What does it take to get this Canadian girl to go to some place called Bell Buckle, Tennessee? Well for starters, a getaway weekend simply titled: Russ and Tori Taff’s weekend in Bell Buckle, consisting of some of the best Gospel music there is today. Throw in some of the best southern cooking, hospitality, and charm. Think it is hard to fit all of this into a charming hamlet of 500+ inhabitants? Well, it is possible because that’s exactly what happened. To quote our weekend host Tori Taff, “A joyful oasis from your daily routine,” and that’s what this amazing weekend delivered.
What I am referring to? The 2nd Annual Russ and Tori Taff ‘s Weekend in Bell Buckle, Tenn., on Oct. 7 and 8. From the moment I stepped into the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall on the Friday for early registration, I was greeted with open arms, which quickly got filled with the warmest and most sincere hug from our greeter
Tori herself. As a guest, you get treated to a registration bag filled with goodies; name tag/badge, lovely commemorative mug, a professional and gorgeous autographed 8×10 picture of Russ Taff, yummy moon pie samples, Bell Buckle bumper sticker, and an exclusive CD by Russ of never before released songs. In addition, a list of shops indicating their discounts especially for the weekend guests, all packed into a nice yellow tote bag. Tori is definitely in her wheelhouse, hosting, greeting and scheduling this annual event. Leaving Russ, who has been called “the introvert in an extroverts career,” to do what he does best: sing. And that he did, in spades.
Where do I begin to share my weekend? Why not start with the hamlet itself – Bell Buckle, Tenn. It is nestled in the picturesque countryside of Bedford County, Tenn.,
little more than an hour from Nashville. Many residents of this quaint town are artisan virtuosos, antique collectors, and there is also a resident Poet Laureate, Maggi Vaughn, who took to the stage on Sunday afternoon to delight us with some of her winsome poetry. This dear lady is a town treasure indeed.
In the downtown core of Bell Buckle is a quiet gem, which brings back every young girl’s playtime memory of her tea parties: Southern Charm’s Tea Room. It is a dainty place to enjoy a traditional Southern tea along with some addictive yumminess; a must-see.
This town is so welcoming and the residents are some of the finest southern folks one will ever meet. It was hard to leave. Even the train that runs through town stopped Saturday night on the tracks and nestled in for the night, not wanting to
leave Bell Buckle, and leaving us to challenge our GPS’s with navigating an alternate route back to our lodgings after the evening’s concert. Spoiler alert: We all made it.
Next were the mouth-watering buffets; the first of the two banquet meals was Saturday evening at 6:00 p.m. It was a scrumptious southern dinner in the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall. The buffet consisted of meatloaf, grilled chicken, smothered pork chops, mashed potatoes, green beans and other veggies. Deserts were oatmeal cake with warm caramel sauce, blackberry and peach cobbler, and ice cream. The second was the Sunday brunch; scrambled eggs, biscuits, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, fruit and delectable sweets. One never leaves hungry after a Southern meal.
The Bell Buckle Banquet Hall was like entering a four-star hotel banquet room draped with yards of billowing fabric flowing down; our chairs too were draped in fabric, and several crystal chandeliers provided ambient lighting. The decor was like a high-end wedding reception hall. Every detail was not overlooked.
Next were the marvelous concerts: First was an intimate acoustic concert with Russ on Saturday afternoon. This was followed by two additional concerts in the banquet hall on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. The first live concert was right after Saturday’s dinner, approximately 7:00 p.m. The final concert was Sunday at noon. The venue was adjacent to the dining area. The Saturday evening concert provided a full band on stage to accompany the performers, as well as a professional sound system.
Finally the artists themselves; what can I say about the gospel mega giants who gave of their time and talent?
Russ Taff: His unplugged concert on Saturday afternoon in the front yard of the Taff home was so private and intimate. We all felt like we were part of the family. The forecast called for rain that afternoon but we only were showered with great music and lemonade, along with some old and new friends. At the conclusion of the concert, Russ made sure to meet and greet every guest. He posed for pictures and signed whatever anyone wanted. He stayed until everyone got to meet him. This five-time Grammy winner and Gospel Hall of Famer is an extremely talented, witty, approachable, down to earth and humble man – he is the real deal, folks. His genuine love for the Lord drips out of every pore. “Ain’t No Grave” is my ultimate favorite song which he performed.
Reba Rambo McGuire and Dony McGuire along with Chip Davis: this group of talented performers, writers and artists didn’t disappoint. Their rendition of new and classic songs tugged at our heartstrings, like “He Can Make a Perfect Heart,” and another which made us sing along, “Don’t Count Out All the Praying People.” The caliber of talent presented on stage took my breath away.
Mark Lowry was entertaining as usual. He treated us to some brand new songs from his latest CD, “What’s Not to Love.” Some of the songs were written by him, Reba, Dony and Chip, and have quickly become brand new favorites. He also performed his “one hit” (as he calls it) – “Mary Did You Know.” Mark also serenaded a dear, sweet, recent widow in the audience. He held her in his arms and sang directly to her. Not a dry eye was to be found.
Bonnie Keen is a talented artist, and background singer for Russ Taff. This artist is quite sought after in the Nashville music community. She blew me away with her voice. She captivated us all with a never before heard rendition of a familiar campfire song, “Kumbaya, My Lord”. As they say in the south, “that gurl can sang.” That song made me rush to the product table to pick up her CD.
I must say how refreshing it is to see how gospel artists support each other; this is so endearing. Not like today’s pop artists who berate and belittle their fellow artists openly in public with their music. Many are not a positive example for their fans. However, these gospel artists are the real deal who openly sing about our Lord and Saviour with inspirational and worship music. They are caring, talented, creative and true connoisseurs of gospel music. Bravo.
There also was a silent auction for hurricane relief, where 100% of proceeds were given to Grace Church in Houston.
I highly recommend this annual weekend in Bell Buckle, Tenn. If you are into gospel music, socializing with like-minded believers, enjoy intimate concert settings and like Southern food, then pack your bags and head out to Bell Buckle, Tenn., for the 3rd annual weekend with Russ and Tori
Taff next Oct. 2018. Thank you, Taff family, for sharing your new hometown with us all.
Russ and Tori: well done.
By Susan Werchonowicz