On December 9th, I attended my first Homecoming. It was a memorable experience. Sadly, I was unable to take that many good photos of the actual stage, so I reverted to taking pictures of the screen, which yielded better results. There are a few “stage shots” in here (I particularly liked one or two of David Phelps, probably because of the high contrast lighting they did for his numbers), but most turned out blurry. I ended up scrapping half the photos I took, and of the ones I kept I didn’t have time to touch any up in Lightroom. So the shots in this slideshow are very rough. But I think they capture the spirit of the evening pretty well. And like I said, I owe most of them to the guys with the video cams. 😉
As usual, Kevin Williams came out before the “concert concert” to play guitar—a couple carols from his new CD. Then Bill came up, and there was some comedy. He announced he was running for President and threw out ideas for his cabinet, including Gordon Mote for Secretary of Transportation. 😉
Then he introduced Buddy Greene, and after some banter, Buddy said, “I am the resident folk singer of this outfit, but when I get up here I feel like a rock star.” He kicked things off on the guitar with the country “Christmas Time’s A’Comin,” from his Christmas project Not Just Any Night (which is fantastic by the way—thanks Buddy for the free copy!) Becky and Sonya Isaacs joined him, and they had a great sound together. He performed it slower live than it is on the album, but it worked perfectly. After some dexterous guitar work, Buddy pulled out the harmonica and did some jamming with Gordon Mote on keys and Kevin on electric. It was an awesome way to kick off the night.
Next, Charlotte Ritchie came on stage and led us in “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.” I’d never heard the song before and immediately loved the way she sang it. What a beautiful, sweet voice she has. I could listen to it all day.
More comedy, including the obligatory shots of Rory Rigdon staring into space. Kevin: “You’re laughing, but that’s Bill’s campaign manager!”
Next up, the Martins, who I believe may have been the highlight of the night. At any rate, they seemed to leave the strongest impression with my dad, who doesn’t customarily listen to southern gospel. They kicked it off with “Go Tell,” then launched right into their acclaimed acapella arrangement of “The Doxology,” which always brings the house down. As comparatively low quality as my audio recording of the event was, playing it back still gives me goosebumps. Definitely a candidate for The Moment of the concert. From here they segued into one of their best songs, “The Promise.” I am always struck by how potent and well-written the lyrics for this song are.
Break for a product pitch. Bill announced the CDs, and Rory was shown holding them up. It was humorous when he would get “mixed up.” The best moment was when Bill was pitching something else and Mark Lowry sneaked up behind Rory to wave his new solo project in everyone’s face. “I can’t believe he did that! Shameless self-promotion!” cried Kevin indignantly, proceeding to display his two new projects (thanks for the free copies Kevin!)
Then, the moment everyone was probably waiting for… the Gaither Vocal Baaaaand! They started with a great choice: “Hide Thou Me,” for which Bill has taken to accompanying them on the piano. David was himself. Next they pulled out an unexpected tune from the Wes/Guy/Marsh lineup, “I Catch ‘Em, God Cleans ‘Em.” Mark Lowry sang the step-outs. It wasn’t the same without Guy but still fun.
Here there was some comedy with Bill and Mark where Mark asked the different denominations in the audience to identify themselves. “Church of Christ! You get to hear a PIANO. It’s almost like SINNING, isn’t it? [evil cackle]” My favorite moment was when Mark told the Catholics, “Oh, God bless you. Thank you for coming to hear Baptist Protestants sing. Tell Mary I said hey. We’re not allowed to talk to her. Tell her I said thanks for that song though, I appreciate it.”
Then they gave Wes his moment with “He is Here.” Putting him and Phelps back to back was obviously intentional, but for me, it served as a reminder of why I’ve always preferred Wes to David. Even though Phelps is more talented, Wes appears to put more of his heart into what he sings. There’s such a feeling of authenticity about Wes that’s just not as obviously apparent when David sings. Though by that I certainly don’t mean to imply that David is a cold fish or Wes has no talent. So no letters, please! 🙂
Michael English sang “Please Forgive Me,” and then David launched into “He’s Alive.” It was an appropriately exciting finale for the first half.
[Intermission] Gordon Mote played a piano instrumental to start the second half. Meanwhile, Dad fixed Mom’s lighter. Then Bill led the audience in “Joy to the World.” Next was “Come and See What’s Happening” (Gordon Mote sang the solo with some assorted female backup singers—perhaps Charlotte Ritchie and the Isaacs?) Bill played the Christmas Homecoming video along with this song and did so again with several others throughout the night.
Bill and Buddy Greene had some harmonica fun at this point. Buddy showed off his mad skillz with a little stylistic sampler (Mark Lowry had a rather loud “stomach growl” during the prairie snippet and said “That’s what Michigan Mexican food will do to you!”) and then the famous Classical Medley. Then he sang “Little Drummer Boy” and forgot some of the words on the first verse. He stopped, looked dazed and said, “Oops, what happened?” “You forgot the words!” Mark offered helpfully. That was priceless, and I’m confident it was unplanned, partly because he also stumbled a little on later verses.
Then it was the Gaither Vocal Band’s turn to come back. They sang “Glorious Impossible,” originally on Give it Away but fitting perfectly with the Christmas spirit. It was written by my friend Wendy Wills, who also co-wrote the recent hit single “Jesus is Holding My Hand” with Lyn Rowell.
The Isaacs then did an acapella rendition of “Away in a Manger.” Afterwards Bill played a clip of Gloria Gaither doing a monologue from a Christmas homecoming. It set up the GVB’s next song, “Reaching.” They did this with just piano accompaniment. It worked brilliantly. Afterwards, Buddy’s harmonica led the audience on “Silent Night.” And FINALLY, David Phelps sang “O Holy Night,” which I had been hoping he would do all evening. He started in complete darkness, but I think it was the first key change when they switched to a pure white spotlight on him. Then after he hit the high note and everyone joined in, the whole stage lit up. It was pretty electrifying. As I’ve said before, I genuinely enjoy what he does with this song, even though he still can’t resist just a few “tweaks.” 😉 I think you have to see David Phelps live to really appreciate his talent. Nothing beats being in the same auditorium as he is when he unleashes “it.” I was astonished that it didn’t get a standing ovation.