'Sam's Place's' Successful Debut
|This appeared in The Tennessean - October 24, 1994|
|This could be the start of something big. "Sam's Place" opened its doors last night and 2,000 fans of inspirational music tuned out for the first in a six-week series of concerts that featured contemporary stars Amy Grant, Russ Taff and Marty Stuart, along with traditional masters Jerry and Tammy Sullivan, and Bill Monroe.
Presented by the Ryman Auditorium, the new series pay homage to the roots of the landmark building which was built in 1892 as a gospel music hall for revival preacher Sam Jones.
The likeable host of this extravaganza, talented singer/songwriter Gary Chapman, christened the evening with a dedication to Minnie Pearl and a duet with his spouse, Amy Grant, This Is My Father's World. Chapman then unleashed his strong tenor on the a cappella Great Is Thy Faithfulness, which segued into this current hit, Sweet Glow of Mercy. And so it went through the two-hour show, a seamless blend of traditional and modern sounds.
The man with one of the biggest voices in town, Russ Taff, opened his set with a dreamy Roy Orbison-flavored song, You Touch My Eyes, then coaxed the crowd into singing along on the swaying ballad, We Will Stand. Taff's closer, There Ain't No Grave, swelled with an Elvis-does-Vegas grandeur that left everyone catching their breath.
Sharp-dressed Marty Stuart, along with Jerry and Tammy Sullivan, treated the audience to some joyous acoustic music, which included the uplifting There's A Higher Power, Working On A Building, and a gorgeous ballad, When Jesus Passed By. The latter glowed with the unaffected, pure voice of Ms. Sullivan.
Between acts, there was a loose sense of merriment, which included host Chapman cracking jokes and, at one point, arm-wrestling Stuart for his well-tailored, snazzy jacket.
After taking some good-natured ribbing from her husband about her "pagan set," Chapman's lovely Amy Grant opened her segment of the show with a spare, doo-wop version of her huge pop hit, Baby, Baby, then followed with her current Lucky One, My Father's Eyes and Wise Up. It was quite refreshing to hear Ms. Grant's gossamer voice in this unplugged setting.
Last up was the elder statesman of bluegrass, Kentucky's Bill Monroe. Strumming his mandolin and singing in a high-pitched nasal voice, Monroe led his Bluegrass Boys through classics like A Beautiful Life and Wayfaring Stranger. The crowd honored the legendary performer with a standing ovation.
Before "Sam's Place" closed its doors on a successful premiere, there was a grand finale featuring all the performers joining in on Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
By Bill DeMain
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