Photo Credit: Gaither.com
I didn’t go to church on Sunday but, quite frankly, I wasn’t feeling too guilty about it. For, the night before, I’d spent a most powerful four hours at church worshipping amongst a crowd of thousands, led by one of Christian music’s most notable heavyweights, none other than Bill Gaither at the sold out Gaither Vocal Band Homecoming Tour in Tampa, FL. Featuring the Vocal Band, The Isaacs, The Nelons, Gene McDonald, Charlotte Ritchie, and a guest appearance from Gordon Mote, it was a night that those in attendance are bound to remember for a long, long time.
Following suit with concerts past, guitarist Kevin Williams took to the stage about twenty minutes before the official show opening, playing through a series of hymns which led the growing crowd in Idlewild Church to sing along, their voices harmonizing beautifully. Then the patriarch of the evening, Bill Gaither, took to the stage and began bringing out his traveling acts like a proud father.
That’s one thing to be said about Bill Gaither and he says it himself, that he’s “the oldest teenager in America.” And it’s true because, even at the age of 78, the artist was perhaps the most energetic and engaged performer on the stage throughout the night, his love and joy for the music, his friends, and his God showing through each and every moment.
Photo Credit: Tyler Greenhalgh
Charlotte Ritchie and Gene McDonald took to the stage first, delivering their signature sounds and were followed by The Nelons who brought tons of energy alongside some amazing family harmonies and heart, particularly with the powerful “Excuse Me, Are You Jesus?”.
Fans were in for a sure treat next when former Vocal Band accompanist and Nashville’s go to studio guy Gordon Mote took to the stage, delivering an amazing array of soulful piano playing alongside some great gospel jams and plenty of humor. And one look around the auditorium as he performed his original song, “The Sound a Dream Makes,” accompanied by pictures of his family, found that there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
The Isaacs had a hard act to follow but, were there anyone capable, it is the tightly knit bluegrass family and they proved well up to the task. The first song showed not only their great harmonies but some poise under fire as Sonya’s mandolin
pickup failed and she plunged forward as the road handler engaged a quick fix, pulling the song off without a hitch. But this night belonged to both mother Lily and daughter Becky whose heartfelt testimonies, Lily reading from her recent autobiography and Becky sharing from the heart (with some nudging from Gaither), led to some powerful moments of worship and praise with the songs “The Living Years” and “Waiting in the Water.”
Of course, the night’s main attraction was the Gaither Vocal Band and they didn’t disappoint. It’d been a year since their last appearance in Tampa with newcomers Todd Settles and Adam Crabb coming on and the time spent gelling as a group was apparent as was the bolstered confidence shown by all the performers. Adam Crabb took to his lead vocal duties with ease, owning each and every line and really letting it all hang out, really shining on “Sometimes It Takes a Mountain.” Similarly, Todd Settles seems far more settled in his position, his playful disposition making him a perfect foil for Gaither’s straight man. Yet, Settles also showcased some killer vocal prowess, ranging from the bass tones of “Happy Rhythm” to the more nuanced “The Night Before Easter” where he stole the show before intermission.
Photo Credit: Tyler Greenhalgh
And yes, the Vocal Band’s longtime members were allowed their moments to shine as well and Wes Hampton really showed some vocal growth, his range feeling much higher than he used to manage. To be sure, Wes has always been a capable tenor but this time out it was he who shot for the high ranges in “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary” and nailing it. Of course, his fellow tenor David Phelps held his part down well as well, delighting the crowd with a solo take on “The Lord’s Prayer,” leading to a standing ovation that was well deserved.
The night found its conclusion in a couple of great tracks, with the new track “Let It Start In Me” showing the GVB’s new lineup at its best and giving the crowd their call to go out into the world and live the Gospel. And with the big finale of “Let Freedom Ring,” the arena was filled with an array of starry lights held by the audience, creating a beautiful display that matched the evening.