The stage was dim and darkness flooded the rows of seats closest to the stage. Hanging above the center of the stage, one word hung illuminated in shamrock green – Memphis. I had not attended The Memphis Quartet Show in 2015 and did not have plans to go this year either, but special circumstances allowed me to make the trip across the Mississippi River to enjoy the afternoon matinee with The Second Half Quartet. One thing you can count on at this event is enjoying the unique matinees they host one or two afternoons each year. Previously, the Quartet Show has had matinees featuring “The Booth Brothers Quartet,” and “Gold City Reunion.” I have seen The Second Half Quartet several times already this year and looked forward to seeing them again. Being in Memphis, Tennessee – the place where quartets first came together in an event setting – I felt that this afternoon would be even more special…
At show time, Duane Garren came on stage, greeted the crowd and opened the afternoon matinee in prayer. After a firm, “amen,” he said, “This is the best quartet singing I’ve heard in years. Make welcome, The Second Half Quartet!” Mark Trammell already stood on stage, bass guitar in his hands as Rodney Griffin, Pat Barker and Gerald Wolfe appeared. Gerald leaned into the bass mic and asked, “Where is our tenor? Oh, he’s out smoking…no, he just wanted to make a special entrance.” LOL Everyone laughed as Chris walked on stage and all five men took their positions. A moment later, tight harmony began flowing through the speakers, singing the lyrics of the old Gospel song Far Above the Starry Sky. With only a bass guitar and piano to back up the voices, the quartet went into Standing On Holy Ground. The mic stands were set aside after a chorus, the energy built and the crowd hollered their approval and applauded. They launched into an encore and the people stood as they continued to sing this bouncy quartet song. When the last note ended, Gerald pursued those lower notes on the piano in a rollicking beat that could only be the intro to Master Builder. I know I say this every time, but I never tire of hearing Mark Trammell sing that song!
“Thank you for coming out for three or four great hours of quartet singing!” Gerald exclaimed. The crowd applauded, knowing that there wouldn’t be that much singing, but wishing there was. “All through this afternoon you will not hear one sound track,” Gerald explained. Then he went on to share how The Second Half Quartet began. “About three years ago we were in Marion, Illinois and the promoter asked us to put the two groups (Greater Vision and The Mark Trammell Quartet) together on stage after intermission to do a few songs and then dismiss. I said, ‘Oh yeah, we can do that.’ So, we walked out on stage – these guys you see right here – and we did three or four songs and the people in the audience started yelling requests. At 11:15 pm we were still singing. Well, someone videoed it and put it on YouTube and it went, what’s that word?” Pat answered, “Viral.” Gerald jumped back into his story, “Viral! That use to be something bad, but now it’s something good! Since then, promoters began asking us to do that and one night after a program Chris said, ‘We need to have a name,’ and suggested Second Half Quartet. Because…well, there’s two reasons, one, we only sing on the second half of the program and two, you can look at us and tell we are in the second half…of course, Mark’s in the fourth quarter! So, we’re just going to do a bunch of quartet songs today.”
“Cheer the Weary Traveler, an old spiritual, followed with There’s Just Something About That Name/I Will Serve Thee. Gerald introduced Chris Allman, the tenor singer of this quartet. “Chris was really excited about today,” Gerald began. “He was so excited; he brought out a new suit!” Chris interrupted him, “Actually, it isn’t new. I’ve been working on my weight, you know, and I’m proud to say that I was a 38/32 and I’m now a 38/30.” Gerald laughed, “Well, he’s a great tenor singer but not the smartest!” LOL Chris was featured on I Know A Man Who Can and received a standing ovation all over the house. To the crowds delight, they encored the last part of the song. “I’ll tell ya’,” Gerald began, “that old man can still sing.” He then looked out on the crowd and said, “I think I can see Dianne Wilkinson sitting in the back in the Baptist seats.” He went on to say that Dianne is one of the most successful songwriters in our industry. With Dianne’s presence, Gerald decided to edit their set list and include one that he thought would please her. He gave Mark instructions to start in the Key of F then “mod” up to…when Rodney asked, “Do what?” Gerald stopped, then started again, “You’ll know it from the intro.” That song was one that Dianne is known for – Boundless Love. The crowd was on their feet in no time and the quartet eagerly encored it. Afterwards, Gerald asked Dianne, “Did we mess it up? No? It was okay!” He went on to introduce Rodney Griffin, who was singing the baritone part. When the spotlight is on Rodney, a story must follow! Gerald began this segment by explaining that he was recently in an interview where he was asked all the places they’ve sung in 25 years (as Greater Vision.) He told the lady interviewing him that it would be easier to list the places they haven’t been. She agreed and Gerald said that they’ve been to every state except Vermont. The lady asked, “You’ve been to Hawaii?” He answered, “Yes.” She went on, “Did you have good crowds?” Gerald said, “Yeah, we took them with us!” Then he explained that GV has hosted six Gospel Music Cruises to Hawaii and they and the Mark Trammell Quartet plan to do another in 2017. Anyway, on one of those cruises he was told to go and see a special kind of tomato that was grown in Hawaii. He walked into a store and a lady asked, “Can I help you?” He said, “I want to see a ‘mater.’” The lady exclaimed, “You must be from Tennessee!” Gerald asked, “How did you know?” She answered, “By the way you said ‘mater.’” Later on in the day, Gerald told Rodney what happened and Rodney said, “I’m going to try that.” So he went into a store and an employee asked, “Can I help you?” Rodney answered, “I want to see a ‘mater.’” The employee said, “You must be from Kentucky!” Rodney asked, “How did you know?” The employee said, “You’re in a furniture store!” As the crowd laughed, Gerald exclaimed, “I made that up, but it’s funny to me!” He walked to the piano and they went into Rodney’s featured song, Prodigal Son. This was another tune that they encored because of the audience’s response. After the following song, When I Move, Gerald introduced Pat Barker, The Second Half Quartet’s bass singer. “I haven’t traveled with a better bass singer in 25 years,” said Gerald of Pat. Pat held up his hand in a “stop” position and said, “Now wait a minute! You haven’t traveled with a bass singer in 25 years!” Without missing a beat, Gerald said, “You’re right, so I’m not lying.” LOL Gerald went on to tell the crowd of the first time he heard Pat sing. “A good bass singer isn’t about singing low,” Gerald said, “it’s about being a good singer to begin with.” Gerald introduced Pat’s solo with a story of the first time they sang it in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and ended with, “I walked it up and it sounded just like this…” The solo was Thanks To Calvary and many in the audience shed tears over the powerful message in the lyrics. Another classic, by the name of Wedding Music, followed.
At sound check that afternoon, Gerald said they practiced a song recorded on their Second Half Quartet CD, but had not performed in front of a live audience yet. Mentally, I tried to remember any songs they had not already sang from that CD, but before I could diagnose the tune, Gerald asked, “Anybody know ‘I’m Going Up?’” When only a few people whistled or shouted, Gerald continued, “Good, most of you don’t know it so it doesn’t matter how it sounds!” LOL They sang I’m Going Up and then Gerald introduced the next song. He said it was page 88 in the “red back” hymnal and one they sang on the first Hymn Sing DVD that came out a few years ago. He first heard it in 1981 when Mark was singing with the Cathedrals – Wonderful Grace of Jesus. After they sang that hymn A‘capella, Gerald observed, “Mark, we haven’t featured you yet. We have two songs we can do, which one do you want to sing?” Mark stepped up to his mic and answered, “Neither – actually. We had a request for Sin Will Take You Farther, so let’s do that one.” They did and I rather enjoyed the impromptu request. It appeared that they were going to end the afternoon with Chris singing Going Home, but Gerald asked the crowd, “Holler out a song! We won’t do it, but holler one out anyway!” From my view in the risers, I saw one determined lady stand up in a row close to the front, hand raised and shouting her request. Gerald asked, “I Want To Know? Hmmm, Chris and Rodney haven’t done that one before.” Pat interjected, “I don’t know nothing!” Yet, they sang it! After the countless times I saw Pat sing that tune with MTQ, it was quite the experience watching The Second Half Quartet sing that one!
Conclusion: The Second Half Quartet is made up of the three members of Greater Vision (Gerald Wolfe, Rodney Griffin and Chris Allman), Mark Trammell (Mark Trammell Quartet) and Pat Barker (soloist). When these men take the stage, you will be transported back in time to when Gospel artists sang with live instruments and could jump into any classic song requested on the spot from the audience. I saw firsthand how the crowd responded. I wish I could put into words how different the applauses were and how frequent the standing ovations popped up. If The Second Half Quartet will be in your area, I highly recommend you go out and see this combination of your favorite artists – you won’t be disappointed.
For more information on The Second Half Quartet, visit their Facebook page here —> Second Half Quartet on Facebook
The Second Half Quartet will be making appearances at…
August 12 – Temple, TX
September 25 – Pigeon Forge, TN
September 29 – Pigeon Forge, TN
October 7 – Kalamazoo, MI
October 8 – Bluffton, IN
November 8 – Sevierville, TN
November 11 – Monroe, MI
November 12 – Wooster, OH
November 18 – Monett, MO
November 19 – Steelville, MO