Going to Pigeon Forge for the National Quartet Convention (NQC) is like going home for me. After ten years of attending, it’s still one of my favorite times of the year and I always look forward to seeing what special showcases and programs the NQC will come up with for the week. This year, Monday kicked off the convention with something they’ve never done before…
From noon till about three o’clock, NQC opened the doors to the Main Stage area so fans could go in and watch sound check – with the opportunity to get a picture with your favorite artist afterwards, by the side of the stage. It was a fun few hours watching folks like the Primitive Quartet, Perrys, Guardians and several others roll their instruments in, chat with folks while they waited their turn to check mics and tracks, then take photos. A lot of the same fans stayed for the majority of the time and helped each other take pictures. It was wonderful to see everyone helping one another and making sure everyone who wanted a photo got one with their favorite group. In fact, one gentleman was kind enough to snap a pic of me with the Primitive Quartet!
Though the daytime activities are one of my favorite parts of NQC, no doubt, the most anticipated part of the week are the evening concerts. Monday night, I slipped in and heard a few groups like the Jim Brady Trio, Perrys, Mark Trammell Quartet and the Guardians.
The Jim Brady Trio stepped on stage around 6:30 PM. After a rousing introduction by emcee Duane Garren, the trio came on with their mid-tempo song, “On My Way Home.” Next was “Keep On The Firing Line.” As the peppy music kicked off they encouraged the audience to clap along and a few seconds later, the crowd did just that. After that classic barn burner, Jim and Layke stepped off stage as Melissa took a seat at the grand piano. As she softly played, she shared how her Grandma was such a great influence during her childhood years. She encouraged everyone to be a good grandparent, parent and friend. “It’s not always doing the great things that make a difference in people’s lives,” said Melissa, “sometimes it’s the small things.” The memories and impact of her grandmother became the intro to her solo, “Ordinary Love.” Following, the group closed their set with “The Love Of God.”
The next part of the evening program was the highlight – a tribute to the Tracy Stuffle of the Perrys, who passed on to glory this past year. A video played showing fun times, from Tracy doing his “chainsaw” impersonation to serious moments as group members shared how Tracy always encouraged them to do their best. While that video played for the crowd, the group, plus all the former members, stepped on the stage and watched along. Right away, there was a special presence in the room. They sang songs like “I Rest My Case” and “I’ll Find You Again,” all meaningful songs that pointed to the legacy Tracy left behind and the glory he must be experiencing in heaven. But the most precious part, was when Clarke Beasley came on stage and explained what was about to happen next. This year, the NQC decided to add a segment to the evening called, “Heroes of the Faith.” Its purpose was to honor those who made an exceptional impact on their fans and peers. Clarke turned to Libbi and said, “When we decided to do this, the first person we thought of was you.” I guarantee you, there was not a dry eye in the house as the next few minutes honored Libbi! As part of the segment, NQC presented Libbi with a command performance of “More Than Wonderful” by Kim Hopper and Chris Allman. It was Libbi’s favorite song and a moving part of the evening.
How do you follow a moment like that? With two qualities – experience and class. And that’s exactly what the Mark Trammell Quartet did when they stepped on stage to fill the next time slot. Their opening song was “Heaven,” a soothing ballad that honored the lingering atmosphere in the room. Following, came two upbeat tunes, “Jesus Is Coming Soon” and “Wonderful Time Up There.” But it was their closing ballad that made MTQ’s set another highlight of the evening…and it was none other than, “Statue of Liberty.” Mark introduced this moving ballad by saying that it was requested by a Vietnam Veteran he met earlier in the day. To the crowd, Mark shared his memories of how the American soldiers were treated when they came home from Vietnam and that he never felt such treatment was right when those men put their lives on the line for our freedom. “To that gentleman, and to all who served during that time,” said Mark, “I want to say ‘welcome home.’ This song is for you…” At that precise moment, the music played and the crowd was swept into the lyrics of this patriotic, yet, deeply spiritual song. If you were standing near the front of the stage, as I happened to be at the time, you may have noticed two men on the second and third row, hands raised, eyes closed and heads tilted upwards. One wore a Vietnam ballcap and the other a Navy cap. If you happened to notice, it was one of those moments you would never forget.
During the evening, I was in and out of the concert hall. The next group I darted in to see was the Guardians, who were on stage around 9:30 PM. They kicked off their set with “Packing Up,” a fun tune that’s always a favorite of mine. The remaining songs from the Guardians set came from their new CD, “Ready For Revival.” The first of these, was Pat Barker’s signature song, “How Big Is God.” At first, I just thought the arrangement would be similar to the one Pat sang with the Dixie Echoes and Mark Trammell Quartet, but little did I realize that this was no ordinary medley. Not only did the arrangement include snippets from “How Great Thou Art,” it also broke into the popular praise song, “How Great Is Our God.” All I have to say is that John Darin Rowsey outdid himself on this arrangement – a great medley that takes a song Pat has been known for, and makes it distinctly, “The Guardians.” Next, John Darin Rowsey introduced a song he wrote with Karen Peck Gooch called, “Uncommon Praise.” Not only did Karen help write the song with John Darin, the Guardians brought Karen up on stage to sing the second verse with them. An unexpected, yet meaningful addition to their program! The song that closed their set was titled, “God Fights On My Side.” This tune was upbeat with an addicting lyric that plays off of Psalm 23 in the most unique way. In fact, I’m sure the Monday night crowd enjoyed it as well…’cause the Guardians encored it two times!
The last year or so, NQC has incorporated a segment called “The Power Hour,” or, as it was this year, “Power Half Hour.” This half hour featured up and coming artists. Monday night, I stayed to see the Jay Stone Singers. Each group sang one song, and the Jay Stone Singers sang their radio single, “Just Receive It.” It was worth the stay!
Conclusion: As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, NQC is one of my favorites and I’m always excited to get there and enjoy the event. This year, I really liked how they opened up the Main Stage area for sound check and let folks in to take photos with the artists. It gave Monday afternoon a relaxed feel and I enjoyed that atmosphere. At the same time, the evening concert was outstanding as well. I’ll admit, I wasn’t even in to see half of the artists on Main Stage, but the ones I did see made Monday a memorable night.