A shrill wail howled outside the hotel window. Peeking between the curtains, I noticed a darkening sky. Then the announcement blared over the loudspeakers, “Seek shelter immediately.” I would’ve called the front desk, but when I checked in the guy behind the counter informed me that the hotel was changing phone systems, so the phones in the rooms’ didn’t work. The artists that were scheduled to sing at the Great Lake of the Ozarks Gospel Sing were tweeting and posting on Facebook (FB) about hiding in the theater’s restroom. Us? Well, the hotel told us to wait in the lobby and if it gets serious we’ll stand in the hall. As I sat in the lobby it dawned on me that the last Gospel Sing I was at had tornado sirens going off too! Does “I’ll Fly Away” sound familiar?
A torrential downpour followed. When the clock read 5:30 PM, the warning expired and we were free to leave and so we made our way to the Main Street Music Hall. We had contemplated staying at the hotel – safety first, right? Well, we came to the conclusion that if it was our time to “fly away,” we might as well be with the saints!
“Who is glad that the sirens aren’t going off?” asked Duane Garren, while fans settled in for the first night of the Great Lake of the Ozarks Gospel Sing. A rather eager applause answered him! Duane made a few announcements and then introduced the emcee for the weekend, Todd Foreman. I learned last year that Todd always begins each evening by reading a passage of Scripture. That night, he selected the story about the storm on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus commanding the waves, “Peace, be still.”
“This group is one of my favorites,” said Todd, getting ready to bring the first group out on stage. “I play them a lot on my radio show and there’s a reason…make welcome from Dahlonega, Georgia – Karen Peck and New River!” Matthew came out and strapped his guitar on while Jeff, Karen, Susan and Kari took their mics and began singing Ephesians 1. I was excited to see Karen’s daughter, Kari, singing with them. “The Lord has been so good!” said Karen, “He’s been so faithful, can I get an amen?” As the audience complied the next song, I Wanna Know How It Feels, began. When the following song began the audience applauded – they must have liked On the Banks of the Promised Land! While they were singing that one the house lights suddenly came up, revealing a whole line of people coming in and trying to find their seats. A tour bus had come in late… Karen briefly talked about Eccl 5:7 and how it says that it is not wise to say your better days are behind you. “Folks,” said Karen, “There’s a lot of living to do between here and heaven – but according to God’s Word, your best days are ahead.” Then she invited the audience to sing a chorus of I’ll Fly Away with them a capella before their Jazzy track began that would feature Jeff. “Are you glad to see my sister, Susan Peck Jackson?” Karen asked. Susan sang Sustaining Grace – when it came time for the last chorus Kari stepped up to complete the trio while Karen stood off to the side looking on. Karen interjected that she just had a “mom moment” and explained that Kari had filled in for her seven weeks ago when she was sick. Though Kari is shy on stage she agreed to help out when they needed her. “She did good!” Karen exclaimed, and then teased, “I think I’ll be sick for the next three years.” LOL
She went on to tell a good “tornado” story since we almost had one that afternoon! It was back in the 90’s when KPNR had a live band. Matthew was four years old and Kari and Susan’s son were only a few weeks apart – can you imagine, two babies and a four year old on the bus? Karen said that it was tough work to get the babies to sleep and when they did it was a miracle! Well, they were parked in a Walmart parking lot in Arkansas and the band was still awake and went inside to walk around. It was 3 AM and the sirens started going off. The manager of the Walmart came and knocked on the bus door and told them that they had to get off the bus and go into the store, but Karen and Susan thought, “Do we blow away in the bus or get the babies up?” Karen exclaimed to the audience, “For real! That’s how stressed we were!” LOL That day when the sirens went off in Osage Beach, Susan said she was in the shower. “I came in the building with wet hair in a towel – the best part was that no one knew who I was!” Karen added that Susan came in with everything in her bag. “I had my wedding ring, my purse, phone, my kids and my husband – I’m in good shape!” said Karen. Then she introduced the group and proudly announced that their daughte’rs name, Kari, has K-A for Karen and R-I for Ricky. “I’m so smart!” Karen interjected. Setting up the next song, “We are experiencing revival today because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever – we hope this brings back fond memories.” The song was their #1, Revival and then they went into Robe and Crown. “I don’t know about y’all,” said Jeff, “but that song pumps me up a little bit. I tell you what, there are a lot of things that happen down here…like death. My pastor passed away last year – he was my favorite person in the whole world, he had a new grandbaby, and now a year later his wife has been diagnosed with cancer. I’ve had to believe and live everything I’ve sang about. But when we get there, something is going to happen that will eclipse every pain, every death, every tornado, everything we experienced down here and that’s Jesus Christ.” This lead into his solo He Did It Anyway. Do you how when people pray that sometimes it feels like you’re listening in on a private conversation? Well, that’s what it was like to watch Jeff sing that song. You could see that the song meant something to him and it showed through every line he sang. Four Days Late followed immediately and when the crowd heard the words, “The news came to Jesus…” they applauded. It was no surprise then, that everyone was on their feet by the end of the song! While everyone was standing Karen asked the audience to sing a chorus of God is So Good with them – which we did – and then they re-capped the chorus of Four Days Late again before taking a bow and stepping off the platform.
“This next group has been a blessing in my life,” Todd began, “I remember when Scotty left the Poet Voices, he came to me very quietly and said that he and his dad were starting a new group and would love to come to the lake.” With that, he brought Triumphant Quartet on stage. Kicking off their set with Because He Loved Me, Clayton suggested some Gospel Music Aerobics (aka clapping) on Saved By Grace and then the hymn It Is Well followed. David set up his microphone stand and pulled a harmonica from his jacket – Amazing Grace was the tune he played. (Accompanied by a generous amount of thunder, of course.) Eric stepped forward and suggested we sing a little bit of that. The sound of hundreds of voices filled the theater. “That’s too good to quit,” Eric said, “let’s do the last verse.” After he quoted Ephesians 2:8-9 and then made a remark about visiting the bathroom multiple times because of the tornado sirens, he introduced the group. After the tune Forgave Me, Saved Me, Raised Me Clayton announced, “Here is a song Scotty wrote! I hope you like it.” Scotty interjected, “If you don’t like it…Dad wrote it!” LOL It was called Heaven Will Be Mine Someday and the second verse featured David.
Eric asked the crowd if anyone had been married for 50 years. Truly, a lot of hands went up and Eric said in a dry voice, “All of you.” There were a few who were married for 60 and one couple for 65 years! Then Eric said, “Listen to the Gospel in 3 ½ minutes.” I’m not sure on the title of the song, I think it was The Great Love Story. Afterwards, Eric explained how they choose the songs they record – the test is if it touches them. “This next song probably isn’t gonna’ touch anyone.” He added. White hanky’s waved back at him. It truly amazes me that no matter how they introduce this song – everyone just knows what it is! So they sang White Flag and David played Farther Along on his harmonica that modulated into When the Saints Go Marching In and Send the Light. He changed harmonicas three times during the solo! They closed their set with He is. Personally, I was ready to hear this song. Not only is it a favorite, it was the most powerful song they sang in their set. A fitting closer!
Intermission came and went, ushering in the second half with Karen Peck and New River. Before they started singing, Karen took a minute to announce that she would be in another Christian film, set to release in the fall. She was so proud to tell everyone that she had “speaking lines” in this movie, then asked if she could demonstrate them. The crowd clapped their approval. Taking a step forward, Karen looked straight ahead and in a very serious tone asked, “Are you okay?” Then they jumped into singing Mighty High, Look What the Lord Has Done and Hold Me While I Cry. Karen mentioned that they usually don’t sing this next song, but a gentleman who would retire from the armed forces after 44 years of service requested it – so she sang the Star Spangled Banner for him. KPNR ended their set with Finish Well and received a standing ovation.
Triumphant Quartet took the stage with When the Trumpet Sounds on their second set. “Do you ever feel like God is a million miles away?” Eric asked. He continued with the “footprints in the sand” story and quoted a verse from 1 Peter that said we are to cast all our cares on Him. This was followed by Clayton singing If You Had the Only Key. Scotty took a few minutes to talk about his little girl and then exposed the tragic experience a precious lady in the audience shared with him during intermission, leading into his solo Only God Knows Why. Afterwards, Eric gave an invitation and Triumphant sang their closing song – Moving Up to Gloryland.
Conclusion: Don’t get me wrong, I like to laugh – but I like the presence of the Lord more. However, I like it to come naturally – you can’t force it, ya’ know? On both sets, Karen Peck and New River came out and did a wonderful job with their songs, the stories they told and their jokes. When they finished the second half of the program with Finish Well, the Spirit was strong. Unfortunately, when Todd brought Triumphant on stage right after with a joke that wasn’t really funny (I didn’t include it in this review) it totally killed the Spirit. Triumphant tried multiple times to get it back…but He was gone. Triumphant extended their second set to around 40 minutes and the people were tired and getting restless. I personally did not approve of how Scotty talked about the sweet family that tragically lost a loved one from on stage – for those of us who are local and saw the story on the news, we know that this happened recently and that grief is still fresh. I’m not trying to be hard on Triumphant… even backstage no one was speaking of this tender subject on stage because they felt it wasn’t the right place. It also disturbed me that they could talk about that tragic, brutal murder of a young girl, give an invitation and then close out the evening with a song where David wiggles his bottom for entertainment. Given how the night started, it just wasn’t appropriate for that moment. The highlight of the evening for me was watching Kari sing with her mom on stage and Jeff singing He Did It Anyway. The sincerity and emotion he gave that ballad was moving and powerful! Not a dry eye in the house!