Climbing the steep cement steps that lead to the sanctuary entrance, I immediately took notice of the vintage surroundings. The furnishings of the First Presbyterian Church were antique and well taken care of at that! A faded rose/pink color carpet covered the floor and matching cushions padded the pews and few chairs, all of the trimmings around the windows in an around the corners were walnut – these matched throughout the building. This traditional setting is what I walked into on a Friday night, however, I would soon find out that it would not be a “traditional” night as far as the concert was concerned!
The opening group, the Nehrkorns, a trio from Marion, IL started the evening with singing a medium tempo song that the Kingsmen used to sing, called Hold To My Hand. O, I Want To See Him, a fast song featuring Justin Nehrkorn followed. Joining this husband and wife team and completing the trio was a young man by the name of Dustin Lemming, and he was featured on a slower song called His Grace Is Sufficient. Justin’s wife sang the next song; an up-tempo number entitled He’s Still God. “What a joy to know that He’s still God, amen?” asked Justin. Turning to the pianist, who was slightly hidden by some stage equipment, he introduced their brand new pianist who’s been with them for three weeks now. This guy has played for the Hoppers and Greenes, after a chuckle or two, the pianist James Rainey says, “It would be easier to tell who I haven’t played for!” It was noted that James had been playing Gospel Music for 21 years. He played a piano solo for us, Power In The Blood. He repeated a lot of the same licks in the solo, but it was very cool when he turned the second verse minor. Justin introduced Dustin Lemming next, who is 20 years old and has made a great impression on Justin for his dedication to singing Gospel Music. Afterward, Justin introduced his wife, Randi, and then himself before jumping back into the music with an old convention song called Someday. The next track was giving their new pianist some difficulty and it took a moment or two to get it going properly, but not before long the strains of a beautiful ballad called He’s Calling Out Your Name met our ears. This one was sung by Dustin. As introduction to the next song, Justin told a story of the time not too long ago when they were singing in South Georgia. After the concert it was late, but a lady came up to their product table and began sharing with Justin some of her burdens. She was a young mother and had her two little girls with her, who were at that time, beginning to tire and began tugging on her pant legs. Without missing a beat, the mother reached down and scooped up both girls in her arms – the minute she picked them up, they began to settle down, laying their heads on her shoulder and eventually, went to sleep. Justin contrasted what that mother did for her girls with what God does for us. When we’re going through those burdens in our lives…He picks us up and comforts us in the way only He can do. Dustin played his bass guitar while Randi sang The Arms Of The Shepherd, a song about the same subject. Immediately, they went into an accapella rendition of Learning To Lean On Jesus and had the audience join in singing with them. Their final song for the first set was a fast one Justin’s wife sang called Come And See.
Justin introduced the Mark Trammell Quartet, then the guys came up and took their places behind their microphones. (Or – for Dustin Sweatman, his keyboard.) Beginning their set with a worshipful ballad, none other than Gentle Shepherd could do. In a split second the atmosphere changed and broke into a convention song, Hallelujah I’m Going Home. The guys had so much energy and fun with this one that at the end, Pat stepped back placed his hand on his stomach and said, “Oh my goodness!” (When the artists do that on the second song – you know you’re in for a GREAT night!) Mark asked the audience who was seeing them for the first time, and after the response, Mark decided to go right into introducing the group. He began with their tenor who is filling in for them until they find a permanent replacement, a gentleman of 39 years by the name of Jim Cox. This was my first time to see MTQ without Joel, and I do have to say that Jim is doing a marvelous job! (If I’m correct, I believe this concert was Jim’s third week with them – though you honestly couldn’t tell!) Introducing Dustin next, Mark said, “He’s a pretty mean bus washer…speaking of which, ours is looking a little – oh, never mind, I’ll tell you later!” (Mean bus washer???? – Well, as I was reflecting on the evening, and after observing all of Dustin’s “fist pumps,” it had me thinking how much he resembled the Green Lantern!) Pat Barker was the last to be introduced, Mark turned to the crowd and said, “I like to have fun and I like to pick on people – if you have a problem with that, don’t go to heaven, cause I’ll aggravate you to death!” (Of course, all MTQ fans know that Pat is the receiver of all the “pickings”!) Mark continued to tell that they were going to feature Pat on a very special request. That night was the 78th birthday of Mr. Frank, his grandfather was the pastor of that church in the early 1900’s, and so Mark dedicated this song, How Big Is God to him. Pat sang his heart out on this one! Every time I see him sing it, he performs it like it’s his first time to do so. Though, I must acknowledge, not only is Pat bringing back the double breasted suit, he is also bringing back the tradition of cuff links! But not just any cuff links…ivory cuff links! LOL! (So Pat, how’d I do?) Old Convention Song came next, this fast quartet song also features the bass vocals and the expressions passed between Pat and Dustin were something to behold! Dustin was accompanying on his keyboard and he ended the turn-around with a soft tender note played in the upper register, then looked up at Pat and said, “Thank you.”
“Thank you so much!” Mark continued, “How many of you like older songs?” Then, he told about their Treasures Cd and that over the last few weeks they’ve had many requests to show off their tenor on another old classic – Hide Thou Me. Jim sang this favorite with passion. I especially enjoyed Jim’s antics on the next song, Echoes From The Burning Bush. Jim rocked from side to side while the crowd clapped to the beat – he even let out a dance move or two! All the guys were enjoying themselves on this one, so much so, that Pat even left out a little laugh on the chorus. Towards the end of the song Mark had everyone stop singing and said, “It’s been increasingly difficult to find a guy who looks like a man and sings like a woman!” Turning to Jim he said, “They liked that part…it was real cute,” (Here, Mark waved his hand in a fluttery motion trying to demonstrate the tenor part and had him do it again). Mark introduced Wedding Music by saying this, “See if you remember this great song, listen.” For the first time during the concert, Mark and Dustin laid aside their instruments and sang only with a track. Testimony followed, and Dustin put his all into his solo – that’s what makes this music special! As the next track began, all the guys stepped back and bowed their heads in a worshipful demeanor. Next, the beautiful strains of How Long Has It Been met our listening ears…and our hearts! The song has such a meaningful message, as did the song that followed. Mark said that It’s Almost Over was recorded by the Cathedrals in the early 1980’s, “I didn’t realize how powerful the message of this song was and how more applicable it is for today.” The only way that I can think to explain this song is this: Mark and all of the guys were in tune to what they were singing. A very special moment for those of us in the audience.
The guys did their Cd pitch and were getting ready to take a ten minute break when Mark asked the Nehrkorns if they wanted to come up and tell about their product. They were very modest about it and Mark was giving them a hard time and said, “Gospel Music 101 – never pass up an opportunity to tell them about what they’re missing!”
After the break, the Nehrkorns came up and sang a few more songs, the first of which was a fast song called, On The Other Side. Justin stepped forward and began telling the story of a young man who called him one night and told him that he was ready to end his life. This man had been going through numerous trials, his father and grandpa both passed away, his fiancée broke up with him and that very night, he phoned Justin he lost his job. He questioned, “If God loved me, where was He when all of that happened?” Justin quoted Psalm 147:3 – “He healeth the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds,” and continued to share with the audience that, “when we get in those circumstances, He just wants us to trust Him.” This was a perfect intro to a beautiful song called I Have A Friend Who Mends Broken Hearts. His wife sang this ballad and the Spirit just filled the building!
“Put your hands together and welcome back the Mark Trammell Quartet as they come…” said Justin and MTQ took the stage with a rambunctious Bloodwashed Band and sang it like it was their first time to get on the stage that evening. Another great song that the guys have brought back from the Cathedral days was their next number, That Day At Calvary. Mark sings the lead on this one and when he came to the line that talks about the Devil throwing sin and strife into our life, Mark turned to Pat and playfully poked Pat in the shoulder with his index finger. Both laughed in good humor and finished the song. Going on to introduce the next song, which happened to feature MTQ’s handsome bass singer (LOL), Mark said that the pastor came up to him during the break and said, “If you let that guy sing a little bit more, he might get it right.” Pat’s face was priceless! Mark continued, “Sooooo, we are going to do what the pastor says!” If you guessed that I Want To Know was the song they cut Pat loose on, you were right! They were so into this song! At the beginning of the encore Pat let out a “Whoooh!” Mark and Dustin were sure enjoying themselves on this one also! Afterwards, Mark said, “Huh, that’s not bad at all!” Turning to Jim, Mark announced that a lady came up and asked if they did any Christmas music, Jim’s response? – he dropped his microphone. Mark began chuckling and said that he was going to go ahead and do this next Christmas song, because he and Dustin were the only ones who knew the words! Addressing the audience once more, Mark added, “Ya’ll just hold on for dear life!” The metronome ticked off five beats and Carol of the Bells kicked off our “Christmas segment” from MTQ. Whoa!!! During the first half of the song, Jim was looking to Dustin for the words. When they came to the part where the tenor takes it up real high, Jim sings the correct melody, but improvises on the words by singing, “I don’t know the words!” On the very last note, where they sing the bell parts, Pat stepped over right next to Mark and sand, “Dong” right in his ear! Mark couldn’t help but smile real big and say, “Well, there goes the Christmas music!” Dustin moved to hit the next track and Mark turned and looked at him and jokingly said, “If you touch that…I’ll kill you!” The minute Mark turned his back to the audience, Dustin pushed the button! Another Christmas song followed, this one featuring Mark on Merry Christmas To You. While the strings played in between verses, Jim and Dustin began waltzing together! Pat pretended to tattle-tale on them to Mark, who turned and grabbed Dustin to yank him away from dancing with Jim. Dustin smoothly turned from Jim to Mark and began dancing with Mark, who immediately gave his look of refusal and pushed him away. Towards the end of the song, while Mark was singing his “serious” part so beautifully, Pat walked up behind him and whispered in his ear softly, “Your hair is pretty.” Mark tried so hard to keep a straight face, but he couldn’t help it, and chuckled a bit. “That was about all we were going to do for Christmas music,” Mark commented, “but I guess we’re gonna do some more!” O Holy Night was the selected ballad, and Mark executed it perfectly! Very POWERFUL! Everyone felt it too, and gave the guys a standing ovation. This was the last song of the evening, but instead of ending the concert with music, Mark had everyone bow their heads while he closed with prayer.
Conclusion: In spite of the traditional setting, this traditional quartet really let loose and had some fun that night – and most importantly, let the crowd see their hearts. They weren’t afraid to have fun, or be serious, or both! Mark Trammell Quartet truly is a ministry. Thank you, guys, for an amazing evening of fun and worship! We definitely “Met the Master”…