A week down the road we found ourselves cruising down the curvy roads of Ava, Ohio in search of the Ava United Methodist Church. This would be our third concert to attend while on vacation and we were soaking it up! Ava was a small town with big character. For the first time ever, we parked next to the post office which was across the street from the church, because the parking lot was full!
Quickly crossing the two lane road to enter the church, I paused for a moment to take a picture of the church sign that said, “In concert Mark Trammell Quartet – Thursday May 31 7PM – Southern Gospel.” Without thinking much of it, I made my way up the sidewalk. A lady came rushing up to me and said, “Excuse me ma’am, but I saw you taking a picture of our sign and I just wanted you to know that we do know how to spell Mark Trammell, but we ran out of letters.” I thought to myself, “Did I miss something?” Indeed I did! She went on to explain, “When we put up our sign we didn’t have enough “m’s” and “l’s” to spell “Trammell” twice – so on this side “Trammel” is missing an “l” and on the other side it’s missing a “m.” (Tramell) I just wanted to let you know that we do know how to spell!” LOL Honestly, I didn’t even notice, but once she pointed it out, I thought it was a cute story to share with all my readers!
Inside, the church was packed. So much so, that the only place I found to sit was on the very front row on the far right. Very soon, brown folding chairs began lining the aisles down the sides and center – making the narrow path down the middle of the church a one way street. From what I heard, this little establishment has SGM quite frequently, and by the evidence that was before me, it goes over very, very well! Darla and John Wheeler are the promoters who have been bringing Southern Gospel to the area of Ava for many years. As Darla spoke about their ministry and how it has grown, she asked, “How many are here for the first time?” I giggled when Mark Trammell raised his hand too! Darla opened for MTQ with a few songs, the first of which was a ballad, He Will Speak Sweet Peace To Me. “This next song is a medley of old hymns,” she said, “don’t be afraid to sing along.” Once that medley came to a close, another classic followed, I Will Meet You In The Morning. As tradition at this Gospel Sing would have it, on the last chorus, everyone was to shake hands with the person sitting next to them. Darla thanked everyone for coming and had one more request from the audience before she handed the stage over to MTQ – they keep a scrapbook and wanted a picture for it! So, she pulled out a camera and from stage and took a picture of the audience on each side of the church. At one point she called out, “Peggy! I can’t see you!” Peggy’s reply? “That’s OK!”
“If you love the Lord tonight, say amen!” Mark instructed the crowd while strapping on his bass guitar. He must not have thought the response was very good, for he then asked, “How many Ohio state fans do we have here tonight, raise your hand.” Many went up. Mark then shared with the audience that if you could raise your hand for a sports team, you can say amen for the Lord, and asked again, “If you love the Lord tonight, say amen!” A much fuller span of voices was heard the second time around. Without further ado they struck a note and calmly began their first song, Gentle Shepherd. Before the guys could start singing the next song, the crowd began clapping rambunctiously to the intro created by piano and bass. (And when I say clap, it was not the kind that lasts through the first chorus, then dies – this crowd kept going through the entire song and encore!) This one was encored, and encouraged by shouts and hollers. As the encore came to a close Dustin desperately tried to begin another, but the “handsome Pat Barker” slapped his keys into silence. Mark glanced over his shoulder at their pianist and lead singer and said, “I agree that it was good…and I like steak, but I don’t eat it every day.” Turning then to the crowd, he said, “What a joy it is to be where we be this are.” LOL Telling of their 12 hour drive from Alabama the previous night, he went into introducing each of the guys and then onto the next song, How Big Is God? This ballad, along with the following quartet song, Old Convention Song featured their fine bass singer, Pat Barker. Who, BTW, had on the classiest double breasted suit that has ever graced the stage in SGM. LOL (There you go Pat! How did I do this time?) Anyway, on Convention Song where there is a slight pause in the music before Pat goes into the second verse, he made that pause extra-long, making Dustin wait longer – and smile bigger – before he could play on. “Everywhere we go people want to hear this song,” Mark announced by way of introduction, “to be real honest with you tonight, if we don’t ever sing this song again…it would be okay with me, and if we do…it would be too soon. But ya’ll like to hear it, so hear it is, the Glory Road.” Eric was featured on this classic which shows off his amazing tenor vocals. When he hit that first high note Mark stopped the music and said, “I don’t know what that was, but it was cute, so do it again.” They performed that part again and as everyone applauded Mark paused again and said, “All but one liked it – do it again.” So they did it again and even a greater applause sounded, urging the guys on to a stellar ending. Echoes From The Burning Bush followed, and then a sweet song called Wedding Music. Half way through, Dustin stepped away from his keyboard and joined the rest of the guys center stage and Mark set his bass guitar aside. Then it was time to hear a solo from Dustin on an up-beat song titled Testimony. This one also had the crowd clapping their hands together. A ballad with a thoughtful message followed… “How long has it been, since you talked with the Lord? – And told Him, your heart’s hidden secrets?” As they harmonized so purely on this hymn, Mark’s closing words still ring in my ears, “I love that old song, that’s one of the oldest songs we sing. I believe our world would be a lot better place if we’d do that – let Him have what we think we can fix.” On a lighter side, he said, “Here is another song that I used to sing with those two old men from Akron.” It was none other than Boundless Love!…and they sang a boundless encore too!!!! Right in the middle of their encore they posed for a lady taking a picture in the back. Nothing but a standing ovation would do – and that’s what they received! From the far back, Pastor Jimmy exclaimed, “Don’t you just love old people?” Without missing a beat Pat replied, “I do. I stand next to one every night.” Mark turned to look at Pat and asked, “You just turned 39 for the last time, didn’t you?” Pat answered, “Yes.” Mark went on, “And 40 will be your next one? If you want to make it that far you might want to keep that mic away from your mouth when you talk.” LOL
After sharing how he watched Eric grow up and is now singing with a second generation tenor, Mark took a moment and “preached” a little: telling us what He tells the men in the quartet every now and then. Here’s what he had to say…
“We are in a warfare – we have to keep our eyes open and beware of what comes into our homes, personal lives, ministry and business. You just have to be careful. In the end times the Bible says that the things that look real good on the outside really aren’t that good on the inside. All that said, do you know that God is not scared at all? He’s not one bit worried about what’s happening in the Middle East. He’s not concerned about the election, and he will still be God after November. He’s a pretty amazing God, isn’t He? A man asked me once, ‘How can a loving God doom a man to hell?’ I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘If I’m reading the Scripture correctly, God doesn’t send anyone to hell, man chooses what quarter to go to.”
Mark sang a powerful ballad about the end times titled Its Almost Over, and then the offering plates were passed. During the offering Dustin was asked to play a solo, which he was happy to do. Since there was no intermission, the guys came back on stage, but Mark told Dustin, “Play something else. They liked that as much as anything we’ve done, so play something else.” Wait Til’ You See Me In My New Home was the next piano arrangement of the night. (Nice tremolos Dustin!) When he was finished, someone in the crowd held up a sign that said “10” on it (like he was being judged at the Olympics or something. LOL) Before they actually began singing again Mark gave the CD pitch. When telling about the Singing At Sea cruise, Mark pretended like he couldn’t see the writing, so he dropped the brochure on the floor and read it standing upright! (That sure caused some giggling in the audience!)
The final set began with Leave Your Sorrows, and went into How Much Mercy I Need and One Drop. Then the humor began. Mark walked over to Dustin’s keyboard and said to the crowd, “These guys don’t know why I am over here because I don’t play the piano.” Turning his attention back to the guys he continued, “I want to do this…” Immediately, Pat shook his head no. LOL “Usually we like to do things off the cuff,” Mark explained, “and the guys like that because it’s usually off this cuff (here he points to the sleeve on his suit jacket), and they try to do a song they think I don’t know…and I let them sing it. But this time it’s my turn.” MTQ has been in the studio recording a new project, and Mark wanted to do a song off of it for us that night. Pat, who thought he’d pull one over on Mark, added, “But we don’t have a track.” Mark explained to Pat that the tracks were still in Nashville, and they were at “where ever this is Ohio,” but he had something else in mind…accappella. So, they sang a beautiful rendition of Guide Oh Thou Great Jehovah. The crowd loved it, so much so that Mark decided a second and third verse was necessary. The third verse was really neat! They began all singing the same note, then flipped to harmony and then back to “unison” for the end – very cool sound! Mark asked the crowd to clap along to the next song, I’m Standing On The Solid Rock. This was the final song to the evening and went out with a standing ovation! Mark prayed and then dismissed us.
Conclusion: It isn’t every day that I get to attend a concert in Ohio, and MTQ, Darla, John and Pastor Jimmy Rogers made this one memorable. The guys were great and the people there were so nice and friendly. If you live in this area, watch for the upcoming concerts – they have quite a line up scheduled!
“The greatest single thing that we search for everyday in life is peace – you will find it when you listen to God” – Mark