The sun was past its zenith, the tide was out and the waves reached out to touch our feet as they sank in the sand while we walked along the shore. To the pier and back; that’s as far as we would go. Stretched out on beach towels and chairs were people trying to soak up the sun. Kids built sand castles, others were in the desperate pursuit of the perfect shell and a few couples were walking their dogs. Me? I kept my gaze fixed on the blue water that stretched as far as the eye could see. Was I afraid it would capture me in its blue clasp and drag me out to sea? No, actually, I was rather taken with it. I’ve only been near the ocean a few times in my life and though the temptation to keep my eyes on the sand to seek out a perfectly formed treasure was strong, I simply couldn’t keep from looking at the Atlantic Ocean. Powerful. Beautiful. Grand. What else would one want to do in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina other than be near this magnificent deep that separates two continents?
You would want to go to a Gospel Sing of course!
So after our little stroll we changed out of our beach wear and put on our dress clothes and drove to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center for Singing in the Sun’s very first Launch Party. Singing in the Sun is an annual event hosted by Abraham Productions in April that begins on Tuesday and goes through Saturday. This year was my second time to attend and when I ordered tickets I noticed that they added a Monday night concert called the “Launch Party” that would feature all the groups represented on the Abraham board. The seating was limited to just a few hundred. Who could resist? Definitely not me!
The Convention Center was a buzz of activity when I arrived. (The Launch Party was held in the portion of the building where the exhibit hall was…) Greg Cook, the event’s emcee, had the audience singing hymns just before it was time to begin; and so it was with strains of Victory in Jesus that I walked in and found a seat. More like, tried to find a seat! Though we arrived early, my sister and I spent some time chatting with friends so when we walked in, it was like trying to find the only two empty seats that were left. The concert was completely sold out! Yet, God is good and while we were looking for a place to sit a gentleman waved us over – there were two empty seats by him.
Now it was time to take in what I observed as we walked in. Behind the rows of empty chairs on stage stood a live band made up of the sons from many popular artists. From left to right, Josh Parker (Ivan Parker’s son) played the lead guitar, Matthew Gooch (whom fans will recognize as Karen Peck Gooch’s son) accompanied on acoustic guitar, Austin Whisnant of the Whisnants plucked away on the bass, Stone Carter of the Jay Stone Singers sat behind the drums and the Wilmington Celebration Choir Director, Joey, played keyboards. There’s nothing like a live band and everyone knows that they’re pretty rare these days in this industry, so I’m sure you can imagine the wide grin on Ray Flynn’s face when he walked up on stage and asked, “Everyone like the live band?” The applause echoing through the building agreed. Ray, who is the President of Abraham Productions, took a few moments and explained how this concert was going to be something different from the other evenings they had planned. “Each night will have its own personality,” Ray said, but the Launch Party would the night we’d get to spend quality time with these artists. Yet, even though we were all excited for the concert to begin, Ray asked everyone to stand while he opened the night in prayer. Afterwards, while we were still standing, Greg brought up all the artists and announced each one as they ascended the platform and took a seat in one of the rows.
The first group to sing on the program was The Whisnants. When they began singing the soothing words, “We are so blessed…” a sweet presence filled the room. “If you know this old song, sing it with us!” Jeff exclaimed for Gloryland Way. Right away, the artists on stage clapped along and began standing. Well, it didn’t take until Aaron finished singing his verse that the audience was standing too! “How many are looking forward to having a good time at Singing in the Sun?” asked Susan. She went on to introduce her solo, and then sang I’ll Trust the Potters Hand. Jeff was the next one to step up and say a word (keep in mind that this was the day after Easter!) He talked about watching Dr. Charles Stanley preach and heard Stanley say something which he quoted, “There are many religions who boast about men who’ve died but Christianity is the only religion who can boast of a Man who is alive!” A cheer rose up from the crowd and Jeff began singing He’s Living Today. This one also received a standing ovation, but I must also mention that it was fun watching the band on this song. Their expressions during certain lines were priceless. The Whisnants had used that song to close their set and just as they were ready to step back Ray encouraged them to encore it…and they did!
“We can live in a world that feels like it’s totally defeated,” Ray exclaimed, “but we have a Savior who has defeated the grave and everything that stands in our way!” Then he turned to look at Claude Hopper and said, “We are going to ask all of you to stand because this next man likes standing ovations and we want you to welcome him to the stage Clau…” Claude’s name was cut off from the introduction – Ray was simply laughing too hard! Either way, Claude Hopper had a standing ovation while he came up to talk the audience. He waved Ivan Parker over with a cruise pamphlet, so I just assumed that he would give an advertisement, but then he started telling jokes and one joke lead to another and another. He must have talked for twenty minutes until Ivan took a mic and said, “Folks, we’re going on a cruise!” LOL
Poor Ivan finally got to sing! He kicked off his portion of the evening with 24 Hours a Day. “Folks, welcome to Singing in the Sun! We have been talking about this for a whole year,” he said, greeting the crowd, “Are you thankful for some sunshine?” He went on to say, “I believe that God has already shown up in Myrtle Beach and I believe He’s going to keep showing up throughout the week!” He introduced his next song by saying that someone requested for him to sing a Jake Hess song, and this one was his favorite – I Met the Master. “Let me do one more song,” he said. That song was When I Get Carried Away and everyone popped up from their seats for this one! A little way through, Lauren Talley Alvey joined him singing the last few choruses.
Before Ivan set down his mic, he introduced the next group, “We are glad to have the Talleys with us in Myrtle Beach!” Roger, Debra and Lauren opened with what sounded like an older song, Isn’t the Love of Jesus Wonderful? “How’s everybody doing tonight?” Lauren asked, after a pause she added, “I thought you’d be more excited than that!” Then she had them try again and I’m sure she was happy with that response! She went on to tell about a new song of theirs that means a lot to them because the message talks about those who’ve taken care of family with long term illness. She also shared with the audience that they’re involved with a special ministry called The Veranda and took a minute to tell what the Veranda does. Then she dedicated their next song to “anyone who has ever cared for a loved one.” That sang was Hidden Heroes. Their new version of an older classic, When He Calls I’ll Fly Away, closed their set. “Have you enjoyed these guys playing tonight?” asked Roger, “give them a hand!”
Speaking of the band, Ray came up and explained that many folks were asking who the band members were, so he asked Karen Peck to do the honor of introducing the band. After she did so, Claude was back at the mic and ready to tell some more jokes! Although this time, he met his match with Karen, who kept asking him questions and making funny comments that threw him off. They had the whole audience rolling in laughter! Exasperated, Claude asked Karen, “Would you like to tell one?” Karen replied, “No, I want to sing some…can we do a duet? Let’s do a duet!” To which Jeff Whisnant jumped up from his seat and said, “Do you want to hear some singing from Karen Peck?” LOL
As Karen Peck and New River gathered on stage Karen shared with the audience that her daughter, Kari, was filling in for her sister Susan because Susan’s son was having his first prom this weekend and she wanted to be home for that. KPNR kicked off with Revival and Robe and Crown. The people were on their feet in no time! They really enjoyed that tune! “We’re gonna’ do a song and we found out last week it will be #1 next month.” Said Jeff. He briefly told how his pastor (who passed away last spring) finished well. I smiled when he quoted Ecclesiastes 7:10 just like Karen does every time I see them in concert. Their closing song was Finish Well. (Yes, everyone gave a standing ovation to this one too!)
The Hoppers were the last to perform and they came out with Yahweh and Yes I Am. Interestingly enough, Aaron Hise of the Whisnants sang the verse of that last one, joining the family on the chorus as well as Dean stepped aside. Well, either folks like Aaron singing with The Hoppers or they really liked that song because they were up on their feet, applauding at the end! Connie took a few moments and talked about their recent trip to the Holy Land and how the time there really impacted her. A brilliant introduction to their final song, Something’s Happening. Once again, Dean sat out on his solo verse and this time Jeff Whisnant took his place. He nailed it too! Another standing ovation – this one closed the first half of the evening.
There was a brief intermission and then the second half began where all the artists gathered on stage and sang the good old classic gospel songs together. Some of these were The Lighthouse, Beulah Land, I’ll Fly Away and few more. All in all, the Launch Party was a true success! Though each artist sang a brief set, I think that was a positive thing that kept the evening moving along. By the way the crowd responded to each artist with standing ovations and applause I know they enjoyed the evening immensely and so did I. Though, I wouldn’t be giving Mr. Hopper a mic anytime soon… 😉