Last night, I attended a Gaither Homecoming concert and videotaping in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was held in an open canvas tent on the grounds of the Billy Graham library.

  • Daddy Sang Bass: Bluegrass mega-group Dailey and Vincent wowed the audience and proved why they have been winning seemingly every award Bluegrass has to offer these last few years. They did a tenor and bass routine that featured tenor Jamie Dailey trying to sing bass and bass Christian Davis successfully singing tenor. This was taped before the main program commenced due to the setup time a bluegrass group needs, but the audience ate it up anyhow. It is tough on a group to sing a song this challenging first thing in the program, without any warm-up, and so they will probably do some vocal fixes later. But they got what they needed visually for what will probably be one of the favorite numbers on the DVD.
  • On the Other Side of the Cross: Dailey and Vincent, who recently recorded a Statler Brothers tribute album, did this song with Jimmy Fortune. Their vocals were much stronger here; the additional time warming up with the previous song helped. This was also warmly received.
  • Yes, I Know: This featured solos from Ivan Parker, Jason Clark (of the Nelons), TaRanda Greene, Reggie Smith, and one or two others whom I couldn’t quite pick out from the back row.
  • When the Saints Go Marching In: This featured Stephen Hill (I think) and Ivan Parker.
  • Jesus, Hold My Hand: This featured the Gaither Vocal Band and TaRanda Greene. The vocal dynamite of this interaction makes it quite likely this one will make the cut onto the final product.
  • When He Calls I’ll Fly Away: This didn’t get as strong a response from the live audience as later songs, due to live sound issues. Yet it appeared to be a visually solid performance and, perhaps with audio fixes, should play quite well on the videos.
  • Just Over in the Gloryland: This featured a verse from the Hayes Family—a strong rendition vocally, but again plagued by live sound issues.
  • Life’s Railway to Heaven: This strong and energetic arrangement featured Marshall Hall, TaRanda Greene, Karen Peck, Sue Dodge, and several others. (Sitting in the back row, with about 1/3 of the stage obstructed by the center video camera setup, limited ability to see everything.
  • My Savior’s Love: This classic hymn featured three singers; the second two were TaRanda Greene and David Phelps. Greene’s and Phelps’ powerhouse renditions brought strong reactions.
  • The Old Rugged Cross: Bill Gaither set up the song by saying that Franklin Graham had told them to sing whatever they wanted—but to be sure to include songs about the Cross. Gaither said that he’d replied that that certainly wouldn’t be a problem, with this bunch! The live sound was much better with this song—and remained better than for the opening songs from here through the end. Partially because of this, and partially because it was perfect for that moment in the program, Ben Speer’s solo got what was one of the warmest responses of the night to that point.
  • The Ninety and Nine: When this song was recorded on a Gaither Homecoming several years back, it featured Donnie Sumner and the Talley Trio. The Talley Trio was not there, and I didn’t notice Donnie Sumner (not to say that he definitely wasn’t there.) This time, then, the song featured Guy Penrod and the Nelons. While I consider the Talley Trio’s rendition of the “But none of the ransomed ever knew” verse to be one of the strongest performances of their career, if not the strongest, this rendition will certainly hold its own.
  • Then came the highlight of the night. Bill Gaither introduced George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows, and the audience came unglued. They got a standing ovation at their introduction, and the audience remained standing throughout the entire segment. George Beverly Shea—now 102—delivered a remarkably strong rendition of “The Love of God.” Even if his voice isn’t quite what it used to be, it is still as strong as probably any centenarian’s voice has been, at least since the advent of recorded music. Shea and Cliff Barrows sang “He Whispers Peace” together. Then Cliff Barrows led the audience in singing “Blessed Assurance.” It is hard to say how this will play in the more sterile setting of a commercially released video, but on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library, this was the moment that the live audience will never forget.
  • It wasn’t just the live audience that was moved by the Shea/Barrows segment. Before the program could proceed, makeup artists had to come on stage to fix many of the ladies’ makeup.
  • Down to the River to Pray: This featured a number of ladies—Charlotte Ritchie, Becky Isaacs, Karen Peck, Janet Paschal, and others—and Stephen Hill.
  • Greatly Blessed, Highly Favored: The Gaither Vocal Band and the Gatlin Brothers traded verses on the song, and got a huge response.
  • Heartbreak Ridge and New Hope Road: The Gatlin Brothers turned in a strong performance that had the audience on their feet.
  • I Need Thee, Oh I Need Thee: This featured Buddy Greene on harmonica and Jeff (Easter? not sure) on pump organ.
  • Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Marshall Hall kicked off the song. Jason Crabb took a verse, and Angela Primm—a black female vocalist whom I had not seen before—brought the song to a powerhouse ending.
  • I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me: Angela Primm was featured on the song; she did a dueling power soul vocal lick conclusion with Jason Crabb.
  • Heavenly Sunrise: The Hoppers pulled out a hit from way back. If my notes are correct, and I’m not mixing songs up, they were joined on stage by Gene McDonald, Reggie Smith, Kelly Bowling, and Charlotte Ritchie.
  • I’ll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus: The Hoppers offered a standout amidst an evening of strong performances with this one. Mike Hopper joined the group on stage, doubling Claude on the bass part.
  • How Beautiful Heaven Must Be: This featured Mitchel Jon.
  • I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted: While Mitchel Jon stayed in safe, mellow territory for much of the night, he let loose on this one. Before the song was up, he was joined by Larnelle Harris, Michael English, and Angela Primm.
  • His Eye is on the Sparrow: This featured Larnelle Harris; afterwards, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it edited to be an intro, Bill Gaither talked with Cliff Barrows about Ethel Waters’ landmark performance at the New York City crusade.
  • At this point, the Oak Ridge Boys did some secular song. Since I needed to take a bathroom break at some point, this was the most natural opening. (Gaither said the cameras weren’t rolling; they were changing tapes, or something to that effect—seemingly odd, now that camera systems have rolled over to digital.)
  • Lead Me To That Rock: The Oak Ridge Boys engaged an enthusiastic audience with this one.
  • Bill Gaither brought Reba Rambo McGuire, her husband Dony McGuire, and their daughter Destiny on stage. He led the Homecoming choir in a Rambos medley that included “Sheltered in the Arms,” “Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome,” “Remind Me, Dear Lord,” and “He Looked Beyond My Fault.”
  • At this point, there was a probably unplanned interruption; Cliff Barrows said that there was a sweet, sweet spirit in the room, and volunteered to lead the audience in “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.”
  • Reba, Dony, and Destiny then sang “When I Lift Up My Head”; they were joined by Buck Rambo for “Too Much to Gain to Lose.”
  • Gaither brought Stuart Hamblen’s daughter and grandson on stage, and talked about his friendship with Hamblen and Hamblen’s connection with Billy Graham. The homecoming choir sang “It is No Secret,” and then Gene McDonald and Larry Gatlin sang what was evidently an unrehearsed version of “This Ole House”—made evident since Larry Gatlin forgot the second half of his verse!
  • At this point, a rain storm started coming in. Trust it to a stage full of lifelong performers to know how to kill time; Mark Lowry sang part of “It Won’t Rain Always” and did some impromptu comedy with Bill Gaither.
  • Returning to the Hamblen segment, Janet Paschal sang “Until Then.”
  • Do Right and Come Smiling Through: Stan Whitmire did a convention-style piano solo.
  • At this point, a thunderstorm came on in full force, and recording had to be shut down for a half-hour or more. Fierce winds started blowing the tent, shaking lighting and sound structures vigorously, and blowing in heavy rain to flood electronic equipment.
  • Trust it to lifelong performers to live it up; Ben Speer and Sue Dodge came down for a totally impromptu rendition of “Didn’t it Rain,” and, naturally, Sue Dodge’s “Rain rain go away come again some other day” got a soaked audience laughing.
  • It looked as though the taping might have to be scrapped, but after 30-45 minutes, it resumed with “Heaven’s Jubilee,” featuring Gordon Mote, Michael English, and Larnelle Harris.
  • Rock My Soul: Featuring one of the Imperials groups—it appeared to be the one with Terry Blackwood, Royce Taylor, Darrell Toney, and Joe Moscheo (hat tip, Dean).
  • Old White Flag: Triumphant made a triumphal Homecoming debut with their perennial concert favorite.
  • Since Jesus Came to Live Inside of Me: Booth Brothers
  • In Christ Alone medley: Booth Brothers – Michael Booth acknowledged Michael English when they got to his “In Christ Alone”
  • Consider the Lilies: Charlotte Ritchie led a ladies’ trio
  • This is Just What Heaven Means to Me: Tanya Goodman Sykes led this Goodmans classic; she was joined by Charlotte Ritchie and Becky Isaacs Bowman.
  • I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary: Isaacs
  • I’ll Meet You in the Morning: This was done by a quartet with Ben Speer, Gene McDonald, and two others whom I did not see
  • Old Camp Meeting: Les Beasley led a scrap-iron quartet (also including Gene McDonald) on his first-ever Homecoming solo.
  • Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho: The Martins
  • Help Me: Russ Taff
  • Now More than Ever: Karen Peck and New River
  • Sometimes I Cry: Jason Crabb’s live band took over the band area, to give his song a distinctly different feel than the songs from the remainder of the program.
  • Then Came the Morning: Guy Penrod delivered a performance that would have gotten a standing ovation with a crowd with more energy. In a sort of odd symbolism, Guy began the song almost precisely on the stroke of midnight.
  • There Is a Fountain / The Blood of Jesus: Courtney Collingsworth did a violin solo on “There is a Fountain”—amidst an evening of big ballads and high energy, the stark simplicity was a perfect and memorable change of pace.
  • Before Jeff & Sheri Easter sang, Jeff Easter did a comedy monologue about his daughter, drama, and puppies. Though this is perhaps unlikely to make the final cut, there was some great impromptu humor here for the live audience; after the craziness of the evening, when Jeff Easter started talking about puppies, Gene McDonald offered a monster bark into his bass microphone. Jeff Easter looked back at the bass section and said “What?” – at which point Gene barked again, and assorted other performers began barking and yapping!
  • Sweet Bye and Bye: Jeff and Sheri Easter
  • That Sounds Like Home to Me: Michael English had the solo, with the rest of the Gaither Vocal Band (except possibly one of the two tenors) joining on the choruses.
  • He’s Alive: David Phelps hit a home run with this big finish.

A few general observations:

  • The parking situation was atrocious. The staff was going to start parking at 5:30, and they didn’t have either the capability or the infrastructure to handle the influx of cars. The cars backed up down their entrance, down the access, road, and quite a ways down the Billy Graham parkway. Meanwhile, they reassigned a number of the early birds (including me) to park in the other direction, facing out the exit ramp—leaving it to us to figure out how to work our way back into the line, much later, without any guidance.
  • Oddly, they didn’t have the infrastructure to check tickets, either. I came in the entrance by which about half the traffic was coming in—the entrance where people who walked across the grounds of the library from their parking lot, instead of taking the shuttle, came in. I eventually figured out where my seat was, but oddly they did not check my ticket at any point.
  • Also oddly: This was the first live taping I’ve attended where there was apparently nobody designated to enforce a no-cameras-or-video-devices rule. I saw several cameras rolling at points. This was completely understandable during the time period when the building was shut down and flooding, but it was rather irksome during the regular program. If you are sticking a video camera (cell phone or otherwise) over your head and obviously recording a video during a professionally produced live video taping, it both obstructs the view of those around and behind you and gets them thinking that you must clearly be too cheap to buy the real thing when it comes out!
  • It took about eight songs for the live sound crew to dial in the live sound. Since I was sitting in the back row, I could see the monitor for the sound crew’s Pro Tools setup, and they were recording all microphones—not the live mix—so this should not affect the final product. Yet as they were scrambling to find out who was on each microphone, several of the early songs had unamplified vocals for most or all of the verses.
  • If the extent to which she was featured tonight is any indicator, expect to see TaRanda Greene playing a role as one of the most prominent Homecoming soloists in the future. (That’s not a bad thing at all, since she was easily one of the most talented and versatile vocalists on the stage.)
  • There were about 124 performers on stage. Since they kept moving around practically every verse of every song, it was hard to get a precise count.
  • Though they will undoubtedly work fine on the video, several of the slow songs, particularly the second-to-last “That Sounds Like Home To Me,” were actually rather challenging in the live setting. At 12:30 AM, it was hard to focus on a song that mellow; my mind shifted to planning an escape route for a prompt and efficient exit walking across the grounds to my car, and then in the car out of the rather confusing complex layout!

A Homecoming live video taping experience is not for everyone. Five and a half hours—perhaps without a break, since the only one here was unplanned—is not for the faint of heart. Yet there are also sure to be numerous memorable moments you will never forget.