What a tiring, but rewarding day it was yesterday! After a long, full day of driving, we made it into Freedom Hall right as Mike Speck was leading some congregational singing before bringing out the first quartet of the night. I love the idea of Quartet Night, and I’m so glad we were able to be there for it.
I did my best to enjoy the concert, while simultaneously taking notes of every song sung, and live-tweeting the big moments. The folks sitting around me may have wondered what in the world I was doing, but I had a blast soaking it all and being able to share it with others. If you’re still not following me on Twitter (@sogobravo), I would be honored if you would do so and share this experience with me as it’s happening.
I listed every song sung last night, but I don’t have the time to relay it all. So I’ll get down to the highlights of the evening for me:
1. Mark Trammell Quartet – You could just feel an energy in the room when they took the stage. There is no doubt they are now one of the biggest quartets in the business when you feel that buzz. After their beautiful traditional opener, “Gentle Shepherd,” they moved into one of the best songs from their new album, Lifetime, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” which got an enthusiastic response. They really got the crowd going with recent #1 hit “I Wanna Know,” featuring Pat Barker. Bottom line: people love Pat Barker, and for good reason. That song and encore got Freedom Hall in great spirits. You could feel that buzz lingering as they transitioned into “The King Is Coming,” and you knew the big response was coming. It didn’t disappoint, as the song received perhaps the biggest ovation of the night. MTQ turned in the perfect 4-song set.
2. Triumphant Quartet – Honestly, sometimes I wonder what it is about Triumphant that makes them such a fan favorite. After hearing them live for the first time last night, it’s obvious. They were the last quartet of the night, but that didn’t stop them from bringing some of the best crowd energy of the night. “When the Trumpet Sounds” got them off to a good start, then after some quiet time with “He Loves Me” and Jeff Stice’s piano solo “Mansion Over the Hilltop,” Clayton Inman got everyone on their feet with “The Old White Flag”. I gotta find me one of them flags. There must have been a couple thousand of them waving. Then they closed her down in rousing fashion with “Almost Home”. Triumphant Quartet just brought out great enthusiasm, despite being the last quartet on stage.
3. Dixie Melody Boys – This wasn’t the best pure singing of the night, but there is no doubt it was one of the best moments. The crowd absolutely ate up the scrap-iron band they assembled: Stewart Varnado on piano, Scoot Shelnut on bass, Michael Booth on drums, Adam Crabb on harmonica, and Madison Easter on guitar. If there was any doubt that southern gospel lovers really appreciate a live band, this set laid it to rest. The set really got moving with “When I Cross the Other Side of Jordan”. The live band allowed them to smoothly encore it and bring the crowd to their feet. “Ride That Glory Cloud” was a mess in spots, but no one cared. It was one of the most thrilling songs of the evening. You could tell the band was having a blast, and it was encored multiple times. We need more of this spontaneous kind of music!
4. Dixie Echoes – They were introducing some new faces to the NQC audience, but they sounded just as smooth as ever. Probably the most poignant moment of the evening was Randy Shelnut Sr.’s testimony about his son Scoot’s healing from cancer, followed by an emotional delivery by Scoot of “Crumbs From the Master’s Table”. It was gorgeous, and I noticed lots of dabbing of eyes all around me. They followed that up with a showcase of true four-part harmony on “If You Know the Lord,” which got a very enthusiastic response. Just like the response to the Dixie Melody Boys’ live band, you could tell that the crowd really appreciates the kind of music that the Dixie Echoes make.
5. Kingdom Heirs – I’m not sure any quartet sounded better than the Kingdom Heirs last night. After a very funny moment where they shared Steve French’s appearance on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, they sang four Dianne Wilkinson songs from their latest album. “I’m Not Worried About Forever,” “Tell Me Why,” and “Just Preach Jesus” were very solid performances, and then the closer of “We Will Stand Our Ground,” along with the video they play with it, is always good for a big response.
Those were the five best sets to me, but really I didn’t come away thinking anyone had a bad one. Some other more minor highlights:
. The LeFevre Quartet got the tough first spot, but they had one of the better blends we heard last night.
. Chris Jenkins of the Kingsmen wowed the crowd with some insanely high notes on “Oh, What a Savior”. Has that song ever failed to get a standing ovation? There’s a reason everyone still sings it.
. Brian Free and Assurance sounded great. Their style gets a little progressive for me at times, but they’ve got a powerhouse sound. “What a Beautiful Day” was a super-smooth opener, then Brian Free got the crowd unglued with “Looking for a City”. That’s the highest I’ve ever heard the song taken; there may have been at least six half-step key changes. I don’t think he has a limit.
. Legacy Five and Gold City didn’t have a huge “wow” moment for me, but they both had consistent and solid sets. Matt Fouch is now a star, and Tim Riley showed the rest of the basses in the house how it’s done. He’s still got it!
. Mark Trammell Quartet, Legacy Five, and Triumphant (and maybe some help from others) took the stage in the finale, along with Gerald Wolfe on piano, Rodney Griffin on bass, and Dean Hopper on drums, on “Just a Little Talk With Jesus”. There was some comedy involved, but that didn’t distract from the fact that it was great quartet singing! It was a great way to close the night!
Because we arrived in Louisville so late, I didn’t get any opportunity to mix or mingle with anyone except the person sitting beside me in Freedom Hall. I hope to get to do a lot of that today! Be looking out for updates!