It is 3:35AM Kentucky time as I start to write this blog. Please excuse all typos and weird things that may get typed here tonight!
I was encouraged to attend the Celebrity Softball Game this morning, but mornings don't seem to exist for me here at NQC. I did need some sleep, but I also had some annoying hotel issues that took up time. We're staying in an extended stay hotel which rents by the week. It's super cheap, which is great, but I've never had so much paper-work to stay in a hotel. Also, they're not open Sunday (cause apparently people don't need to check in or check out on Sundays), and - honest truth - they don't provide toilet paper. Thank goodness for neighbours who visit Walmart!
But NQC itself was pretty awesome today. I started with the Artist Spotlight Showcase that featured some great family groups. I'd heard great things about the Browns, and they stood up to the buzz. It's a Mom and four children, which is a nice combo. They started an uptempo song in harmony, but things got really cool when all the kids stepped away from the mics and pulled out their fiddles. Then they started trick fiddling - behind the back, playing another person's fiddle with your bow, 2 people playing the same fiddle with 2 bows - and the crowd just went nuts. I had a terrible spot in the room, yet I was still completely entertained.
I really went there to hear the Daryl Williams Trio, whom I just love. (Daryl is my Stamps-Baxter songwriting teacher, and Gerald's newest co-writer). The trio was incredible, and the crowd just ate them up, giving them a standing O on both of their songs.
My first year at Stamps, we were treated to choral nights with Mike Speck. Well, each year at NQC, Mike runs the Choral Extravaganza. I'd heard great things about it, and being a choirgirl myself, I couldn't wait to check it out. I went in with high expectations, and I wasn't disappointed. The event was held in the enormous Freedom Hall, and as we went in, we had the option of buying the music so we could sing along. Obviously, I bought the music! It was general seating, so I sat near the front in the middle so I could feel like I was in the middle of the sound.
Mike is a crazy-dynamic person with a love of choral and corporate singing. On stage, we had Mike's trio The Specks, Greater Vision, Stan Whitmire on piano, and a 60-plus voice choir made up of choirs from several churches. We opened with a medley of favourite hymns, focusing on today's theme of Heaven. Next we sang the songs in the packet, and it was so awesome! I love sight-reading, and I don't get many opportunities to do it, so this was just a thrill for me. The songs were great, and the arrangements were fantastic, with lots of key changes and full chords.
The choir did one song by themselves called "I Am Redeemed", a large and powerful ballad. But here's the cool part: Just as they broke into the final chorus, the part that would give you goosebumps anyway, right on the downbeat, the entire choir held up individual signs saying "Redeemed, 1975", or whatever date it was that they got saved. They held the signs right up over their heads, singing their hearts out. The entire audience rose to their feet as one. It was incredible! We then continued to sing the new songs as a group. Imagine over a thousand people, gathered together to sight-read new music. First with that awesome choir up front, but also with the guy behind me singing tenor, and an alto 2 seats over. So wonderful! I will definitely say that this event was one of the best of the week.
I tried to hear my Stamps' friends, the Stutzman Family in the Regional Artist Showcase, but they ran out of time and several people have to go tomorrow. Frustrating, but I'll go back to see them. The rest of the showcase was good, with great special appearances by the King's Heralds, Karen Peck and New River, and Palmetto State Quartet (my first time hearing them). Actually, I visited the Stutzman's booth today because they were giving out free massages! They'd brought in 2 registered massage therapists to give free back and shoulder massages to anyone who wanted them. Always happy to support a friend in their ministry!
I continued to visit with people, but I also rushed to get over to the show tonight. First, let me make this observation on the main stage show: What was up with the Christian bootlegging tonight? In my area alone, I saw several audience members with small recording devices in their laps. One guy had an actual old-school (read: large and obvious) cassette tape recorder. Maybe I just assume that audience's know that you can't record a show? My first job was as a theatre usher, and I couldn't believe the ushers did nothing tonight. I could definitely preach about this subject, but I won't, but I just had to say something about it. So rude!
First let me say that tonight's show promised the best line-up so far this week, and everyone lived up to the excitement. I arrived just in time to hear the end of the Specks song, and it sounded wonderful. Next came the Kingsmen, who started with a beautiful acapella number. We then had a surprise performance by solo pianist, Dino, who was plugging the Pianorama tomorrow afternoon. He chose a great song, but his strength is definitely in his amazing showmanship. Think Liberace-plays-for-Jesus!
Poet Voices had trouble with their tracks on their first song, but they finished strong and had the entire crowd on its feet. The Talleys did a great set, including a guest performance by Connie Hopper. Such a great match of talents. Hope's Call is a trio I first heard at GMA Week this spring. They opened with an acapella arrangement of How Great Thou Art. Not my favourite song, but I could listen to them sing it all day long. Killer arrangement and execution!
(That reminds me: I have so many CDs to buy tomorrow!)
The Hoppers were, of course, excellent, but they did something really special tonight. They had The Jackson Sisters, a string quartet, join them on stage. Such an elegant touch! But all this was building into something really special: The 50th Anniversary Celebration! This was a 45-minute show within the show. (How very Shakespearean!) They had lots of vintage video clips from past years of the NQC main stage. Then they had some great live performances by artists who were there from the beginning: The Weatherfords, Ben (who was fantastic!) and the Melody Boys (featuring my friend, Scott!). They finished with a we'll-carry-on type song (sorry, I can't remember the title!). The Talleys took the lead, and for the final choruses, they were joined by the younger generation of gospel singers, like The Booth Brothers, Karen Peck and New River, Kim and Dean Hopper, Hope's Call, and some others (it was all dark and they were only holding candles, so I couldn't pick out everyone.)
Next came one of the best sets of the night: Mark Lowrey. Seriously! He was joined by the quartet, Lordsong, who were fantastic. Just before Mark came out, they played a vintage video of him singing on the Gospel Jubilee when he was 14. So talented already, and he looked almost exactly the same as he does now. Mark was in great voice tonight, but more than that, he was in great spirit. He commented how thrilled he was to be on that stage without "Gaither" to get in his way. He also said my absolute-most-favourite comment of the night: "He'd (Jesus) rather be around authentic sinners than fake saints any day." I may not be quoting that quite exactly, but that's basically it, and I love it! Some people were a little uncomfortable with the comment, but I gave a big old witness when he said it!
Next came Ivan Parker, and it was a treat to finally hear him sing "Midnight Cry" live. The Florida Boys were great, and had musical-comedian Tim Lovelace up for a song. The Kingdom Heirs sang a great song, "The Rock's Between the Hard Place and You". Great hook! Greater Vision was wonderful, but the highlight was Gerald Wolfe singing "O Holy Night" as a solo. As we all know, I love Christmas music (although there's been a little too much of it here for me this week. I'm still in summer mode!), and I'm really picky about soloists taking on "O Holy Night". Well, Gerald was just incredible! Really, truly. I closed my eyes, and his voice was just fantastic. Great pitch, great tone, excellent phrasing, and a great spirit!
Gold City was wonderful, and I particularly loved it when they got around the piano and did a convention song. The night ended with Triumphant. I'd heard about this quartet, but again, I'd never seen them live. I missed a bit of their set due to a phone call, but they were just so good with strong harmonies and great songs.
The show ended at midnight, which seemed good to me, til I got the phone call about the midnight breakfast buffet over at the Embassy Inn. I joined up with the crowd, and we ate and laughed til we closed the place. So good, and so necessary - just having a great time and enjoying ourselves.
One more day. It's going to be a long one, because I need to get up early to pack. I don't quite know how I'll blog tomorrow. I've been writing at night, but I need to get up at 6:00AM to drive back to Nashville for our Bluebird auditions at 10:30. Crazy! But I will blog at some point, maybe Sunday, so please check back Sunday to see how it all plays out...