By Lynn Mills
Though the holiday season is quickly passing, the spirit of Christmas resides in the hearts of those who believe the wondrous story and live to share its joy. Looking back on the weeks leading up to the Christmas season there are numerous concerts each year where your favorite carols are sung by your favorite artists. Though it’s true that many groups reserve the majority of December for Christmas vacation; it is becoming more popular for a few groups to team up with their friends and hit the road at the beginning of the month for a special Christmas tour. For the winter of 2014, another pairing was added to the roster of SGM Christmas tours, hailing by the name of Home For Christmas; featuring the Mark Trammell Quartet and The Whisnants.
Home For Christmas was first introduced to fans in late October when the pre-sale for the Home For Christmas CD was put on the market. This project brought together The Whisnants and The Mark Trammell Quartet (MTQ) in a combination of 12 Christmas songs both old and new that showcased both groups on one recording. At the beginning of November, MTQ and the Whisnants hosted an online Launch Party over the course of 12 hours on Facebook where they shared Christmas memories, traditions and personal thoughts concerning the songs on the new Christmas project via videos, photos and posts from both group’s members. Shortly after Thanksgiving, they hit the road and performed their very first official tour together!
The inaugural concert occurred on the Showboat Branson Belle as a part of the Carols On The Belle Series. It was a balmy 70 degrees out in Branson, Missouri! But more than that, the folks that came on board filled the Showboat to capacity; the first Home For Christmas concert was sold out! When the Mark Trammell Quartet and Whisnants took the stage everyone gathered around for their opening tunes, “The Faithful Medley,” and “Unspeakable Joy.” After a few words from Susan, Jeff and Mark, the Whisnants sang a few of their contributions to the CD: “Without Christ There’s No Christmas,” and a ballad, “I Call Him Lord.” The Mark Trammell Quartet came up and gave the crowd a little variety in musical taste; they sang their hillbilly tune, “O Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem” and the more refined arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
The Whisnants, who had been listening to MTQ sing from where they were seated on black stools, returned to the spotlight to sing their new upbeat tune, “Jesus Brought Joy To The World.” Mark Trammell also explained to the audience why they sing.
It is worthy to note the diversity of the crowd on the Showboat – a bus from Michigan brought a good amount of Asian folk, many Indian couples were present and others who came for the classic Branson tour and sightseeing staples. The crowd, therefore, was not made of your typical Southern Gospel fans, so an explanation was due!
Mark also shared about being raised in a pastor’s home and how one would expect his mother’s favorite Christmas song to be a traditional carol…but it wasn’t. It was the classic “Christmas Song”. Mark went on to croon the first few lines from this well-known song. While he was doing his best impression of Perry Como, the others were doing their best to steal the spotlight. This came about in the form of Santa hats, which were distributed in a quiet fashion to all the group members seated behind Mark. Susan decided to share and plopped her hat, complete with tiara, on Mark’s head. After a bit of waltzing and other comical antics from those who were obviously bored with Mark singing his solo, Trammell gave up and sang, “I’m gonna’ kill them when this is over…!”
From those humorous moments, the singers moved to a sincere reading of the Christmas story in Luke. Mark turned the pages of his black leather Bible to the second chapter and told of how the Savior came to be born in this world. “Silent Night,” followed this. Susan, the only lady on stage, sang this carol from the viewpoint of a mother. Afterwards, she asked the audience to sing “Away In A Manger,” with her. A sweet sound echoed through the boat.
As the evening came to a close, Mark Trammell had the crowd on the edge of their seat by a powerful arrangement of “O Holy Night.” An equally powerful message followed as Susan introduced her solo, “If You Could See What I See,” and the thought behind the message.
“People come up to me all the time,” Susan began, “They say, ‘I love Christmas, but it’s a lonely time for me; I lost my husband, I lost my wife, I lost my kid, I lost my mom…it’s lonely’.” She went on to say that in 2013 on December the 23rd her father-in-law went home to heaven. “A lot of people felt sorry for us,” she went on, “But we had a friend who wrote this song and sent it to us on Christmas Eve. If God gave us one glimpse into heaven, we would never wish them back.” Susan sang that comforting message and prayed. As the Showboat came back into dock MTQ and the Whisnants left everyone with this tune: “Christmas Time’s A Comin’!”
The next night, the Home For Christmas Tour went to Arkansas where they sang a full concert at Beryl Baptist Church. Though this wasn’t the last stop on the tour, this is where my ability to follow ended. The difference between the Showboat and this concert was that they had more time at the church and material was added. One of those additions was a fun performance of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Susan and Mark beckoned 12 volunteers from the audience (the pastor, who is an accomplished bass vocalist, being one of them) and soon a line formed at the foot of the stage. Aaron Hise and Nick Trammell distributed cards with each part written on them and the fun began! It would be impossible to re-tell everything that made us laugh – but we had a great time! Another highlight of the evening was Austin Whisnant singing a song Susan originally recorded, called “Even Then,” and Ethan’s solo of “Strange Way To Save The World.”
“Home For Christmas” is a must see for fans who love Christmas music. It is impossible to miss the sincerity of those ministering on stage. Nothing is scripted – it’s all from the heart. Whether the moment is funny, reflective or serious, the heart behind it shines through. This is Christmas. This is the way we think of the holiday when we close our eyes and picture a homey, old-fashioned Christmas tree set in the midst of children at play and Christ where He ought to be: in the center of it all. Home For Christmas offers songs you want to hear, the new ones you’ll be humming after you hear them the first time, the singers you love and the sincerity of the Christmas story, all creating memories you won’t easily forget!
If you are interested in bringing the Home For Christmas Tour to your area in 2015, contact The Harper Agency for more info at: http://www.harperagency.com/ or call 615-851-4500.
For more artist features and concert reviews by Lynn Mills and others, view the latest SGN Scoops magazine at www.sgnscoops.com