Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Gaithers in Toronto!

What an amazing night! Tonight, the Gaithers and all their Homecoming Friends visited Toronto - not simply for a concert - but for a live taping of a concert for their next Homecoming video! And, I had ninth row tickets!

I've seen their concerts before in this venue, the Air Canada Centre, so I did have some expectations. And I knew from my "chat" with Bill a few weeks ago that the concert would be staged in the round. I wondered how this would play on screen, because there is essentially no backdrop for the performers. They are surrounded by audience. There were four giant screens on which the audience could watch the show, and even that looked really good. They did lots of stuff with lighting the audience and the stage to give some great images. I think it will be a very different video, but interesting none the less.

So, tonight obeyed the first rule of shooting : Be prepared for long hours! Tonight's concert was six hours long. Six hours! In folding chairs! Like an indoor music festival. Just crazy. I really enjoyed it all, but that's cause I'm a Southern gospel junkie. You could tell it was just too long for a lot of people. Especially because a fair bit of the audience was, well, not so young. The energy of the crowd started to wane around Hour 5, but Bill is such an expert at programming and just making things run so smoothly. There was only one time they had to stop and start again. Amazing given the number of performers and songs on stage.

And, oh, the performers! Everyone was there. Seriously, it was all of your Homecoming friends. Bill was MC and sang with the GVB. The new GVB with Wes. What a great sound they have. It's easy to see why Bill is so excited about the new project. And they did a song featuring Marshall. It would be nice to hear him do a solo song some time. What a rich clear voice. Guy sang Why Me Lord. Very moving.

I'd never heard the Booth Brothers before, but their reputation preceded them. Now I know what all the fuss is about. Great harmony, but here is where I must say my only real complaint of the night - the sound was terrible! Balance was off, and words were muffled. I'm sure that will be cleaned up for video, but my $60 ticket really wanted good sound quality. The reason it comes up for the Booth Brothers is cause they sang with the band and were great, but then they sang acapella, and it was then that we could really hear the beauty of their voices. They did an awesome song with the hook, "Ask the blind man, he saw it all". Isn't that fabulous? I wish I'd found that!

The very pregnant Easters were wonderful, especially on the acapella Rivers of Babylon. Ivan Parker blew everyone away with I Can Only Imagine. Reggie and Lady Love Smith got a well deserved standing ovation with You Raise Me Up. Ben Speer, my new buddy, was awesome on Sheltered in the Arms. I love this song so much, and he delivers it with such simplicity. Joy Gardner took the roof off the place everytime she stepped up to sing. Linda Randle sang a few songs. It was warm and rich and inspiring everytime. Jesse Dixon started on the piano. Not shouting and dancing, just playing and humming. He sang Make Me a Sanctuary. So soulful. So awesome. After that, he sang another song and broke out his dancing shoes. The crowd loved him before he even touched the stage. But he kept the focus on God. He's like a rock star when he's up there, and yet his intention towards God is so clear. Russ Taff has that kind of energy too. He did a Gaithers song with the Isaacs. Such a great combination of all their talents. The Hoppers did several songs, including Jerusalem. I think my mom has become a Hoppers' fan. Good choice.

Stephen Hill did a solo and was wonderful. I had the chance to talk to him after the show and he remembered me from school. Such a great and supportive guy. I tried to find Ben to talk to him, but I could never find him. I did manage to catch his attention at intermission and we waved. I did, however, get to see and chat with Mike Allen. I really wish he'd been able to do a full solo. But we had a great little chat, and I gave him a copy of my cd.

Larry Ford did some great songs, including a hymn written by a woman from Ontario. Boni wrote down the name of it, so I imagine it will show up soon in choir.

I have to admit, there were a lot of newer songs in the program. We were expecting that, because of the taping, but it does mean that I don't remember all the names of the songs.

There was a lot of audience singing, as usual, and it was really great. It was like everyone did a warm-up before coming to the show. Voices were strong, and in our section, several people were singing harmony. So beautiful, especially in those parts where Bill just got the audience to repeat a chorus acapella. Thousands of people praising God in a sports arena. What a blessing!

Tonight, I got to see Mark Lowry live, and he was wonderful. He sang the title track from Some Things Never Change, and that was great to hear, and he did his comedy thing with Bill. I must say, though, he sort of disappeared after the first half. I mean, he was there and all, just not up in a solo position.

And my favorite part was finally getting to see Gloria. This is my third Gaither concert and my first Gloria sighting. She did two beautiful recitations. I could just listen to her speak all day. I have this dream of sitting down for an afternoon with her and chatting about words and songs and other good stuff.

And I have a new favorite group: Ernie Haase and signature Sound. I'd heard little bits of their music, but, oh my!, nothing beats them in person. If you haven't seen or heard them yet, then I highly recommend you do a little research and find a cd or a video or something. Their songs and arrangements are great, and each piece highlights the great voices in the group. And their stage presence is incredible. Seriously - incredible! They are all over the stage, and are having a great time. They do small bits of choreography, which I've heard the purists hate, but I thought it was imaginative and fun. I guess that's my music theatre side shining through. I bought their cd. I'm going to listen to it and dance around!

I'm a great lover of the Isaacs, and they did not disappoint. They did lots of great stuff, including a tight arrangement of It Is Well. It started with two fiddles in close harmony, then the solo voice, then harmony voices. After the first verse, the fiddles dropped out, and it was just voices, ending on incredible harmonies. I'm sure it will be a highlight of the video. They also did Your's and Mine, which is a great song of their's. Bought yet another of their cds.

The first part of the concert was mostly solos, and then they did the group "homecoming" thing in the second half. Apparently, this will be the opening of the show. It's going to be really interesting to see how they cut it and what makes it into the final versions. I believe there will be two videos made from tonight's show.

One of the interesting technical things came from the teleprompters. Most of the lyrics were posted there, and we had a clear view from our seats. But something got messed up in the second half, and they often had the wrong lyrics up. You'd see our Homecoming Friends with very confused expressions and microphones, not singing. Pretty sure that won't make the video.

My respect for Bill Gaither rose, yet again, tonight. It was such a huge program with amazingly complicated technical requirements, artistic challenges, and huge logistics. And still, it was spiritual. God was in that place. It was beautiful and awesome. And I did everything I knew I would do tonight - I laughed, I cried, I sang, and I felt the presence of God.

And, of course, I had to take a minute while I was there to raise a prayer of thanks. God's plan for me is being revealed on a daily basis, and I am so excited by it. Tonight, I got to watch SG artists at the top of their game. It was inspiring and awesome. I just want the things I do to be so good, in music and in spirituality.

And again, I say, "Yes, Lord".

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