On Friday afternoon I found myself back at the LeConte Center in the main hall waiting for another showcase to begin. On stage, chairs were set up to accommodate what would be a choir of Southern Gospel singers. Silently, I rebuked myself for forgetting my red back hymnal…again! When will I ever remember to pack it with my things when there’s a hymn sing on the schedule for an event? Maybe next time…
Anyway, this time Gerald kicked off the hymn sing with page 129, He Keeps Me Singing. The next selection was Jesus Hold My Hand (page 12!) featuring Karen Peck and New River on one of the verses. “If you’re a Baptist, you should know this song,” said Gerald of page 97, Jesus Saves. Taking a moment to point out the quartet from Brazil, Gerald asked, “Fernando, have you sang that song before? You had! Did you sing it in Portuguese?” Fernando assured him he did and Gerald shared with the crowd that they had folks from all over the world at NQC – not only was Brazil represented, but places like the Netherlands, Ireland and Canada. Page 113, Glory To His Name, was next. Before the band kicked off Gerald asked the crowd, “How many Baptists do we have?” Polite applause answered and then he asked how many Pentecostals were present and a much noisier response echoed through the hall. “The Baptists are getting nervous,” Gerald smirked, “Wonderful!” That hymn was sung with a good beat and some gusto! Kim Hopper, Lauren Talley and Karen Peck sang a line then Chris Allman, Jeff Whisnant and Jim Brady sang the next one. Blessed Assurance (page 181) and Since Jesus Came Into My Heart (page 269) followed. That last one featured a trio of tenors on the second verse, made up of Dustin Black, Riley Clark and Brian Alvey. As Arthur Rice made his way to the front to sing the next song, Gerald set up the song Arthur would sing. A variety of hymn books have been published through the years and with that, some hymns are more popular in certain books than others. But that’s not all; sometimes verses are omitted as well. This verse that Arthur was going to sing in My Hope Is Built was one of those omitted verses in the Red Back. Gerald first heard it as a teenager in 1978 in Chattanooga, Tennessee when the Kingsmen recorded their live album…that’s when he heard this verse for the first time. So we all began – and when it came time for Arthur to sing we sat and listened… “When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in Him be found, rest in His righteousness alone all blessed to stand before the throne.”
Rodney Griffin, Nick Trammell and Lauren Talley each sang a verse of Power in the Blood and then Gerald decided to change up the program a little! “I wasn’t supposed to do this right now,” he began, and went on to compliment the live band. The lady playing organ was Sandy Payton and according to Gerald, she’s one of the best organists in the country and he wanted us to hear her play! So she and the band launched into Farther Along – the solo lasted several minutes and Sandy didn’t hold anything back. When the crowd sensed the end coming on they popped out of their seats and stood applauding.
I wouldn’t want to be the artist to have to follow that! (She was so good!) But the program must go on and so Tribute Quartet sang page 345. “What do you think about that Ben?” Gerald asked. Ben Speer replied, “Oh, that’s good.”
Gerald wanted to feature the bass singers and called up Anthony Davis, Randy Byrd and Matt Fauch. Yet, he didn’t stop there! He asked how many bass singers were in the audience and had them stand. Once we went turned to page 92, Just A Little Talk With Jesus, (at least I think that’s page 92!) Gerald asked all the bass singers (both on stage and in the audience) to sing a verse. It was neat to hear the deep voices sing alone for a moment! Slowing things down a bit, Susan Whisnant began Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus. Jim Brady followed with the next verse and Austin (Susan’s son) finished up with the third verse. Afterwards, Gerald mentioned how he originally had a different person scheduled to sing that last verse when they did the Hymn Sing taping at his home church in Morristown. Before the taping started, those artists sent Gerald a text message letting him know that they wouldn’t be able to make it, so Gerald asked Austin if he would sing it instead and when he did Gerald told him, “Son, I think you have a new song!”
Legacy Five stepped up next to sing a verse of What A Friend We Have In Jesus and then the 1981 arrangement of Wonderful Grace Of Jesus followed. Wonderful Grace featured Mark Trammell, Chris Allman, Rodney Griffin and Pat Barker. The Talleys then sang the old tune Saved, Saved, Saved and the Mylon Hayes Family performed the shape note part of the program with Jesus Spoke To Me. Gerald introduced the next singer and while he was telling the crowd how special this young man was to him his voice cracked. When this young man was a kid he would go see Gerald sing wearing a little suit and carrying a hanky just like him. Who was this person? Joseph Habedank…and he sang I Love To Tell The Story. At Calvary followed with Jeff Hawes (of KPNR) taking a verse – towards the end everyone stood. Another major part of the afternoon was when Connie Hopper stepped up to sing page 164. This was five weeks after her doctor visit and the audience was on the edge of their seat to hear her story…and to hear her sing! It was a sweet moment. She talked about the verse in Luke 12 that says God takes care of the sparrows and “Fear not therefore: ye are more value than many sparrows…” By the time she began to sing tears were in her eyes and she needed help. Deborah Talley came and sang with her – folks were on their feet in no time!
“Some of you came to see great entertainment, to buy your favorite group’s new CD, or just hear good singing. But some of you came to forget what you left at home for a little while. No other music in the world has the power to change your life. Some of you need to leave your burden in Pigeon Forge,” said Gerald. After such a plea, Karen Peck sang a stunning a cappella version of Amazing Grace and then Gerald prayed. “Someday, we’re gonna get together like this and it’s never gonna end…” The closing hymn was none other than When We All Get To Heaven. (And none more fitting, in my opinion!)
Conclusion: I love the hymn sing programs! This year I’ve been privileged to be in attendance of quite a few and each time I observe something different that makes it better and better. So you may have heard me say this before but I really like the way they change up some of the hymns each time they do this concert. Of course, there are some staples that will always remain the same in the program, but a few of the hymns get changed up here and there. I like that! This showcase was perfect for NQC!