From the beautiful day before – when we sailed off into Table Rock Lake with highs in the sixties – we experienced frigid weather in Arkansas. It was so cold that you could set Egg Nog outside and it wouldn’t spoil. But who would do that, right? Actually, MTQ would!
In early November, MTQ and the Whisnants hosted an online Launch Party for their project, Home For Christmas. At the end of the party, the Whisnants issued a challenge to MTQ regarding Egg Nog. The Official Home For Christmas Egg Nog Challenge had begun. In this challenge, the Whisnants drank Egg Nog (which they deem nasty stuff) and dared MTQ to do the same. Leading up to the tour, it seemed that the Egg Nog Challenge was all but forgotten…until the Whisnants enlisted some help and accomplished their purposes.
Therefore, as folks walked in to the concert that evening; they kept bringing MTQ shiny, sparkly bags and saying that they were a present from the Whisnants. It was Egg Nog. Eight half gallons of it! They became so overrun with the nasty stuff that they set it outside the door to keep cool while they sang! LOL
“Good evening.” Pastor Wade greeted, “It’s good to see everyone here on this balmy December night…” LOL! The crowd chuckled as they sat next to their fur coats. Wade thanked all the ones who helped promote and sponsor the concert. “Again,” Wade went on, “this is a very rare night to have two of the best Gospel groups together in one night. We have the Mark Trammell Quartet,” (and here everyone applauded,) “and then we have, from all the way from North Carolina, the Whisnant family.” (More applause.) He called up a pastor from another Baptist Church to come open in prayer and then the night began.
All seven members filed on stage and began singing O Come All Ye Faithful…the beginning of the Faithful Medley. When the second verse came around, Susan, Mark and Jeff harmonized together as a trio. Joy Unspeakable followed; this one featured Jeff on the first verse and Mark on the second. I couldn’t help but notice the placement of everyone on stage – Susan stood in the center and then a pattern formed on both sides of two Trammell members, two Whisnant members and the remaining two Trammells. (Oh, how I love it when folks pay attention to details!)
“It is an honor for the Mark Trammell Quartet and Whisnants to be here,” Jeff Whisnant began. “Folks, we are here to do one thing tonight, to lift up Jesus Christ. Let’s enjoy the Lord tonight and welcome our good friends the Mark Trammell Quartet.” (Applause.) Mark stepped forward, “Since I am the oldest one in the crowd, I get the executive position to change my mind if I want to.” He went on to say that since it was the Whisnants first time to the church, he wanted the audience to hear them sing first. “Make welcome the Whisnants…” Mark finished. After a few surprised looks from the Whisnants they went on to begin their song Without Christ There’s No Christmas. I love how that song features the voices of Susan, Jeff and Aaron on different lines of the verses. Fun! Speaking of fun, you can tell that everyone else on stage is enjoying themselves when the group that’s supposed to be sitting and listening is singing the words too! “That’s a happy song! I like that!” Jeff exclaimed. Then he introduced his family. When he came to Aaron, the only one in the group who does not carry the name Whisnant, Jeff teased him about his northern upbringing. “We had to teach him how to drink sweet tea,” Jeff began, bragging on the ways of the south, “and we had to teach him how to say some southern words like ain’t and fixin’ to.” LOL When the introductions were finished it was time to feature the youngest Whisnant members. Susan called Austin away from his bass guitar to sing a song called Even Then. (On the Whisnants Christmas CD, Jesus Is Born Today, Susan originally had the feature on this ballad. Last year, Austin started singing it and the family declared it his new solo!) “Did you enjoy Austin?” asked Susan. “I love being a mommy and they’ve been on the road all their lives.” Then she brought Ethan up to sing also. “It’s one of my favorite Christmas songs,” Ethan began, “because the message is so different and unique than any Christmas song I’ve ever heard. Most Christmas songs you hear talk more about Mary and Jesus, but I like this one because it shows Joseph’s side of the story.” As he went on to sing Strange Way to Save the World, all the faces behind gazed at him with thoughtful expressions while they listened to those unique lyrics.
Susan introduced their final song, “Can you imagine when the angel appeared to Mary and said, ‘Mary, you’re going to have a baby; and you’re going to name him Jesus.’ I love the name of Jesus, but I love this song right here, it says I call Him Lord.” The Whisnants sang that old Dottie Rambo song, I Call Him Lord, and then MTQ came and sang.
“How ‘bout it for the Mark Trammell Quartet!” Susan exclaimed, and then MTQ stood up and kicked off with Oh Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. Though the Whisnants had taken their seats on the black stools, Austin remained playing bass on all of MTQ’s songs. “If you know this song sing it with us!” Mark cried out in the middle of the tune. “That is one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs,” he added. “I had the privilege of being with the Cathedral Quartet for almost eleven years, and in those eleven years we did a Christmas project that people still play today. This particular song, this particular arrangement was done by our arranger Lari Goss back in the early 80’s. I love this song and the arrangement – music wise you are going to hear the Budapest National Orchestra and we’re gonna try and sing with them. You all know that I’m from Arkansas – a redneck singing with the Budapest National Orchestra might not make it too well, but we’re gonna find out!” They launched into God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Following that were a few of their Gospel selections, including Don’t Stop Running, Your Walk Talks and the King is Coming. When Mark introduced the group and came to Dustin, he usually says that Dustin is from Michigan and everyone cheers. (The crowd did so the previous night on the Branson Belle.) Instead, this crowd went, “Whoa…” Before MTQ sang The King is Coming Mark told of the time when he first heard it at the Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock. “…and I heard this song for the first time,” said Mark, “and I’ve never been the same.” When they came to the end of The King is Coming, the Whisnants stood up and sang with them. It wasn’t long before everyone else in the church was standing too. The first half of the evening ended with both groups singing the Whisnants song, New Day Dawning.
While the offering plates were passed, Wade asked Ryler to play the piano and if Austin would play bass with him. They took a moment to exchange info on the hymn and what key it was in, and then they went into How Great Thou Art. (I have to interject here, how talented both young men had to be to play together on the spot with no practice before hand…and I can testify that they did not practice before the concert started! True musicians!)
After the offering they went into the second set. Austin switched to his acoustic guitar and Susan announced that they needed 12 volunteers from the crowd. Folks really weren’t jumping at the opportunity and Susan warned, “C’mon, or we’ll start picking folks!” There was one gentleman sitting towards the center isle who had a white beard and Nick exclaimed, “We need Santa!” So, that gentleman was “volunteered.” Soon, there were 12 people lined up at the foot of the stage holding cards with their “line” written on it; Austin struck a chord and the 12 days of Christmas began. It was hilarious! A couple of the volunteers giggled when it came to their part and Aaron, who was helping Nick with the microphones, would stop the song and ask, “What’s so funny?” But the best volunteer of them all was Pastor Wade, who has a deep bass range to bellow, “Five golden rings!” Every time they came to Pastor Wade he would make everyone laugh…especially when he sang one of the rounds in a high, squeaky tenor voice! LOL!
As the volunteers went back to their seats the Whisnants sang Jesus Brought Joy to the World and then Mark sang The Christmas Song. As he talked about that classic tune he shared that it was his mother’s favorite Christmas song. His mom was a Baptist preacher’s wife, and though it may seem like her favorite Christmas song should have been a carol, it wasn’t. It was that song. “She liked Swing Music,” Mark explained, “Mom and dad both really enjoyed it – a lot. But they couldn’t call it Swing Music because a Baptist preacher couldn’t like Swing Music because there’s a connotation that there may be dancing involved and he can’t like that on Saturday night and get up in the pulpit on Sunday morning and preach! So they had to call it Big Band Music. Well, preacher’s kids just tell it like it is…me, being the baby in that crowd, they like SWING MUSIC! God knows, take it up with Him!” So, while Mark was singing his solo the Santa hats came out and like the previous night, Susan shared her tiara hat with Mark. Then Susan and Jeff began to waltz. In the middle of his song, horrified, Mark hollered, “You can’t dance in church! You can’t sway either…they’ll think you’re dancing. This is my song, can I finish?” LOL At the very end, he changed the last line slightly, “Merry Christmas…I’m gonna kill them when this is over…to you!”
Mark picked up his Bible and read the Christmas story from Luke chapter two and then they sang Silent Night. Susan invited the crowd to sing an a cappella version of Away in a Manger and the voices in the church swelled. Once again, they saved the “best for last,” and MTQ sang O Holy Night and the Whisnants If You Could See What I See. Truly, two of the most moving songs in the program! Jeff asked everyone to bow their heads as he prayed – after the prayer; they left the crowd with Christmas Times A Coming and wished them a Merry Christmas!
“Let us not miss the true meaning of this season. If He would not have gone to the cross we would have no hope…but to die on the cross He had to be born.” – Jeff Whisnant
Conclusion: After seeing Home For Christmas on the Showboat Branson Belle, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the full concert version! How they arranged the 12 Days of Christmas was hilarious! I really liked how they interacted with the crowd and literally pulled them into what they were doing on stage. It was really fun and sure created some wonderful memories!
Photo of everyone with Pastor Wade L. (Wade filled in for MTQ singing bass the first weekend they were without a bass singer in May of 2014.)