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“Firsts” are special.  In life, things may get jumbled in the memory bank down through the years, but there is something irreplaceable about doing something for the first time.  You may remember the first time you attended NQC, or your first Gospel concert.  The first CD that developed your love for SGM or the first time you walked up and talked to your favorite singer.  Well, Praisefest just celebrated a first last weekend – their first event in Branson, Missouri!  With an event so close to home, I couldn’t resist attending – and would you know it, it even got my grandparents out of the house!  LOL!
The Mansion Theatre housed a line with fans waiting to be seated that literally wrapped around the inside of the building at show time.  Though the theatre could hold thousands, the lobby was shoulder to shoulder with attendees milling around.  The first night of Praisefest Branson had the air filled with excitement and anticipation at what would transpire that very evening.  Absentmindedly, I fingered the ticket that said “Gold Circle Floor Center – Row F, Seat 209” that dangled around my neck.  Surrounded by fellow SGM fans, I made my way down the theatre steps until I reached my seat.  When I reached it, I realized I was literally in the middle of the aisle!  (Six rows from the front too!)  More importantly, everyone sitting in my row was an absolute delight to chat and spend time with!
Soon, our host and MC for the weekend, Gerald Wolfe, came on stage, took a seat at the keyboard and began leading the audience in singing some hymns.  Dean and Mike Hopper came out and completed the band by playing bass guitar and drums.  We sang roughly six hymns. After the first two, Gerald encouraged the crowd, “Call out your favorites!”  Someone yelled, “Amazing Grace!” and Gerald thoughtfully repeated the title, “Amazing Grace,” but decided on a different request, Victory in Jesus.  Of course, you couldn’t get away without singing I’ll Fly Away, so they did that one.  Then at the very end, Gerald said that he HAD to hear what “this sounded like” – and we did sing Amazing Grace.  (He just wanted to save it for last!)  Gerald brought Scott Fowler (of Legacy Five) out on stage, and thanked everyone for coming. Gerald made mention of the tornado’s that came through Branson just the weekend before, and how they know that there had to be some in the room that night that were affected by the destruction and hurting.  “We don’t want to come in here and act as if it didn’t happen,” Gerald said with conviction, “but minister to those people.”  Gerald asked Scott Fowler to open the night in prayer, and the night began.
“You love them and we love them,” Scott said after praying, “Greater Vision!” GV kicked off their first song with He Could Have Passed By.  In thinking about those twisters, there was no greater song to open that event with!  A great applause followed while they went into their second song, I Could Never Praise Him Enough.  The four stage lights behind and above Greater Vision began dancing in circles – (very cool!)– accompanying the happy beat to He’d Still Been God.  While Rodney sang the verses, both Gerald and Chris were all smiles.  The guys were happy that night!

Greater Vision

“We were in Ireland – in Belfast,” Gerald began, telling us a story about the song they just sang. He said that he remembered telling the guys that they wouldn’t have a big crowd that night because in Ireland there aren’t any videos or radio stations with SGM.  Well, that night, 1200 people showed up!  That song, He’d Still Been God, was GV’s third song on their set and they received a standing ovation. The audience really liked that song!  After that concert, a lady was looking through their CDs at their table and Gerald asked if he could help her look for something.  She said that she was looking for the “song with all the words.”  He found it for her, and said, “You really liked that song, didn’t you?”  She replied, “It’s not that we liked the song, it’s just, we were amazed that three guys from Tennessee could say that many words that fast.”  The audience chuckled right along with Gerald on that one.  “Rodney – strap on your bass,” Gerald said as he walked toward his keyboard.
“It’s funny,” he continued, “the song that was nominated for song of the year has never been released to radio.”  He went on to say that they’ve been singing it for a year now, and they first sang it in California, when it was requested.  In fact, there were two ladies in the front that night who were at that very concert.  Gerald introduced I Know A Man Who Can and Chris sang it with a zealous faith. (When Gerald announced the song, many shouted their approval!)  At the climax of the song everyone applauded and gave a standing ovation.  Gerald asked, “You like that?”  Well, if they liked that, they were bound to love the next one too, … it was My Name Is Lazarus!  Clutching his handkerchief, Gerald held up one finger as he sang the verse about the “first man,” Rodney held up two fingers for his verse about the “second man.”  The crowd loved it.  “Wow,” Gerald said when the crowd finished their display of approval, “Thank you.  After 15 years that is still our most requested song.”  Here, he told a little story about someone who came up to him before the concert with a request.  (More like a statement – though, he claims they did it “nicely”) They made themselves very clear, “You are going to sing some old songs tonight, aren’t you?” Gerald re-enacted, squinching up his face with an intense look like the individual must have done.  He answered to the whole audience, “Well, we’re going to sing the oldest song we know, it’s 500 years old…and it’s the only Lutheran song we know…because we’re Baptist.”  (The crowd got a chuckle out of that comment!)“As a matter of fact, it is so Lutheran, it was written by Martin Luther!”  (Laughter again)  One person on the right side of the theatre raised their hand and Gerald asked them, “are you Lutheran?  Great!  Are there any more Lutherans out there that wished they were Baptists?”  LOL!  A few even raised their hands too!  That Lutheran song was A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. After that song Gerald thoughtfully expressed, “When Luther penned those words it never crossed his mind that three guys from east TN would be singing that song in Branson, MO – that song is not great because it’s old, it’s managed to get old because it’s great.”

Tim Lovelace

Gerald introduced Tim Lovelace, who was scheduled to entertain us next. – And entertain us he did!  “How many of you have a child, grandchild, or have been a child at one time?”  Tim asked walking on stage with his guitar. “Well, the rest of you – welcome to planet earth!”  Slipping his guitar on he continued, “If I’m going to be here all weekend, I need to do my disclaimer song first.” This was his stuttering song and the crowd even participated in parts of the music.  Tim told about his family and how they were doing, especially their little girl they recently adopted from China.  On that thought line Tim shared, “I love that God is a God of surprises.”  So, a year and a half ago they went and picked up little Gracie.  For the remainder of his time on stage, Tim told about taking his daughter Gabrielle to Dollywood. Tim warned everybody about parks, “Amusement parks are no longer for joy – it’s about the fear factor now!  You need good life insurance before you go to one of those places!”  He especially placed emphasis on the “log ride,” and how it was scary!  Time told us how just as they were getting to the top of the ride, before the big plunge, his little girl reached over and grabbed his leg and asked, “Daddy, will you protect me?” – and how that impacted his life.  After all the silly storytelling we’re so use to from Tim came to a close, he gathered everyone’s attention for some words of encouragement.  “I don’t know what you’re going through, but every single person is going through something.  Only Jesus Christ is perfect.  If you’re saved, you are on the log ride, if you’re not saved, you are still on the log ride!  Everybody is on it, and the Prince of Peace is sitting next to you – just lean on Him.  The Healer is riding beside you, just lean over.  You know He’ll do it… because it says so in His Word – you can cast your cares upon Him.  He is your Father and you are His child on this log ride of life.”

The Hoppers

“This group coming out here,” Tim joked, “they’ve been singing since just right after Noah landed!”  (The audience roared with laughter)  “They’ve been singing forever.  They are an award winning group, but most importantly, they know the One they are singing about – The Hoppers!” Stepping On The Clouds opened their set, and a Gaither tune, I Will Serve Thee, followed.  It was nice to see Mike sing bass with his Dad on the first two!  “In the book of Isaiah, we call Him Emmanuel,” Dean stated, introducing the next song, “God has many names in the Bible, but tonight we call Him Yahweh.”  Mike walked back to the drum set and played while the rest of the family sang Yahweh.  After that powerful favorite, Claude stepped to the edge of the stage and asked, “Do you believe that tonight? Say amen!  I hope you know Him, if you don’t, the simple plan of salvation is this, believe in your heart with faith, confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross, shed His blood, and was resurrected on the third day and is now seated on the right of God! – Our hope is in Jesus Christ, that’s the only hope we have tonight.” He then gave a little family history of the group.  He was raised on a farm in a family of 11 children, who were all born in the same log cabin!  “We’re going to have a good night tonight.”  He concluded.  The sound of the metronome counted off the beats and the next song was on its way, Celebrate The Marriage Of The Lamb.  I’ve always enjoyed this upbeat tune!  The family was introduced next, and Claude talked about growing up, “My life has changed, and it first began in 6th grade when my teacher read the Word of God and opened the class in prayer.”  Somehow, from that serious topic, we came to a funny story about a frog.  Yep!  You read that right, a frog!  Claude said that they still own the family farm, and one day he was walking around and this frog began talking to him from the ground.  It said, “If you kiss me I will turn into a beautiful girl.”  So, he reached down, scooped it up and slid it in his pocket.  The frog said, “Hey!  I told you if you kissed me I would turn into a beautiful girl!  Why didn’t you kiss me?”  Claude replied, “At my age – I’d rather have a talking frog.”  LOL  Something’s Happening was the next song.  This song reminds me so much of Jerusalem and Yahweh!  Though they had a lot of sound issues, for example, Connie’s mic was too low on the bridge, they still received a standing ovation.  What power!  Kim talked about visiting the family over Christmas, and how worried she was forTony’stwo little girls.  She was surprised, but happy to find that the children were dealing with his death well, but encouraged those in the crowd, “For those of you who have loved ones over there, the morning is coming.”  Then she performed That Sounds Like Heaven To Me.  With tears streaming down her face, she put everything she had in that performance!  It was stellar! Another standing ovation! Next, Claude sang a medium tempo/easy listening song called Then My Living Shall Not Be In Vain.  You can’t have a Hopper concert without hearing Jerusalem, and that is the song that followed.  With their video running on the screen behind them, I was tempted to watch it instead of them singing live!  LOL  “Both” performances were amazing!  Another standing ovation…then they went right into Shouting Time.  Some stood all the way through and some remained seated, but all in all, everyone was having a great time!
Intermission was upon us, and the groups told about their product before they left the stage.  When it was Dean’s turn, he said to the audience, “On the count of three, tell me where you are from.” After a jumbled response he said, “I thought that’s where you’re from!”  LOL   Cd pitch.  Claude was selling his candy and said, “Now, the candy is absolutely free – but the bag is $5.”  At that moment Gerald came out and said, “Claude, Connie sent me out here to get you because it’s past your bedtime…”  LOL!
Tim Lovelace entertained us while we found our seats. He announced, “This is called, ‘find your seat music’.”  He claimed that no matter where he goes in the world, there are two songs everybody knows. – They are Amazing Grace and I’ll Fly Away.  And that last one, I’ll Fly Away, we know frontwards and backwards! So, he wanted us to sing it backwards with him!  After a futile attempt, he called out to the crowd, “I need some harmony!  Where’s my praise and worship band – help me out!”  He sang a few more lines,then begged the crowd again, “All you have to do is think backwards!  I know there has to be somebody in here that’s dyslexic besides me,” and with a smile he added, “because I was with you on the interstate this morning!”  At the very end he finally got everyone to do three words, Away Fly I’ll!

Legacy Five

“They’ve changed their clothes about three times already,” Tim teased, getting ready to introduce the final artist of the evening, “Legacy Five!” Wonderful Life was L5’s opening song.  God Cares For Me followed, and the guys switched to a trio for the first verse.  A pleasant surprise came next – I Found Grace! I haven’t heard them do this one live in a while – what a joy!  “Well,” Scott Fowler announced, “Legacy Five started 12 years ago and this guy here on the end has been here since day one,” and turning to Glenn, he inquired, “How much longer you gonna’ stay?”  After a chuckle or two from the audience, the music for I’ve Been Changed began, and Glenn declared that his life has been changed, and then sang his solo.  I love the genuine joy with which Glenn delivers this song!  He puts himself into every thought and motion!  “Hey Trey,” said Fowler, “I’m going to introduce you tomorrow, but, can you do me a favor?  Go find Gerald, don’t come back until you find him…hurry!”  After Trey  walked backstage with that rejected look you get from a pet when you shooo them away, an “awwwwe” from the audience followed him out.  Then, on the opposite side of the stage Gerald came walking out with his arms outstretched to Scott with a gesture that asked, “What?”  Scott brought Gerald out and told of an 8 year old boy sitting on the front row who told his grandpa, “You must come pick me up and take me to Praisefest in Branson.”  Eight years old and on the front row! His name was Joshua (he lived in Wisconsin or Michigan – quite a distance from Praisefest Branson), and Scott desperately wanted him to meet Gerald. They stopped singing to do a drawing that they forgot to conduct at intermission.  A gentleman from Roger Bennett’s hometown of Strawberry, AR, won!  This man was sitting all the way in the back and they said, “Who’s going to take him his prize?”  Howie answered, “Trey can!  He’s young!  Where’s Trey?”  Everyone giggled because Trey was still trying to find Gerald, who was already on stage!  LOL!  The second winner was from California!  Next, Scott directed Gerald to the keyboard and said that he promised some fans that they would do this…Boundless Love was the big surprise!  Gerald played on the keyboard and Scott strapped on a bass guitar and played, but before he did, he asked where Dean was.  (Hoping he would play bass instead)  Gerald said, “Outside smoking.”  (He said it so seriously too!)  LOL  At the end of the song Trey ran out and pushed Gerald off the piano bench to play the last note. Everyone giggled at that.  Gerald then exited the stage and L5 sang I’m Still Amazed.  “If you’re still amazed,” Scott asked, “say,‘ praise the Lord’!”  After a huge applause from the audience, Scott assured everyone, “There will be more, I promise – you are stuck with us for 3 days.” Before everyone exited, Scott pointed out an elderly lady on the front row by the name of Mildred.  She came all the way from San Diego and in 8 days she would be 97!
Conclusion:  Like I mentioned in the introduction, this was the first time that Praisefest was held in Branson, Missouri – and it also was the very first Praisefest event that I ever attended!  Nothing else can be said but this, I loved it!  It was wonderful!  The line-up was stellar.  Greater Vision, The Hoppers, Tim Lovelace and Legacy Five – what a night!  Each artist was a delight and brought a different style of   ministry, encouragement and music to the platform.  Seeing Greater Vision again so soon and in another “Sing” atmosphere was a privilege (they don’t make it out this way too often – so we soak ‘em up when we get ‘em!)  I believe the last time I saw the Hoppers was at NQC – so seeing them again was a treat!  To be able to see “Something’s Happening” done live was worth it all!  Tim Lovelace is so funny!  His stories and gimmicks never get old!  And last but certainly not least, Legacy Five.  I’ve been blessed to be able to see them at least once a month this year so far, and every time they have put out their best, this time was no exception.  I would even say it was better!  When you get Scott and Gerald together, it’s bound to get fun and crazy!!!  All in all, it was superb evening!

Author: lynnschronicles

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