I’m finally getting around to reviewing that Booth Brothers concert from a few weeks back. They came to the Gospel Barn in Hillsdale, MI, where they have a long history. In fact, I believe the host said that the Barn may have hosted the Rebels Quartet before the Booths. They come there every year around the same time, and then they always go to Auburn Hills for church and another concert the Sunday after. Those two dates are the only fixed points in their entire schedule.
I mentioned having made the acquaintance of a new group called Declaration Trio when I reviewed their advance EP containing half of an upcoming project. Though I recorded the entirety of the main concert, I was so wrapped up in enjoying Declaration’s music that I forgot to turn it on for their opening set! I wished I had later. They sang “Come to the Water” (on the new project), “I Feel Like Traveling On,” and “Blessed Assurance.” They have great energy on stage and got the audience really warmed up on “Traveling On.” Then their 19-year-old tenor, Joshua Horrell, surprised me really pleasantly on “Blessed Assurance.” I didn’t know what to expect, but whenever he approached a high note, he belted it out strongly every time. He should mature well with experience. Not a prodigious talent, but a clear, able, pleasing voice. Later when I was chatting with Jake Sammons, he said several people had come up to them at NQC last month saying, “You realize that you guys are the envy of the convention, right?” because they travel with the Booth Brothers. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have that opportunity. Their sound is less strikingly similar live than in the studio, but it is clear that they want to emulate that style. Joshua sounded especially like Michael on the first verse of “Assurance.” If you want to get to know the group a bit better, here’s a great interview with SGNScoops.
Then the Booths came out and offered a wall-to-wall consistent concert experience. There was not a single weak moment. The songs were perfectly chosen and meaningfully delivered, with Michael’s classic emcee work keeping the large audience in tears and stitches all afternoon. I think this was the most responsive crowd I’ve ever seen at a gospel concert. Granted I’ve only been to a few, but all I know is this was a great bunch of folks to sing to. They laughed and cheered loudly at all the right places. It would be hard to pin-point which songs got the strongest response, because they all got strong responses. You’ll get to hear everything when I provide audio highlights at the end. Alas, I am not Dinana with her stunning video footage—my camera was barely able to take pictures as it was due to a low battery (hence the scarcity of pictures and the fuzziness of the shots I did manage to snap). One of the funniest moments during the concert came when a lady in the front row who was incessantly taking pictures got noticed by Michael. He simply paused in the middle of what he was saying and posed for the camera with a “cheese” grin. I’m sure he wished she would stop, or at least slow down, but he took it completely in stride. Anyway, as I was saying I’ve chosen to do the next best thing to video and string together audio clips of all the performances for you, plus some of Michael’s in-between moments. First, here’s a set list with commentary:
He’s So Good To Me: Short and sweet, not a stand-out on the CD but a perfect concert icebreaker.
I See Grace: This always generates crowd response. It makes for an exciting, vibrant live number.
Masterpiece of Mercy: You might recall that I posted a short interview from half-time in which Ronnie told me this was his favorite song on the album. The harmony has a purity and sweetness about it that is all the more appealing in a live setting.
Look For Me At Jesus’ Feet: The audience erupted into applause the moment Michael began singing. He took it a bit easier than he sometimes does, going lower where he could have gone higher in places. It seemed like his voice was a bit worn out that day, but he turned in a very moving performance nonetheless.
Welcome To the Family: We were debating later over who had ear-pieces and who didn’t in order to figure out whether they had gotten their tone from there for the a cappella intro to this one. It was determined that at least Ronnie and possibly Jim did not, which makes the fact that they were perfectly on key to start with all the more impressive.
Here there was a break for some comedy about Baptists and ties. Ronnie was wearing blue jeans and boots, and Michael pretended to be shocked, shocked at this betrayal of their heritage. He then looked at the “bulletin,” which apparently prescribed hymns next ( ;) ) and spoke about how it’s a shame to see them falling out of use in today’s churches. Yet they are effective and sound, and their words ring true today. He then said something which really made me think, which is that centuries ago, those hymn-writers weren’t writing with the goal of being published or making money. It’s a different world from today’s market-driven society where song-writers collect royalties for their work. But the Charles Wesleys and Fanny Crosbys wrote simply out of the abundance of their heart, to serve the Church and glorify God.
Hymns Medley (“Wonderful Peace/Old Rugged Cross/How Great Thou Art”): This was done a cappella. My dad happened to be sitting close to where Ronnie was on stage and caught his attention during the singalong on “How Great Thou Art.” Ronnie gave him his signature A-OK sign.
All Over the World: This is honestly a song I always skipped when listening to Declaration, but it just plain works live. It’s so dang fun to watch, even if the rhythm is impossible to keep up when clapping along. Michael summed it up at the end: “You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Southern Gospel samba in a barn!”
She Still Remembers Jesus’ Name: By now most fans of the group know that this song holds special significance for Michael and Ronnie since their grandmother passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, Michael shared that there had been one lady who came up to him (“You old ladies can be mean!”) and demanded that they never sing the song again. He asked her why, and she said “Well, didn’t you see those people crying?” Michael responded, “But ma’am, did you hear the hope?” She was unmoved: “People don’t hear that. All they heard was the bad part.” Then he continued, saying, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, when you go to a doctor, if that doctor is good for you, he’ll tell you what you need to hear so that he can help you fix the problem. And what some of you need to hear is that there is hope in difficult situations.” Light can’t cut through the shadows if there are no shadows for it to penetrate. I can tell you that there was a lot of light in the place when Ronnie sang this song, and we saw people dabbing their eyes all around us. I think they heard the hope. However, I can’t forget to mention a moment during Michael’s moving introduction, when just after he said, “Regardless of our feelings, the word of God is true,” a cellphone rang. Not missing a beat, he said, “See, God’s calling right now to confirm what I said. He does that a lot.”
A Higher Throne: This may have been the only song of the concert that got a standing ovation. It can be a long listen on a CD, but live, the atmosphere is electric as the arrangement builds and builds. I was particularly impressed at the full sound their voices created with no stacks (that I could tell anyway). The ending was so powerful that we just naturally stood. It felt right.
Afterwards Michael had some right-on-the-money words about how our heart’s desire should be Christ and Christ alone, and that ultimately he is the only reason we should desire heaven. Christianity isn’t about all the “stuff” we’ll get, it’s about following him and ultimately being united with him. He then did some great “preachin’ ” to set up the next song.
I love Michael’s little “mini-sermons” because he manages to pack so much truth into such a limited amount of time, in a simple and clear way that connects with everybody. Michael may not have been a prize student, as he often reminds his fans, but nobody can deny that he is an effective speaker with a special gift. And like King David of old, he cannot contain his passion and yearning for God. It pours out of him in whatever he does.
When You Bow At Jesus’ Feet: One of their most beautiful recent songs, written and sung by Jim Brady, this sounded just as good live as it did on the album.
See, What a Morning: I think there may have been another standing-O for this one—not sure at the moment. In any case, this was “for anybody from Ireland” as Michael humorously put it. A rousing take on one of the Gettys’ best songs that always works to close off the first half of their concerts.
At half-time I collected many autographs and met all the guys, and some of you may have read what all transpired there in this post. The Booth Brothers couldn’t be kinder to their fans. At one point I looked over and saw Ronnie listening very attentively to what an old lady was telling him. He had his head bowed and his eyes closed, giving her his complete and undivided attention. There was a young woman at the concert with Down’s syndrome, and at one point she was seen literally clinging to Michael. He was completely unfazed and gracious.
Bread On the Water: Nostalgia for me. Not quite like the Imperials, but close enough. When Michael asked if anyone liked the old Imperials and I whooped loudly, he looked over at me and grinned.
He Saw It All: Just a great song which always draws a response. The crowd started clapping when they launched into the chorus. I discovered something interesting about the lyrics recently which I’ll share after… well, never mind, I’ve got an announcement that I plan to post tomorrow.
Peace In the Shelter: Jim Brady wrote this song for his dad, who’s always found comfort in his songwriting. He introduced it by talking about his dad’s recent health issues and asked for prayer (no further news so presumably things are stable now).
Since Jesus Came: I had to look up the Mills’ Brothers’ “Glow Worm” afterwards. Michael said he might “get a letter” for mentioning it, presumably because it’s about a worm who’s glowing to attract lady worms. He said that he asked Jim Brady to come up with a song for them in that vein, except “don’t write it about a worm!” They broke out the two microphones, and it was a huge hit with the audience.
What About Now? Michael set this up as he always does by sharing the gospel and preaching the need to bear fruit in our Christian walk. It is yet another one of those songs which was written to be performed live and is twice as powerful from the stage as it is on a CD. It was a fitting end to the concert.
And I already shared about how I accidentally found Michael again after the concert and sang a duet with him, a precious moment I won’t forget. The whole concert was a great memory, and I can’t really convey how much fun it was by just writing down the experience. You have to experience the Booth Brothers yourselves. They bring a perfect balance of good music, good fun, and a clear gospel message. Michael is hands-down the best emcee on the road today, and the group as a whole manages to be both very polished and very heartfelt in their delivery. It’s no wonder they’re on top of the southern gospel world right now. People simply love them, and after watching and meeting them in person myself, it was easier than ever to see why.
And here are the clips, which I finished throwing together at the last minute. Enjoy!
[Update 9/27: If you are just now finding this post and are unable to get access to the audio, that's because 4shared changed its policy so that now only members can listen to files. Apologies for the inconvenience!]