The other Friday I had the wonderful opportunity to catch the Christian Classic (or God of All Glory) tour in Shipshewana, IN, with my dad. The only thing that made the evening less than perfect for us was some confusion caused by the fact that we arrived a quarter of an hour before showtime to find Twila Paris already singing! We scrambled for an explanation, even fearing for a few moments that there was some Daylight Savings Time confusion and we had missed half of the concert. (Later we figured out that didn’t make any sense, but we were a bit panicky!) After the concert, we found out that it was really the artists’ fault, because they wanted to start an hour earlier when they saw that there was already a good crowd. Fortunately the organizers got them to compromise to start only half an hour earlier, so turns out we only missed an opener and the first song or so of Twila’s set. Phew! And I DID get pictures, which are interspersed throughout the review below. I’ve broken it down into little sections by each artist’s set. Enjoy!
Twila’s was arguably the overall strongest set of the night. Her performances were essentially flawless, and she picked several of her absolute best songs. I was impressed with how she and Dick Tunney worked together and around each other on various sets of keys.
We Bow Down: We just caught the tail end of this as we walked in. Because I didn’t know the artists had pushed for an early start, I wasn’t sure whether we were hearing Twila live or Twila on a CD. Her voice is still that fresh and youthful.
Warrior is a Child: Dick Tunney played accordion while Twila played and sang. Wayne Watson offered harmonies. The rest of the band tastefully fleshed out the arrangement. I caught the name of the violinist later: Bruce Wethey. He’s a studio musician with many diverse credits under his belt, including country, gospel and Latin music.
All Things Work Together: I wasn’t very familiar with this simple chorus. It worked well for audience singalong.Twila preceded this with some remarks about the will of God.
God is In Control: I really enjoyed the arrangement for this. There was a pre-recorded drum loop or two, but the rest of the accompaniment was live. The guitarist particularly enjoyed himself.
Twila let Tunney handle the keyboard and stood to perform it, just like the old days.
How Beautiful: Twila returned to the acoustic piano for this elegant performance. Bruce Wethey added great violin texture over her playing.
He is Exalted: This was slowed down from the album tempo, but it fit the band well. The audience once again joined in.
Cross of Love: Here Twila introduced Steve Green by talking about how she and her husband first met him and his wife. “For those of you who’ve listened to Steve’s music for all of these years and feel like you know him [this got a chuckle] but maybe haven’t gotten a chance to be around up close, I can tell you, as a lot of other folks would, that who you think you know is who he really is.” As Michael Booth said about Bill Gaither, he is who you would want him to be. Then she said they were going to do a duet from a project that I was not previously familiar with, entitled Savior. It was a CCM oratorio/musical centered on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The duet and the song were a delightful surprise. Just seeing Twila and Steve on stage together was worth the price of admission. Listen to the studio version here.
Proclaim the Glory of the Lord: I love it that he opened with this classic. Very nostalgic! Here he is hitting the high note on that one:
Immortal, Invisible: This was around the time that the guy behind me who thought he was an opera singer started singing along, and pretty much didn’t stop for the rest of the evening. It was cool for a couple minutes, until I realized he had no sense of pitch. But no matter, the arrangement of this hymn was magnificent.
I Can See: Steve set up this David Meece classic with the story of the road to Emmaus and offered some additional insight. “Many people have noble thoughts about Christ, but they don’t really believe in the Jesus of the Scripture. As he has revealed himself, he is, before time began.” This led to a spontaneous recitation from Colossians. Just in this little introduction, Steve was a walking advertisement for the Baptist custom of saturating their kids in the Scriptures (I know you all take it for granted, but trust me, not all denominations are like that!). Once again, violinist Bruce Wethey made his presence felt.
People Need the Lord: The audience sang along.
Find Us Faithful: Something went wrong on the key change for this one—Steve tried to go higher than Dick was going on the piano. He glanced at Dick but quickly recovered. I imagine that got hammered out once and for all afterwards! Steve shared a bit about how the song came to be written. Apparently, Steve and Jon Mohr (the author), were on a cross-country trip in South America when Mohr came up with the chorus. He played that little bit for Steve, and Steve immediately said, “Yes, I want it!”
He Who Began a Good Work: Another audience singalong.
God and God Alone: I like the stripped-down arrangement Steve has taken to doing. His voice carries the song well without the orchestral bombast. As usual, it was exciting to see whether he would play it safe or belt out the high note. Fortunately, he chose the latter!
We Believe: This song has the power to make people stand up and applaud before it’s even done no matter who sings it. When you give it to Steve Green, well…
Wayne’s set stood out in that he used completely live music, although every artist did some live stuff.
Almighty: I confess: I didn’t know Wayne Watson wrote this, even though I’ve sung it with a congregation several times! We just did it in church the other week. Wayne talked about how his mom always said if he ever got a song in the hymnbook, that would be really awesome. Now he has a couple in some hymnbooks, but he said his ego was deflated when he realized Dick and Melody Tunney have about eight, and as for Twila Paris, “I think she’s the author of the hymnbook!” Wayne sprinkled his set with lots of chuckle-worthy moments like this.
Sing for Joy: This was actually not written by Wayne, but he’s been incorporating it into his sets lately. He drew it out and interspersed the singing with some spoken thoughts about balancing the command to be joyful with the chances and changes of this mortal life. It was moving, but I think he probably could have fit in another song in the time he spent on this one. I would have liked to hear him sing “The Ones Left Standing” or “For Such a Time As This,” neither of which we were treated to that particular night.
Friend of a Wounded Heart: Wayne rested from the guitar and performed this with just Dick on keys behind. The song takes a little while to get going, but Tunney and Watson created a wonderful, dynamic sound just between the two of them. Take note—live music doesn’t have to be busy to be great! I also appreciated Wayne’s pure vocal on this performance, since he sang a couple other numbers with a breathier style that is less to my taste. This felt completely right and natural for him. This and the next song were easily the highlights of his set.
Touch of the Master’s Hand: “I’m gonna see how old some of you folks really are. This song is available in LP. AND eight-track!” Spontaneous applause before Wayne had gotten the first full line out. Another confession: I didn’t know Wayne wrote this either! Or at least co-wrote it. I asked him later and he clarified that the lyrics were an old poem for which he wrote the musical setting. After he recorded it, it became a standard. (A little like what happened with Fernando Ortega and “Give Me Jesus.”) This song is a fantastic example of what happens when a talented musician finds a classic piece of poetry and gives it exactly the right melodic complement. Yet another great bit of live music, with just Wayne’s guitar and, of course, the violin, where Mr. Wethey got yet another opportunity to shine on the solo! Wayne shared that the first time this band performed the song, it was a spontaneous choice, and Wethey picked up the violin part immediately with no rehearsal.
Heal Our Land: This song was completely new to me, and I liked it a lot. I wondered if it was the same song Michael Card has recorded by that name, but turns out it’s a different one. Watson shared a good word about the lack of reverence for God that we’re observing in this nation. He rightly noted that there used to be a time when even if you weren’t a Christian, you at least had some sense of respect for Christianity and the things of God. Not any more. His remarks leaned a little quietistic for my taste (“God doesn’t want us to ‘take America back,’ just to pray”), but overall it was a very good message. Take a look at these thought-provoking lyrics:
It’s not so much that we’ve forgotten
But that we remember and are cold
And simply disregard the voice of God
And still presume to be so bold
Hear our prayer
Oh hear our prayer
Hear our prayer O Lord
And heal our land
Oh may it be that we’ve not wandered
Too far away to be redeemed
To turn a spark into rekindled flame
And live the truth that we believe
Hear our prayer
Oh hear our prayer
Hear our prayer O Lord
And heal our land
At times I have denied it
At times I’ve justified it
To be the master of my fate
But we will not relive
What we’ve let you forgive
Find us falling on Your mercy
Find us falling on Your grace
The Blood of Jesus: Wayne likes to introduce this song with a story about two bikers he met and struck up a conversation with in a bike shop. (“They were bikers. I was a rider.”) They asked him what he did for living, and he vainly tried to make the life of a contemporary Christian music artist sound tough. On his way home, he prayed that something he had said had pointed them in the right direction. He admits that he struggled to imagine them entering heaven, until a little voice inside said “Who do you think YOU are?” He imagined two proper little old ladies from his church standing at the pearly gates in shock to see two old biker boys coming to join them. He led the audience in “Nothing But the Blood” to close this set.
Come Almighty King: The moment Larnelle Harris hits the stage is the moment when you know you’re really in for something special. The crowd was mostly dignified, older folk, but Larnelle whipped them up from note one. If I had to pick a single favorite from Larnelle’s solo set, it might actually be this vigorous opener.
There is No Equal: Like most of the songs Larnelle sang, this was new to me because I’ve never dug into his catalogue. Larnelle makes this song great, but I couldn’t help thinking about how much better “For God and God Alone” is as a song (especially since Steve Green had just sung it!)
Were It Not For Grace: Larnelle performed this with just Dick Tunney on the keys and a little violin. His voice was absolutely gorgeous on it. Great Protestant lyrics. He led the audience in “Grace Greater Than All My Sin” (apparently we sounded good because we choked him up!)
Here he talked about the effect of God’s grace on his parents, particularly his mother. “My mom was one of those Pentecostal Holiness ladies. She wore that white dress with them big buttons down the front. She’d scare y’all to death.” He told of how she would spontaneously jump up and begin running around the church when she felt moved in the Spirit. She would go all the way around one time, “And you would think she is done. You should oughta get out of the way!” Mindful of his audience, Larnelle said “I know, some of you folks, you’d get the ushers and ask her to go out.” Truth be told, maybe I would, but Larnelle told the story so beautifully it was great. He also indicated that his father was converted during their marriage because of her intercession.
The Greatest of These: This 1 Corinthians 13 setting was a set highlight for me, even though it’s a comparatively recent song. It requires some patience, because it’s one of those “sung-through” songs that meanders a little. (Think Les Mis, ish.) But by the end, folks were standing.
Amen: Larnelle closed with his classic version. The rest of the artists came out to join him in the song’s back half. Towards the end, folks were starting to cluster around the stage to try to get photo/video (except I think the bulletin said no videos—whoops). Everyone sang along, of course.
It is Well: This was a wonderful surprise. Larnelle left us with one final, moving word about faith. “Faith calls on us to look beyond what we see and know that Jesus is Lord.” As soon as Twila Paris broke into the first verse and “that guy” started singing along behind me, I knew I had to escape and join the gaggle at the front for a better listen. Also, I wanted to see if I could get any half-way decent group shots. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, and I’m kind of short. This was the best I managed.
The other artists each took turns on the other verses. Even though it was great to have the whole audience singing along, I’d like to hear a studio version with just these guys.
I walked away from this night spiritually refreshed, with more appreciation than ever before for the grace of God and for the performance and writing quality of classic Christian contemporary music. If I may say so, there was a lot more dignity then than now. A lot more reverence, as Wayne was talking about, even within the world of Christian music. The style may have faded into the past, but these songs are living on, and I believe they will continue to live on into the future. I overheard Steve chatting with a fan afterwards and saying “It’s hard to get people to come, but when they do come, they love it.” That was both sad and encouraging to me. I think there are young people who appreciate it (obviously I am among them), but it’s difficult to get kids these days to really think about a song. These artists perform music that makes you an active participant in worship without getting up and announcing that “THIS IS GOING TO BE A WORSHIP SONG!” The worship just happens, naturally and freely. Each one of these artists is supremely comfortable in his own skin. There was a great sense of mutual respect among all four as they spoke of each other and performed together. Together and apart, they are truly a class act.
If the Christian Classic Tour (or God of All Glory Tour—whatever) is coming your way, I can’t recommend it highly enough. This is a rare opportunity to see four veteran Christian artists in concert who can still bring it. Go, and be blessed.