friends who sing and care

There have to be more pleasant things to do than standing exposed to the scrutiny of a crowd you aren't sure is even in the house to see you. I might've been on the program, but no one bought a ticket because I was there.

Most everyone knows that Kirk Talley is one of my best friends. He invited me to join him and the rest of the Trio (Anthony Burger & Shane Dunlap) for a good night of singing and sharing at their concert in Maryville Tennessee this past weekend. Thing is, no one knew I was gonna be there. At least they weren't supposed to. This was my first time on a stage in the east Tennessee area since coming off the road so many years ago. I didn't know what to expect. And the uneasiness was made a bit more intense because of an email I had endured from a former fan with some spikes and a hammer just before heading out my Kentucky door. I had a few travel hours to contemplate her meaningful words.

Joyce Martin is another great friend. Our stories are remarkably alike. We've both enjoyed riding the highs of our public careers while keeping very private battles tucked deep. We've had our fairly recent God encounters though. Now we are facing the music, and the people, anxious to tell our stories. The stuff we've been preaching and singing for a couple of decades has come home to at least two of us.

That's one of the things we talked about. Joyce, Kirk and I could write some amazing verse if a book were ever put together. If the chapters flowed as the emotions have, you'd be sick from the inclines, loops and all-of-the-sudden steep drops. All three of us have called one or the other of our little trio in the middle of the night just to cry or vent it out. The moment's high is usually tempered by the expectation of the next hard knock or crushing email. But that doesn't mean we won't enjoy those good times while we have them.

After the concert, Joyce, Shane and I went to Kirk's house to finish off the food that had been left over backstage. That gave us opportunity for another round of bucking each other up. And we took advantage of it. I wondered what Shane was thinking just listening in to our happy, sappy, crappie tales. He's had his own share of serious injuries in the SG business, but not with the issues the rest of us know.

When we started repeating ourselves (around 4 am) we decided that a little rest would give us all fresh perspective. Shane drew the short straw. He got the floor. Joyce got the guest room And I got the couch. We heard Kirk snickering from his own room. Shane obviously couldn't sleep. I know he said something about camping when he was a kid, but I was nearly making firewood by then.

Sunday morning church was just sweet. Kirk's pastor, Tommy Patterson, is the perfect picture of a fiery Pentecostal preacher. He preaches hard, keeps you involved, and commands authority. I loved him. As hard as he preaches to you while on the stump, he loves you just as much afterwards. And he's funny too.
After lots of laughing as friends, a little crying as comrades, and even a little brow beating as fellow artists, we all packed up our own bags of dirty clothes and tough life issues and ventured off in different directions. But we'll get together again before long. And we'll talk about good days, booger days and the beautiful things that God is showing us.


a night in the valley

Last night was simply fantastic! I made the 50 mile drive south out of Lexington to Renfro Valley. "The Valley," as folks around here call it, has hosted nearly every big name in country and gospel music. So many legends have been across the stages of both the "old" and the "new" barns that it would be tough to list them all. Even though Connie Hunt, who has been running the shows at the entertainment complex for quite a few years could probably rattle off a bunch of them. The Bishops performed there quite a bit, and it was always a blast. In fact, there was a much earlier version of Bishops that performed on those legendary stages many years before there was an official group using the name. Dad, his sisters and his brother took their own tight family harmony to Valley audiences long before he was thinking about a family of his own and coming back.

I went down for the annual All Night Gospel Singing. This event has been going on for a lot of years. It used to start at midnight and run 'til about six in the morning. That's back when the Bishops (later version) were doing it. They still call it an all night singing, but now it's a 7 PM till midnight show. I don't know if the ticket buyers wanted the change or the artists. But knowing our thoughts on it, I'd say the singers probably asked for it.

There are lots of great shows in the Valley. Last night's lineup was the Freemans, Crossway, the Booth Brothers and Jeff & Sheri Easter. Danny Jones was there too. I didn't buy a ticket. Couldn't. The show was sold out. But I didn't plan on sitting in a paid-for seat anyway. I was there as much to visit friends as I was to hear the music.

As always, the first thing I did when I arrived was tap on Jeff & Sheri's door. Back when my name was only spoken in hushed whispers among many in the SGM artist/industry circles, (it actually still is by some) and the phone stopped ringing, I'd still hear from Jeff & Sheri. Jeff has invited me out on the road with them at least a hundred times. So have several other groups. But I've always been able to confide in these sweet people. And they've always been honest with me. I didn't always like their advice. But I always knew they'd steer me with their hearts.

I visited with Jeff, Sheri, Charlotte, Greg, Madison and Landon for a while, (don't know where Morgan was) then went inside to hear one of my favorite groups. Crossway is just good. They look good, they sound good, the smell good. They're just good. I told them last night that their song, It Looks Like Love absolutely blows me away. Matt stood center stage and flatfoot sang right into my heart with it last night. They've staged that song very well. I was actually back in the Booth Brothers' green room when I heard the intro to this fantastic song. I left the hilarity for a moment to listen. If the whole night was spent visiting friends, I was bent on hearing that one song. I plan on having Paul's hair when I grow up.

Speaking of whimsical, wacky, Willie Wonka wonderment, did I mention my friends the Booth Brothers? Maybe it's because these two brothers used to travel with their dad. Maybe it's because the Booths and the Bishops both started, or at least spent time with, the same record company. Maybe it's because Michael and I are brothers who, for the sake of society's safety, were separated at birth. But I get these guys. I connect with them. Besides their music, which is some of the most pleasant in the market, they have the most attractive personalities out there. My magic moment came when, during the Booth Brother's stand, Michael called me out on the stage to share some of the things going on in my life, work, family and ministry, and he gave me an opportunity to invite folks to visit me here on the site. I've always known them as very selfless and giving.

Some of the groups I grew up listening to and enjoying the most as a kid were the ones I saw every Sunday morning on the Gospel Singing Jubilee. But they didn't seem to come to our area as much as the Singing Cookes, the Primitive Quartet and the Freemans did. I loved 'em all. I remember singing with the Freemans just outside of Grundy, Virginia once. All of the other groups on the program had been there since early morning for the all-day singing. Darrell rolled in with the Freeman's bus sometime about mid-afternoon and ran straight to the promoter and asked if he could sing real quick so he could get home to see his new baby. Chris had just delivered their firstborn son and Darrell hadn't even met him yet. Now the kid is sixteen years old and playing drums for the family. I couldn't believe it has been sixteen years.

I've always loved hearing this family sing. I can't think of another family group out there who showcase such very distinctively diverse voices. But they all compliment each other. Chris can bellow for me all night. Darrell sings like a radio DJ and Joe is simply solid, smooth and on perfect pitch. Then there is Misty. Anthony is a friend of mine who loves SGM. He goes with me to a lot of the area's concerts. He's a HUGE Misty Freeman fan. We decided last night while listening to Misty sing that Gospel music is where the real talent is. I don't know if all of it is there, but last night proved to me that this kind of music is no second to any other genre.