A few weeks ago, Southern Gospel Music fans learned that tenor Blake Buffin was leaving the Mark Trammell Quartet to return to his home state of Ohio. Those attending the Mark Trammell Quartet Homecoming on July 26th – 28th in Anniston, Alabama would be the ones to see him in concert for the very last time. If you’ve been following my blog for many years, you know that the MTQ Homecoming has been a staple for me since 2011, and this year, the whole weekend had a bittersweet atmosphere with Blake’s departure ahead.
Early Friday evening, cars rolled into the parking lot of Hill Crest Baptist Church and umbrellas popped up as folks stood at the church entrance waiting to be the first to set foot inside the doors. The magic hour was six o’clock, when Jay Parrack (music minister at Hill Crest) jangled a set of keys and opened the glass doors. What were people so eager to hear? Well, Friday evening featured MTQ and special guests the Whisnants, who have been a long time favorite at Homecoming weekend.
The concert began at seven o’clock with Jay Parrack (the weekend’s emcee) on stage welcoming the crowd to Hill Crest. Before the first artist appeared, Jay invited Hill Crest’s pastor, Stephen Anthony, on stage to open the night in prayer. After asking God’s blessing on the weekend, Jay brought the Whisnants to the platform. Jeff, Susan, Aaron and Austin opened their set with “We Are So Blessed,” a worshipful ballad that encourages the listen to think on all the blessings God has given to His children. “King Jesus Is Coming” and Jeff’s solo, “Grave Mistake,” followed. After those two numbers, Jeff took a moment to say hello to the crowd and thank MTQ for inviting the Whisnants to their Homecoming. “We’re here to life up the name of Jesus,” said Jeff. “The Scripture is clear, that if we will lift Him up, He will draw all men unto Himself and that’s what we want to do tonight, lift Him up.” Next, Jeff introduced the group and then their track to “He’s Never Changed” kicked off. Right now, that’s my favorite Whisnant song and I enjoyed seeing that tune live. Susan’s solo, “I’ll Trust The Potter’s Hand,” followed and went right into a soothing acapella chorus of “God Is So Good.” At this time in the program, it was time to introduce the youngest Whisnant, Ethan, and feature the Whisnant men on a few tunes. The first featured Ethan and was called “1+2+3” and the second number, “I’ll Lean On You Lord,” featured Austin. “Did you enjoy Austin and Ethan?” asked Susan as the music for the next track began. That song was none other than, “Faithful,” a ballad that Aaron sings with a powerful message. Susan continued by telling the story of how her mom was almost diagnosed with cancer several years ago. Though it’s not popular to do two ballads back to back, that night, when the Whisnants went into “All Is Well,” and it was just what the crowd needed. Before the last note was sung, you could feel the presence of God in the room in a strong way.
Jay came back on stage to bring on MTQ, and like he does every year, he asked the crowd to stand to their feet to welcome the weekend’s host group. The crowd happily complied and cheered as the Mark Trammell Quartet stepped on stage and sang, “Heaven.” The quartet went on to sing “When We All Get Together With The Lord,” “He Hideth My Soul,” “Led Out Of Bondage” and “I Am His And He Is Mine” before Mark greeted the crowd. When Mark did, he introduced the group by starting with Blake. Mark recalled one time when they were doing a concert and a lady came up to him and said, “Can I ask you a strange question?” To the crowd, Mar said, “I didn’t know it was gonna actually be a strange question!” Continuing, he said, “But she asked if that was his real hair color and I told her, ‘Honey, only God knows the number on that!’” Introductions ended with Mark asking Trevor to play a solo for the crowd – his selection was “The Redeemed Medley.” Up next was a song that Rodney Griffin wrote and Mark shared the story behind how it was written. Mark and Rodney have a relationship were Mark will sometimes text Rodney nuggets he finds in his personal study. Well, one day Mark texted Rodney three words…go ask Moses. Expecting to hear back from Rodney with a quirky remark like, “You go ask, you’ll see him before I do!” or something similar, it surprised Mark when he didn’t hear back from Rodney for three days. But when he did, it was with an email with this song… “Go Ask Moses.” After MTQ sang Rodney’s song, they went into “God Has Provided Himself A Lamb” and then Mark explained that he promised to do this next song. “Listen to this great story,” Mark said. The music began and MTQ concluded the first half of Friday night with “Too Much To Gain To Lose.” What a moment!
Before intermission, Jay came and prayed over the offering and Trevor played “Mansion Over The Hilltop” while the plates were being passed. Everyone was given a 20 minute intermission before the last part of the evening would begin.
When everyone returned to their seats, the Whisnants came back on stage with two great songs, “I’m Gonna Live Forever” and “The Ground Is Level At Calvary.” Similarly, MTQ also sang two songs, “Meet Me Over On The Other Side” and “It’s Almost Over” before both groups sang a few songs together. When the Whisnants returned to the stage to sing with MTQ, neither I nor the crowd expected a little Christmas in July, but that’s what happened! Mark explained, “We do a Christmas tour with the Whisnants at the end of the year and we have not rehearsed any of these songs…but…” and then he let out a mischievous chuckle. Their first Christmas tune was “Unspeakable Joy” and then Mark went on to introduce their next song. He said, “There is a reason Jesus is our Savior – He earned that right on Calvary’s cross.” After a pause, he added, “You didn’t hear me…” then repeated that phrase again. “This is the most powerful song I’ve heard in years,” Mark added, and then Susan stepped forward and sang “That’s Why We Adore Him.”
Conclusion: Confession time… I did actually miss the MTQ Homecoming last year because I went on a missions trip to Ecuador at the end of July and beginning of August. My only time to miss this event since we started attending in 2011! Needless to say, I was thrilled to be back at Hill Crest this year for the weekend. As always, it did not disappoint. The Whisnants and MTQ are two groups that work so well together, you’re always in store for a great night when they’re both on the program! If there was one thing that stood out on Friday night it was the ballads. From “All Is Well” to “Too Much To Gain To Lose” and “That’s Why We Adore Him,” the ballads ministered in a way that only heaven will be able to tell. A great, great night!