Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ReWind Wednesdays: National Quartet Convention 2005

NQC: The Rest of the Story

The National Quartet Convention has had the reputation of being the biggest Southern Gospel Music party for many years. It has long been the epitome of concerts for every die-hard SGM fan, many of whom plan their vacation time around this colossal event. The star-studded evening lineups which run until the wee hours of the morning, the huge Exhibit Hall where one can rub shoulders with legends and wannabe’s alike, the industry wheeling and dealing, and everything just a little brighter and shinier than your average Sunday-night-go-to-meetin’ concert. For some people though, the real enjoyment of NQC doesn’t revolve around the main stage. Those people have discovered the hidden treasure of this wild week: showcases, daytime concerts, and the unrehearsed moments that make the best memories every September.

This year was full of such impromptu moments and started with a bang on Monday. Randy Miller, soloist and instrumentalist, was the host of the first afternoon concert of the week. This is a difficult timeslot as often the main crowd has not arrived in town yet, and it’s hard to predict how many will make it to the Hall for the inaugural showcase. Things seemed quiet in the Exhibit Hall that day, but a short stroll into the South Wing of Freedom Hall brought one closer to strains of music from groups such as Shiloh and Embrace. These groups weren’t just warming up; they were presenting a program just as professional as you would see on the nighttime line-up, but in the more intimate setting of a much smaller venue with a surprisingly good crowd. This location was especially suited to a harmonica duet between Randy and Angelina McKeithan, which was a particularly beautiful way to begin the week of Southern Gospel.

Hurricane Katrina was often a topic of conversation during NQC, but the most moving story was told during the New City Talent showcase on Wednesday afternoon. Hosted by Wilds and Associates, the concert had begun with the lovely voice of Samantha Parrish, singing to a modest crowd in the Executive West. DEWGrass, the latest band assembled by Steve Easter, blew us all away with their rendition of the old Hank Williams tune, “House of Gold”. That performance alone would have made the afternoon memorable, but there was more to come.

Chosen, a mixed trio from Louisiana, began to sing a song entitled, “I Still Trust You”. The faith and emotion evident in their delivery was touching, but not until one of the members spoke did the audience understand how personal this message was to the group. The soprano spoke of Katrina and its devastating effects on their state and town. The building which housed their business had been crushed, along with their sole source of income. They had faced the inevitable truth that they would not be able to keep their commitment to attend NQC. Then this precious lady went to the Lord and returned from that prayer time with the certainty that He wanted them in Louisville. They decided they would step out in faith, and at that time a phone call came through. The caller made it financially feasible for these people to make the trip. They were so touched by God’s goodness that it was clearly visible in their presentation, and they repeated the song with heart-felt thanksgiving. But the moment became just a little sweeter when one person walked to the front of the room and handed MC John Lanier a fold of paper. Then another moved forward to do the same. Then another. After the singing was over, John explained to the audience that these people coming forward had felt the urge to help these victims of Katrina, and were generously and spontaneously coming to the aid of their fellow Christians. There was not a dry eye in that place as the Church began to take care of Her own. The room was soon filled with people who had heard the story and the song, and who stopped to help these precious singers. That was a memory snapshot that will last long after the NQC program book is stored away.

Many other special performances occurred that week that were not witnessed by thousands, yet touched the hearts of many with a lasting imprint. So many songs were sung, but a few seemed to outshine the rest. The Shadrix Trio presented the awesome tune, “He Can’t Get Past the Blood”, one of the most awesome songs of the week. Ricky Atkinson and Compassion made an impression with: “I’m Not What I Am, I’m Already What I’m Gonna Be”. Randy Miller roamed the audience during a showcase, engaging the crowd by singing, “That’s a Fact”. Mark Bishop in the Soloist Showcase, telling a story as only he can with style, class and authenticity, singing: “I Got Here As Fast As I Could”.

Mark Bishop was also a presenter along with Kyla Rowland at another afternoon event, the Diamond Awards, sponsored by SGNScoops and Lamp Music Group. Held in the Executive West, this awards show was very entertaining and thoroughly enjoyed by the modest crowd. Many know Kyla Rowland as a prolific writer of great music such as, “There Rose a Lamb” and “Safe Thus Far”. This elegant and witty lady also makes a great MC alongside the always humble and hilarious Mark Bishop. Kyla gave us class, and Mark ably demonstrated for us many interesting noises, and together they kept things moving and on a light note.

The smaller venue and more relaxed atmosphere of the Diamond Awards allowed presenters and acceptors the freedom to be themselves, and provided some great impromptu entertainment. Steve Easter, upon accepting an award for Jeff and Sheri, showed how he closely resembled his sister-in-law who is currently with child. Lou Wills Hildreth inspired us with her achievements and grace. Connie Hopper was poise personified in her acceptance of the Living Legend award. Kathy Crabb, upon accepting the Album of the Year on behalf of the Crabbs, spoke of continued excellence striving to build and grow this music we enjoy. Above all, the recipients were of the same mind: if you aren’t going out to bring people to Jesus, as “Rabbit” Easter said, “then you’d better stay at home”.

Other memorable “off-main” events included the Hoskins’ Family, featuring Jim Mahalick on their song, “Can You See Me Alright”, proving that their powerhouse soprano Angie isn’t the only one who can make a lasting impression with a lyric. Monument Quartet made their NQC debut to a rousing response, with tight vocals and a powerful traditional style that the showcase audience enjoyed. Canadian quartet “The Torchmen” took part in a couple of showcases during the week, and gave a well-tuned performance that made this writer proud of her fellow countrymen.

Bluegrass is always needed for flavour during NQC, although it is not often heard on the Main Stage. On Thursday this was provided in large doses during the Bluegrass Jam Session led by Tim Surrett. He joined with Randy Miller, Philip Hughes and Jeremy Peace to begin the afternoon of acoustic instruments and plaintive melodies. The close harmonies of this pick-up Bluegrass Quartet combined with great picking were a delight to the appreciative audience.

So many once-in-a-lifetime events happen at NQC, and often the ones the average fan remembers are not those that take place in the mainstream. My memories will include the stories above and many more: having a moment to speak with Roger Bennett who deeply needs our continued prayers; seeing Big Jim Hammill holding court in the hotel hallway, still larger-than-life and in control; folks meeting strangers and realizing that we are all family in Christ; greeting friends from across the country that only gather like this once a year, not knowing if you will all meet again in the same place.

For those of you already planning on attending NQC 2006, I encourage you: stray off the beaten path and see what treasures you will find for your own memory scrapbook. I guarantee you; they will be unique and lasting.

Published by in October 2005. Used by permission.

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