exclaimed, “Hey! Welcome…your voice has changed? My babies are growing up!” (All the time faking a whimper.) Those three launched into Just a Little Talk With Jesus. When they returned to their seats Gerald had all the Bass singers from the choir come down and sing a chorus of the same song – there were six of them and one was over 80 years old!
“Page 131,” Gerald announced, “These are the most awesome lyrics in this book. Let’s really sing this unto the Lord.” The hymn was Holy, Holy, Holy followed by Wendy Hayes who began the verse of Tis So Sweet (to trust in Jesus), Jim Brady sang the second verse and Blake Buffin the third. “TaRanda,” Gerald went on after the hymn, “I saw you singing on that one.” Then he asked her to come up and tell everyone her favorite hymn. It was Great Is Thy Faithfulness. She took a few minutes and told her story. With Dough Anderson and Jody McBrayer (who sang with the Contemporary Music group, Avalon) they sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness. (Standing ovation!) Introducing the next hymn, Gerald said, “We’ll do it in the Baptist tempo and then take it up to the Pentecostal tempo!” The hymn was Victory in Jesus and featured Wendy Hayes, Melissa Brady and TaRanda as a trio.
We broke for intermission for about fifteen minutes before coming back for another round of singing! The second part of the evening began with O, How I Love Jesus and Saved, Saved, Saved; which featured a trio of Chris Allman, Jim Brady and Mark Trammell. Before intermission, Gerald encouraged everyone to bring requests of hymns they wanted to sing during the second half. The following song was one, and even though it’s not in the red back hymnal, Gerald wanted to sing it anyway – It Is Well With My Soul. Next, Gerald featured the Mylon Hayes Family on a “shape note” tune. Page two, It’s Just Like Heaven was selected and on the second time through we heard “Fa,” “Mi,” “La,” “Do” sung. When they finished Gerald looked at Kennedy’s skirt and said, “It has music notes on it…what song is it?” Kennedy said she didn’t know and so Gerald paused to study it and thoughtfully said, “It’s Victory in Jesus.” Love Lifted Me came next and then Gerald talked about the time when they were in that building four years ago for the Truthseekers Homecoming. “People were calling out songs from the audience,” he reminisced, “and we sang till 11:15!” Since this is where it all began, Gerald explained to the crowd that Greater Vision, Pat Barker and the Mark Trammell Quartet would now sing as “The Second Half Quartet.” Chris Allman, Rodney Griffin, Mark Trammell and Pat Barker each took a mic and sang Wonderful Grace of Jesus…just as they did four years ago. Another standing ovation! At Calvary followed and featured Nick Trammell on the verse. Tilting his head up, Gerald pointed out the kids he saw in the balcony – they were waving their arms in sync, helping him direct the choir! He went on to say that he’s had grandparents come up to him and say, “Our grandkids don’t like this kind of music.” The issue, Gerald said, was that grandparents aren’t playing the music for them to hear. Even if they don’t appreciate the music now, someday they will hear that song and remember hearing it in grandma’s kitchen…and they’ll have sweet memories of it then. The next two hymns were the highlight of the evening for me. First, because this one, Near the Cross, is my favorite! Second, because Melissa Brady and Gerald sang it with such conviction. Immediately after, Mark Trammell came and sang I Need Thee Every Hour. This was the first time I heard him sing it and he delivered it with power. At that point, the presence of the Holy Spirit was heavy in the room and Gerald gave the invitation. Then we sang I’ll Fly Away and dismissed.
Conclusion: After attending the Hymn Sings at NQC and the Gatlinburg Gathering, I was excited to experience the Hymn Sing in concert form! It was just as wonderful! The main difference was that there were only about half the groups involved from the ones that I attended previously. It was an aspect that I enjoyed. Each artist was featured multiple times and the combinations were awesome! My favorite part was Gerald and Melissa singing Near the Cross. Then again, it’s my favorite hymn! The addition of the choir was great and I know everyone enjoyed seeing faces they knew up there. I absolutely loved the Hymn Sing being at the Civic Center in Marion. It was a great place to have the first concert of the tour and a memorable night!