Black folding chairs sat in a half circle facing the entrance of the LeConte Center where a yellow ribbon stretched from one stone column to the next and a wooden podium stood as the main focus in the center of it all. To the left of the ribbon, a row of chairs displayed the NQC’s president, vice president and board of directors. To the right of the ribbon, another row presented the city officials of Pigeon Forge. As an onlooker, I was standing behind those black folding chairs facing the entrance, hoping to get a good view of the ribbon cutting. Stationed on each side of our half circle of chairs was a video crew, and of course everyone in between had camera or smart phone poised to snap the perfect frame…I was among them. As I waited for the ribbon cutting ceremony to begin, the intense heat from the sun made me wish I hadn’t worn a long sleeve shirt. Almost 3:30…
The ribbon cutting ceremony began with Leon Downey, the Executive Director of the Department of Tourism, giving a few words and introducing Clarke Beasley, Vice President of the National Quartet Convention. “Thank you Leon and thank you for being out here today. We really appreciate this. We started off last night with a bonus concert that was twice as big as any bonus concert we’ve ever done.” (Applause.) “Tonight our expected attendance is 10,000 and Tuesday through Saturday we’re sold out,” he went on, “so I say it’s a winner, what do you think Leon?” (More applause.)
“There are a lot of people sitting over here who represent a lot of people who are not sitting here who have put forth a lot of tireless hours in making this possible.” – Clarke Beasley
Clarke recognized the board of directors and introduced them individually, ending with his father Les Beasley, who joined him at the podium. “I do want to thank Leon, Earlene, Mayor and everybody instrumental in making this happen,” Les began. “We have enjoyed working with them and we are looking forward to working with them and solving all the problems that we may have. Go solve ‘em!”
Each one of the city officials came to the platform to congratulate NQC on their first year in Pigeon Forge and give a few words.
City Manager, Mrs. Earlene Teaster genuinely began, “Pigeon Forge was built to take care of visitors; our board of commissioners elected to build this building to take care of groups such as NQC and that’s just what we’re doing. One thing most folks don’t know about is that these folks (speaking of NQC) are very important to this building. They put their signature on the very last piece of steel that went up in this building and we were so grateful for them to come down for that event and the ribbon cutting and here they are for another great week of singing. When they opted to come to Pigeon Forge for this week we counted it a blessing and know that God truly blessed our city once again.”
Susan Whitaker, the Tennessee Tourism Commissioner, added, “Tennessee is known for its music. We are one of the global destinations for people who love music, but there’s something special about the Gospel, when you sing you do something more than just have beautiful music, you change people’s lives with the message that you bring.”
The moment we all were waiting for was upon us. The NQC board and a number of the city officials began making their way to the ribbon, but just before the podium was removed Les took the mic and said, “I come from the land of sunshine (Florida) but you have a sun here also!” LOL (It was very hot…) Leon mentioned that when the NQC came for the steel signing they sang for them and asked if they would do so again. So Gerald took the mic and led everyone in Amazing Grace, encouraging those watching to sing as well. Then everyone ducked behind the yellow strand and the golden scissors were distributed. Les Beasley and Earlene Teaster shared a giant pair of scissors in the middle and the event photographer and video crew moved closer to the center and asked them to pose while they snapped pics. Once they gave ‘em the go ahead, the scissors snapped in unison and the ribbon fell in multiple pieces. After one more group photo, everyone dispersed.
I walked past the stone columns the ribbon was fastened to moments ago and entered the LeConte Center. Inside, the walls mirrored the outside of the building with wood-covering and stone corners reaching from the floor to the ceiling. In the outer hall, product tables lined both walls with food stands on every corner. In some places, the tall ceiling had windows in the peaked roof that let in natural light, giving the area a glowing effect.
That first night I didn’t explore the building much. Watching the singing on Main Stage and visiting around the booths (that outer hall we were just talking about!) was where I spent most of Monday night.
When I walked in the auditorium Channel 8 had a gentleman broadcasting from the back, he and his cameraman patiently waiting for the music to die down so they could do their thing. On stage, the National Anthem was sung by a male quartet from the U.S. Army. They had deep voices and looked sharp in their uniforms! Karen Peck and Scott Fowler were the excited hosts for the evening. “We are making history tonight!” Scott exclaimed to Karen, “the first official night on Main Stage.” The first official group to sing on that stage was Brian Free and Assurance. BFA recently went to Memphis and recorded Elvis’ version of Peace in the Valley for BBC’s special edition on Elvis’ 6oth Anniversary. That same version, sung acapella and featuring lead singer Bill Shivers, opened their set on Main Stage. The remainder of their stage time showcased songs from their Unashamed CD, which was released earlier this year. Those songs were the upbeat Tell It Like It Was, A Little Bit Of Me And You, where Bill asked the crowd, “Has God been good to anybody in this place tonight?” and Say Amen, BFA’s latest single. “You know we have to do this one,” Brian said, and then they launched into their popular Long As I Got King Jesus.
In between artists Karen asked Scott to pray. The only problem was both Karen and Scott’s microphones were cutting in and out. So when Scott began, he took Karen’s mic in one hand, his in the other and petitioned, “Lord, bless these microphones…” LOL As humorous as that was, he did go on to say a heartfelt prayer for the event and the people. Ending with, “May You be glorified in all we do this week.”
The next artist was an up-and-coming soloist by the name of Sheri LaFontaine who sang one song with the theme His Mercies are New Every Morning. This lady had a beautiful voice and I couldn’t help but think that I could listen to more songs from her.
Keepers of the Faith were the next group to have a full set. This Samoan quartet (originally from Hawaii) kicked of their time on stage with a fast song called He Came Down To My Level and another, Following His Footsteps All the Way. The pianist they had with them began to play a solo with a very light, energetic drive. As the screens focused in on the player, I recognized him! It was Elliot Fleck, who hails from Canada. I met Elliot several years ago when we were piano students at a school of music. I was so proud to see him playing on Main Stage. I was even happier to hear the audience respond by applauding in the middle of his solo and giving a standing ovation at the end. It’s exciting times for young people in Gospel Music! After a bass feature called I Will Walk on the Water, they closed their set with O What A Savior that drew folks out of their seats and onto their feet. (A concluding note: their bass singer was not Samoan and I didn’t particularly care for the Hawaiian necklace he was wearing. This is NQC, if there is any place you dress to look your best, it is here. The necklace, which was very large, did not do anything to enhance to look of a Gospel singer or help him look more Hawaiian…not classy.)
Next on stage was the father and son duo, Wilburn and Wilburn. When these two step on stage, they bring a unique County sound with them that stands out from everyone else. One such ballad, Jesus Will, opened their short program. Following was Funeral Plans, a faster song that combines a little bit of Country and Black Gospel all in the same tune. “I’m thankful to be in my home state of Tennessee,” Jonathan began. “When I’m traveling through these mountains I think of home. I’m just a simple man that God has let me do what I do…so I do it.” This lead into Broken Man Like Me that features his son, Jordan. In between the chorus and second verse Jonathan encouraged the crowd, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re going through, God has a job for you.” Their last song was Let’s All Go Down To The River – a personal favorite of mine!
Later on in the evening The Mark Trammell Quartet took the stage with To Know He Knows Me (featuring Nick Trammell) and Wonderful Time Up There (a bass feature for Randy Byrd.) After that good old quartet song Mark said, “I make a Baptist fella’ want to do stuff only Pentecostals know how to do and Baptists shouldn’t.” Then he smiled and went on, “You’re having too much fun. We had a bunch of requests this afternoon for a song that says your walk talks, and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks…” When the sound of an acoustic guitar began the crowd sent up a cheer. They really like Your Walk Talks! Mark set up their last song by mentioning how he checked his Fox News app on his i-phone and found out that the U.S. launched their first air strike on Syria. He assured folks he didn’t say that to start a political war here, rather, he’s getting “too old to play games.” Continuing, he said, “I’m excited about the Lord’s return because I know in whom I have believed. NQC is a great place to be but I want to remind you of this reality…” Just when I thought they were going to sing The King Is Coming, they surprised me by going into It’s Almost Over, which had a profound effect upon the crowd. By the end, everyone was standing worshiping the Lord and longing for that very event to take place. A special memory from this year’s NQC.
Tired, full, excited, yet seeing the night come to a close, I slipped on my sweater and began the walk down the hall to the front of the building. It was time to call it a night. As I expected, the air outside was a little chilly. While joining the others who were bypassing the trams and heading straight to the parking lot, a staff member encouraged folks to use the transportation instead of walking long distances. This drew my attention to where a long tram (or train as they’re sometimes called) sat idling. A large “Dollywood” logo on the front momentarily reminded me of the Gospel Picnic at Silver Dollar City a few weeks ago. Beyond that, golf carts transported smaller groups of folks back and forth to the handicap section. I continued down the sidewalk to the parking lot and gazed at the LED lights on the SkyWheel flashing brilliant colors in the distance. Why wasn’t I riding a tram? Because 11 spaces from the front door sat my car. Trust me, it was 11 spaces. With a parking place that close…I counted. 🙂