In October, the Gospel Music Hymn Sing went on tour for the very first time and ended just before Thanksgiving with a special DVD taping at First Baptist of Atlanta, the church Dr. Charles Stanley pastor’s in Georgia. I can’t express how neat it is to be able to say that we not only attended the first concert in Marion, Illinois on October 22nd but also the last concert at Dr. Stanley’s church on November 21st!
Though I have only been to First Baptist Atlanta a handful of times, I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere at the church. Whether you’re out in the halls or sitting in the sanctuary – it feels like the house of God. On that Sunday night, as people trickled in and waited for the program to begin, that feeling returned once again. Not long before the taping began, Gerald Wolfe came on stage and beckoned the crowd’s attention. The video crew needed to snatch a few sweeps of the audience before the concert and since most of the folks were in and seated, now was the perfect time. He went on to explain the type of footage they needed – polite applause, robust applause and “this is the best song you’ve ever heard” applause. From the crowd, someone shouted, “What about the boos?” Without missing a beat Gerald replied, “We don’t need that, you do it naturally!” LOL Gerald counted us down and we launched into the “polite applause.” After, a staff member stepped up on the stage and whispered something to Gerald. Gerald turned to the audience, “Okay, if you have your coat on the back of your chair you need to put it under your seat.” Along with many others, I stashed my jacket under the seat and we went into take two. When Gerald asked if that was a good take, the man shook his head no with a mischievous smile. I didn’t hear what he said, but Gerald didn’t hesitate to repeat it. “What was it this time?” he asked, “Traffic! Okay, people were walking in the isles.” Fortunately, third time was the charm. We were ready for the Hymn Sing to begin!
The evening kicked off with page 188 (in the “Red Back Hymnal”) – He Lives and Heavenly Sunlight from page 404. From where I was sat on the side, I had a view of both the stage and the audience. First Baptist Atlanta’s 170 voice choir was arrayed in dark red robes and added rich, vibrant tones to each hymn. When Heavenly Sunlight ended Gerald interjected, “I haven’t heard that song in 30 years!” The following hymn was Joy Unspeakable and featured Karen Peck & New River on the third verse. Unfortunately, Karen, Susan and Ricky didn’t make it to the microphones in time to begin their verse, so when the song ended Gerald teased them, “We’re gonna do that one again – y’all weren’t ready.” We sang the whole song again and this round everyone was in position on time. After singing There Shall Be Showers of Blessings, the staff member who directed the “applauses” at the beginning stepped up on stage and said something to Gerald. In the next moment, Christi (Greater Vision’s office manager) stepped on stage with a box of tissues and powder. As she dabbed at his forehead, Gerald continued to talk to the audience. “You would think a church this size could afford air conditioning!” He teased. Everyone chuckled. Soon we were back to singing hymns with I Feel Like Traveling On. This one featured the Jim Brady Trio on the first verse and the Mark Trammell Quartet on the second. Next, was Nothing But the Blood of Jesus and TaRanda Greene’s solo, Great Is Thy Faithfulness. At the beginning of the tour, she sang this classic as a trio with Jody and Doug, but this time she sang the verse alone. If you like the sound of a large choir, the next song will be your favorite when the video comes out. (If they keep the footage for this part when they edit material – and I hope they do!) The FBA choir sang page 14 – I’ll Meet You in the Morning. Everywhere the Hymn Tour goes, they have been featuring local choirs on that tune and it has been neat to hear two versions of that on this year’s tour. From there, Gerald stepped back to where the band was set up in the middle of the stage. He introduced Sandy Payton and asked her to play No, Not One on the organ for our enjoyment. Before the solo was over, she had begun singing the lyrics and before we knew it, Gerald was leading everyone in singing that classic. As the meaning of those precious words impressed themselves upon our hearts and minds, we were directed to Holy, Holy, Holy, a hymn of worship and praise. In the Sweet Forever, the “Baptist Anthem” Stand Up for Jesus and Standing on the Promises followed. As Sandy was featured a while before, it was time to put the tour’s pianist in the spotlight, Stan Whitmire launched into I’ve Got That Old Time Religion In My Heart and received a standing ovation!
O How I Love Jesus was next. The choir added a nice echo to the chorus and I Will Sing the Wondrous Story followed. Gerald shared with us how during the tour he asked the songwriters (Rodney Griffin, Chris Allman and Jim Brady) what their favorite lyric was in the hymnal. They all anonymously answered The Love of God. Gerald thought it would be neat to have the songwriters sing their favorite lyric together – and so Rodney, Chris and Jim sang The Love of God. Another unique combination was featured on the next song, A New Name In Glory; which formed a new male quartet with Bailey and Conner Hayes and Austin and Ethan Whisnant! Gerald explained that Dr. Stanley requested the next hymn An Old Account Settled. Teasing Dr. Stanley, Gerald matter-of-factly said, “Figures the word ‘old’ would be in the title.” Well, “old” may have been in the title but after Gerald led everyone through a verse and chorus, Dr. Stanley called out from the audience, “Sing it faster!” Gerald turned to the band, who kicked it up a notch and we sang it twice as fast…but that wasn’t fast enough for Dr. Stanley! He wanted to sing the “Pentecostal version” and had them speed it up a third time! Finally, Gerald spotted Jerry Goff sitting in one of the first couple rows. Stepping off stage, he went up to Goff and said, “You know this song real well – sing it for us!” Jerry Goff sang a verse and brought the crowd to their feet. Afterwards, Gerald shared how he remembered hearing Jerry sing that song years ago and even impersonated him on a few lines. It Is Well With My Soul followed and then the Mylon Hayes Family sang Rock of Ages Keep My Soul. This time, when Gerald asked what song was printed on Kennedy’s music note skirt, she answered, “My Name Is Lazarus.” The look of utter confusion on Gerald’s face as he pondered the staff music was priceless! We sang My Redeemer, then Riley Clark, Pat Barker and Scott Fowler sang Mansion Over the Hilltop. From there, Susan Peck Jackson, Susan Whisnant and Melissa Brady sang When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder. (A little goof on that one required a re-take.) Jeff Whisnant was featured on Trust and Obey, one of the principles Dr. Stanley built his ministry on. The evening was coming to a close, Gerald and Melissa Brady shared a feature on Near the Cross and then Rodney Griffin and Karen Peck Gooch did the same on The Old Rugged Cross.
When Dr. Stanley came up on stage everyone applauded and stood. Turning to the artists seated on stage, he said, “I want you all to know that I was singing all of these songs before any of you were born!” Upon seeing Sandy seated at the organ in the back, he quickly walked back to her and whispered (with his “preaching mic” on for us all to hear!), “Whisper to me how old you are.” The audience laughed but when he returned to the center of the stage he was still right…he was singing all the hymns before any of them were born. LOL! He took a few minutes to speak about the hymns we just sang, give the gospel and pray. Then he turned to Gerald and said, “When I called you and asked, ‘Are you really going to do a hymn singing at my church?’ and you said yes, I told you I would sing a song with you all.” Gerald and Dr. Stanley rehearsed the story for the audience – it ended with Gerald telling Dr. Stanley that he thought he wouldn’t sing a song with them and Dr. Stanley telling Gerald that he sure would…he would even bet $100 that he would! Dr. Stanley said, “I’m here, I’m going to sing this last song with everyone and then you’re going to give me a $100 bill.” They closed with I’ll Fly Away – Dr. Stanley singing with the rest of them. When they finished Gerald shook Dr. Stanley’s hand and Dr. Stanley held his hand palm up to receive the cash. Gerald laughed but Dr. Stanley was determined he wasn’t leaving that stage without something from Gerald. It took someone giving Mark Trammell a bill and Mark giving it to Gerald who gave it to Stanley. That was no doubt “put on,” but it sure was funny!
Conclusion: I love DVD tapings. You get to experience things that wouldn’t normally happen at a regular concert; for example, sending someone on stage to re-apply makeup and having to sing a song twice to get it perfect. When the DVD releases, you remember what happened “between the lines” and see the video in a way others won’t. Also, I think Dr. Stanley has such a fun personality. It was so neat to watch the artists sing a classic hymn, then see him be the first to stand and applaud. Having the taping at FBA was an experience I won’t easily forget! We had a great time! If you enjoy hymns, you’ll definitely want to add this DVD to your collection when it comes out.
P.S. I have to share this photo from the flight home. Coming into St. Louis we flew over the Mississippi with a bird’s eye view of the Gateway Arch! It was amazing!