“Turn right onto College Street towards COMMA,” came the voice from my iPhone. While driving through the quaint streets of Morganton, North Carolina, I pondered the things I knew about the COMMA. Home to the Whisnants Homecoming, I had reviewed the Whisnants “Homecoming Live” DVD that was filmed there in 2015 for the Singing News “What’s New?” column March edition. From a television screen, I watched segments from the 2015 Whisnants Homecoming and experienced it from my home; but after that, I wanted to experience it in person…
This year was the Whisnants 3rd Annual Homecoming, hosted in their hometown of Morganton, North Carolina. This two night event began Friday night with the Taylors, Ivan Parker, Karen Peck & New River, plus our host group, the Whisnants.
The evening began with Jeff and Susan Whisnant walking out on stage to the applause of the audience. From the crowd’s response, you would have thought that they were Pat Sajak and Vanna White! Greeting the audience, Susan said, “Sing this with us…God is so good.” For a few chorus’, the audience joined them and a swell of voices rose throughout the building. Jeff explained that folks had come all the way from Florida, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky and many more states to attend the Whisnants Homecoming this year. Susan continued, “If you’ll support this sing, we’ll continue to have it.” Jeff went on to introduce the weekend’s emcee, his brother, Pastor John Whisnant. John brought Karen Peck Gooch on stage, who opened the evening with the National Anthem.
The Taylors were first on stage and brought a unique twist of family harmony and a family like connection with the Whisnants to the stage. They sang tunes like Where He Leads Me, He Goes Before Me and Glory to God in the Highest. As Jonathan Taylor introduced the group, he mentioned how his brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Amanda, were expecting to deliver their daughter Emma on Tuesday. Suzanne and her husband Aaron Hise (who sings lead with the Whisnants) had their baby the day before! “For some reason they decided to stay at the hospital tonight and recuperate,” teased Jonathan. With Suzanne away at the hospital, the Taylors sang as a trio most of the evening. Leslie was introduced next, who is also expecting the birth of a daughter in May; her husband, who is also named Aaron, brought up their little boy, Isaiah, to the stage and was featured on a few songs. Aaron has a deep bass voice and was featured on Up Above My Head, making the family group a temporary quartet. Afterwards, another Statesman song, I Want to Know, followed. In the middle of the song, little Isaiah opened his arms for Uncle Jonathan to hold him. “There’s another song I want Aaron to sing,” said Jonathan and introduced Thanks to Calvary. Back to a trio, Chris, Leslie and Jonathan sang I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary; on the last chorus, all three descended the stairs and sang on the floor with the audience. Everyone rose to their feet at the end and then Jonathan went into What a Day That Will Be. All the audience sang with him…
“Back in 1970 my mom and dad was singing with some folks and one night mom said, ‘Lets go down to the basement and sing some’.” John Whisnant went on to explain, “Jeff couldn’t even read; he was only five years old. I’m thankful my mom and dad did not just instill in us a love for Gospel Music or a love of Jesus; but they instilled in us a love to serve Jesus. Sunday they’re (Whisnants) going to be singing in front of 10,000 people at the Charlotte Motor Speedway (Ted Cruz rally). I’m so proud of these guys, they work hard, the love Jesus and they’re as real as rain, I’m proud to bring to the stage my family…the Whisnants.”
As Jeff, Susan and Ethan walked out on stage the music for I Call Him Lord began. Go Out Singing followed immediately with Jeff exclaiming, “A brand new song that says one of these days I want to go out singing!” With Aaron Hise at the hospital with his wife and baby daughter, Ethan filled his part. On this particular song, Ethan had both the verses and sang them like he’s been doing it every night. Jeff went into their new radio single, Grave Mistake, and then introduced his family. When they shared how Austin married last October, Susan interjected, “I always wanted a daughter,” and brought out Austin’s wife, Jordan, who walked out on stage to say hello to the crowd. When they talked about Aaron and Suzanne’s absence, applause went up across the room as a photo of little Adaline came up on the big screen. Jeff said of Aaron, “He has the rest of his life to sing but he only has one time to be there with his firstborn child.” When they talked about how Ethan and Austin had stepped up to fill that place; another shout of approval rose from the crowd.
“You can’t fix me and I can’t fix you,” said Susan, introducing her solo, I’ll Pray For You. “Alright,” said Susan afterwards, “I want you to hear these boys sing.” Ethan went into 1+2+3 with Susan filling the third part for them and after, Jeff joined them on I Lean on You Lord. “When I don’t know what to do, I have the faith He’ll see me through…” Susan quoted, “Wow.” She went on to share a few challenges Jordan and Austin experienced in the first few weeks of their marriage. From coming home from their honeymoon sick with tonsillitis to Austin needing ten stitches in his finger, and sewing up his tendon; Susan spoke of how they saw the Lord answer their prayers and how they declared during those trials, “I’m not afraid to trust Him”. Jeff and Austin shared the line of that song, I’m Not Afraid to Trust Him, next. I’ve seen these two pretty wound up on this song, but I’m pretty sure they outdid themselves Friday night! I’ve never seen them like that! They really were into it! After, Susan began the chorus of Tis So Sweet acapella, giving the evening a sweet moment. They ended their set with New Day Dawning and the crowd on their feet!!!
“I never ever dreamed that this man would be my very best friend in all the world,” said Jeff, “Mister Ivan Parker!” Ivan stepped on stage and began with Sail On. “I love these people, I appreciate what they stand for and all the years they traveled faithfully,” said Ivan of the Whisnants. Next, he introduced his son, Josh. As he was speaking of the kind spirit it takes to enjoy the music of the Lord, Ivan shared, “Enjoy tonight – this is just a taste of what heaven will be like.” Ivan sang When Heaven Shakes the House and Don’t Hang Your Head and Cry. He impersonated Jake Hess on a few lines and came off the stage and shook hands with the folks on the front row. “Out of all the Gaither songs,” Ivan began, “This is probably my favorite.” That Gaither song was He Touched Me, which he sang next. When he asked how many young folks we had that night, a few raised their hands but EVERYBODDY LAUGHED!!! Not the response Ivan expected, no doubt. Ivan laughed with them and said, “I love North Carolina folks.” LOL! Josh played his guitar solo, Days of Elijah. In the middle of the song, Ivan slipped his phone out, turned on the flashlight and swayed it back and forth – it wasn’t long until the audience caught on a and did it too!!! Ivan’s time on stage closed with Midnight Cry and everyone on stage singing God Bless the USA with him.
Karen Peck & New River kicked off their set with I Wanna Know How it Feels and On the Banks of the Promised Land. “Are you glad to see my sister here tonight, Susan Peck Jackson?” asked Karen. Susan sang Sustaining Grace and spoke of how there have been times the mountains were in front of them, and though, so many times they wanted God to remove the mountain, sometimes He wanted them to climb on over it. Karen shared how her husband, Ricky, is now cancer free! “God is bigger than any circumstance you will ever face,” Karen said, “You say to yourself, ‘I’m gonna make it with Jesus!’” This set up their ballad, Pray Now. Then they sang happy birthday to Ricky because Friday was his birthday. While introductions were being made, Karen pointed out they had Danny Crawford playing keyboards with them that weekend. “This man really created our sound and named the group, New River,” said Karen. “These songs really defined New River.” The new guy to the group, Ricky Braddy, made it to the top 15 on season 8 of American Idol and Karen wanted us to hear him sing, so he sang Were You There? (when they crucified my Lord). That song went right into Revival and Robe and Crown. A chorus of The Old Rugged Cross acapella came next. That part of the evening ushered in such a sweet spirit. Karen began to share on a passage in John chapter six. “Jesus was talking to the multitudes and the Bible says that a lot of Jesus’ followers left and never came back. Jesus looked at the twelve disciples and said, ‘Are you going too?’ I love what Peter said, he stepped up and said, ‘But Lord, where would we go? What would we do? ‘Cause we’ve come to know You and we’ve come to believe that You are the true Messiah.’ I tell you, that keeps us going. People ask us, ‘What keeps you going?’ I’ll tell you, I’ve served Him my whole life, I was saved at eight years old and I can tell you this – I know that His Word is true, and I know everything I’ve experienced with my Lord and Savior, I know He’s true and that’s what keeps us going!” The moment was so sweet Karen asked us to just be silent for a moment, after she went into Amazing Grace. She didn’t even have to ask the audience to sing along, they joined her loud and clear! Four Days Late concluded the first half of the evening and the atmosphere that song brought to the program was electrifying! When they came to the end of the last verse, the crowd let out a loud roar and several people stood. Everyone sang a chorus of God is so Good and then each group gave a product pitch just before we broke for intermission.
The second half of the evening consisted of each group singing one song and everyone coming together on one or two numbers. The Taylors sang their arrangement of My, My, My; the Whisnants let the audience sample another new song, Worry Ends Where Faith Begins; Ivan performed his up-beat Praise Him Till the Shackles Fall Off and Karen Peck and New River finished with I Am Blessed. Together, they sang a verse and chorus of When I Get Carried Away and Karen commanded everyone’s attention with her delivery of My God Will Always Be Enough. All in all, it was an amazing evening!