Being located in Missouri is quite handy when one of SGM’s largest events comes to Branson every year. Yep, I’m talking about Silver Dollar City’s Southern Gospel Picnic! Once again, the park brought in sixty artists to seven stages over the course of eleven days. I count myself blessed to have been able to be at the park this year – and not just for a few random days, but for the very first day of the Picnic!
The opening day at the Opera House…
With a Pathfinder in hand we made our way to the Opera House, the location of the first show we wanted to see. Though the schedule read, “Mark Trammell Quartet – 12:15,” the sign outside the theater read “No show today.” Most of us giggled and continued on our way. It was almost funny…after all; no one loves a practical joke more than Mark Trammell! LOL Obviously, the sign had yet to be changed from the previous festival and since most shows only began at 10 AM and it being the first day, the change was just delayed. However, it did not keep some of the fans from knocking on the theater door and letting the staff know! LOL
“Ladies and gentlemen, please make welcome the top five Gospel Quartet in America, The Mark Trammell Quartet!” the announcer blared from the speakers. Don’t Stop Running kicked off the second show for the day. Each set was 30 minutes and with the exception of their single, MTQ sang different songs each set! “That’s a brand new song featuring our lead singer, Nick Trammel,” Mark announced, “here’s another new song from our new project, listen.” This one featured Mark and was called God’s Been Faithful. The title song of their new project was next, Your Walk Talks and Mark shared the unique story of how he heard this song – on the Alaska cruise with Dr. Stanley! The strange happening occurred towards the end of the cruise when they have their big buffet on the back of the ship. Mark recalled how all the other folks were out gazing at the scenery and keeping an eye out for whales and such creatures. But not him. He was in line…for crab legs! He claimed that no one else knew what was coming, but he did, and wanted to make sure that he got some before everyone else ate ‘em. Rodney Griffin (songwriter and baritone singer for Greater Vision) came up to him and said, “We (Babbie Mason and himself) just finished a song and I want you to hear it!” Mark asked, “Now? We’re in line…” Rodney replied, “Right now!” Mark said something like, “But they’re fixing to start the buffet and if we hold up the line all these folks are gonna be mad at us!” Before any more objections were voiced Rodney began singing the chorus to Your Walk Talks in all four parts and Mark told him right then that he wanted that song! As they sang the intro to that snappy tune the audience applauded. Another up-beat song, Testimony, followed. After the CD pitch, Mark began, “I have a Veteran standing on the platform with me, Air Force, 6 years. Our bus driver spent 26 years in the Air Force and my brother retired from the Air Force so I’m kind of partial to ‘em.” Then he asked all vets to stand. “How many served in Vietnam?” He went on, “The reason I ask that is because I’m old enough to remember how you were treated when you came home and I have enough nerve to say ‘thank you’.” At that moment everyone stood and applauded. Mark went on to talk about a Veteran he stood on stage with for many years. This was his story, “He was a medic,” Mark went on, “and he said he saw young men die all day, every day and when he came home and saw how the soldiers were treated – like the worst of the worst – it broke his heart. He said he got over it, but he’ll never forget it.” To the audience Mark said, “I want to sing a song for you…” The ballad was Statue of Liberty and it wasn’t long before folks began to stand in honor of the two-fold message. As they closed out the set, a reverent spirit hung over the room and stilled our hearts.
(This year I decided to only blog one set per artist each day. Most days we saw the same group sing every one of their programs and though most artists sang different songs each time they took the stage, I wanted to select one program and focus on it. Something arranged uniquely that you may not see in an individual concert.)
The second day of the Picnic I rode a roller coaster. ‘Nuf said!
The Heritage Hall…
While the Opera House hosted each group for two days this year, the Red Gold Heritage Hall brought in two artists a day. Each time slot moved quickly, and while one group loaded out – another loaded in, there was never a dull moment!
The Whisnants were the first group I saw in Red Gold this year and the set I chose to focus on was filled with “Whisnant hits.” In fact, one by the title of King Jesus opened this particular set! Jeff went on to sing We’ll Meet Again and introduce the trio. “How many believe in prayer?” asked Susan – these words paved the way for her touching solo, I’ll Pray For You. Following, young bass player, Austin Whisnant, stepped up to the mic and sang a new song called, I’ll Make Heaven Home. (His brother, Ethan, sang a solo on a different set.) However, Ethan did join Austin and Jeff on the tune On The Road To Emmaus! A quick CD pitch and Aaron was featured on I’m Trusting The Blood. This launched into their closing song for that program, the Ready Medley.
The following day, I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite bands for the first time – Red Roots! This year was their first to be scheduled at the park and they had the morning slots in the Red Gold. As Nicole, Nika and Natalie came on stage and picked up their instruments Nicole greeted the crowd and asked how many country folk were in the audience. “Sometimes we feel like we’re outsiders because the world’s pulling us one way and God’s pulling us the exact opposite way. We’re proud to have standards, we’re proud to have morals; we think it’s a cool thing to be a Christian. Anybody else? (Here the crowd agreed by applauding and shouting out a bit!) We don’t see anything wrong with any of those things; we’re just Christian country girls…” While Nicole was talking Nika started a down-beat on her lead guitar which led into their first song, Christian Country Girl. “You want to hear some hillbilly guitar?” Nika asked with a grin. Giving the crowd a taste of their country upbringing, Double Wide Church, another up-beat tune followed. Afterwards, Natalie introduced the group and informed the crowd that they were identical red-headed triplets! Going on to explain that “Red Roots” does refer to the color of their hair, more importantly, it represents how they are “rooted in the shed blood of Christ.” Next was a modern instrumental where the girls were each featured on the various instruments they play on stage – they call it Holy Ghost Stone. Three of their radio singles followed, they were: Grow, Seven Days and Great Big Yes. What Nika called their “swamp song,” closed out their set, it was called Beautiful Storm.
“Grow where God has planted you and work with what He has given you.” – Natalie Taylor
Karen Peck and New River followed the Red Roots in the Red Gold Hall. Each set KPNR sang different songs. The particular set I’m going to talk about was one of my favorites. They kicked off with Joy In My Heart and On The Banks Of The Promised Land. When Karen went into a short verse of What A Day That Will Be the crowd quickly joined in. Karen took a few minutes to introduce everyone and talk about their next song, Revival. Robe And Crown and Everybody’s Going Through Something followed. “Everybody is going through something,” Susan explained. “If we’re going to go through something we might as well go through it with Jesus because there is no other answer.” A verse of Amazing Grace then led into their closing song, Four Days Late.
Conclusion: The Southern Gospel Picnic is always a fun event! I think the unique setting creates an atmosphere that draws people back year after year. After all, being able to see your favorite artist one hour and scream on a coaster until you can’t breathe the next isn’t your average Gospel sing! Then again, there are a lot of other neat things to do besides riding coasters, if by chance that’s not quite your “thing.” Shops abound with special gifts, the train ride is a relaxing time or you can just find a place off the beaten path to sit and enjoy being in the Ozarks. This year, I spent most of my time in the air conditioned theaters listening to some great singers!