Where the Deer and the Prairie Dogs Play

We started out at Gary’s house loading up our rental van and it was strange to get back into a minivan after riding in Gary’s Suburban for the past year or so. But since we were driving all the way to Arkansas we decided to rent a van to save the wear on Gary’s truck. When we were all packed, we headed over to Four Corners for me to meet up with my wife Charity, who was getting off work and wanted to say goodbye before we left. Then, after picking up a case of water, we headed to Tim’s house to pick him up.

Since we weren’t taking Gary’s vehicle, he decided to commandeer the shotgun position which Ryan usually takes, which meant that it was Ryan’s turn to drive. He had no problem with that, and we arrived in Memphis at about 11:00 PM Central Time and found our hotel.

The next day we left the Super 8 at about 9:00 and headed toward Gentry, Arkansas. After lunch we started to run into some rain but never had any real traffic issues. We made good time and pulled into the campus of Ozark Academy at about 3:00. We checked into our rooms at the boys’ dorm and got settled in. After a quick trip over to Wal-Mart, we headed back to the church to set up our system and get a sound check. We ran into Chris Simpson who first took notice of us back in 2009 at the ASI Conference in Phoenix. She invited us to the South Louisiana Camp Meeting in 2013 and together with the conference president, Elder Orian, invited us to come to Arkansas this year.

We started setting up our system and it took quite a while to get the sound we wanted and to connect the church to our board so they could live-stream the sound along with their video. We managed to get over to the cafeteria just as all the food was being put away and had just enough time to eat a delicious hoagie and get back over to the church for our mini-concert.

We were introduced by Ron who was the stage manager and a very nice guy. Our first couple of songs were a little shaky because something in the sound system had changed since our sound check, but we continued on and even performed “Jesus Never Fails” for the first time ever with Gary. It went well considering it was our first time singing it in public. I even hit the high note at the end and held it all the way through!

Right before the sermon we sang “Softly and Tenderly” for special music and it was only the second time we’d performed that song with Gary. We had a gentleman come up to us afterward and say that he really appreciated that straight and simple version of that song. He was pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t an elaborate arrangement and said that it was very well done.

Sabbath morning we had to get up pretty early so we could get breakfast and be ready for our special music before the sermon. Since Pastor Byrd had worn a bowtie at the Friday night meeting, we thought we’d wear our bowties as well. When he saw us he complimented us on them and when we walked on stage to sing, a man in the audience (who was also wearing a bowtie) yelled out, “I like your bowties!” For first service we chose to sing “Amazing Grace” at the last minute because the original song we’d picked was “My Savior First of All” which is very high for me and Gary to sing that early in the morning. “Amazing Grace” was a much better choice for first service and it went well.

Between services we really didn’t have any obligations, so we decided to go do one of our favorite things at camp meetings: sing for the kids! We caught a golf cart shuttle that took us down the hill to the tents where the kids were having their services and started off with the Juniors. We sang “Jesus in the Boat” and “The Ballad of Elisha’s Bones” and most of the kids seemed to really enjoy it. Some of them didn’t really know what to make of us, but there was one boy in the front row who had a grin on his face the whole time!

After the Juniors we visited the Earliteen tent and they enjoyed the music but several of the boys seemed to think everything we did and said was funny. We got to the Primary class just as their teacher was taking them on a walk down “The Emmaus Road” so we waited for them to come back. She cut the lesson short so they could come back to hear us sing. They were the most fun because they’re at the age where they’ll actually answer you back if you ask a question, so we had fun asking them what they thought a quartet is and who they thought sang which part. In each class the teachers were very happy to have us and seemed amazed that they were able to actually enjoy some music instead of trying to get the kids to sing!

When we finished it was almost time for second service to start so we walked back up to the church. We performed “My Savior First of All” and it was one of our best performances ever of that song. Pastor Gil was kind enough to announce our concert right before Pastor Byrd came up to speak. He encouraged everyone to come back at 2:30 and I think his announcement really helped the attendance at the concert.

After lunch we had quite some time before our concert so we decided to do a little sight-seeing. Aside from the venues where we sing, we rarely get to visit any places of interest when we’re on tour, so we took the time to visit a popular local attraction, the Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari, a 400-acre animal park located right in Gentry. The 4-mile road winds through the park and allows visitors to see all kinds of exotic animals. The weather was great and we thoroughly enjoyed the leisurely drive through the park. We got to see lots of deer and antelope of several types, several big cats, including tigers, lions, leopards, bobcats and even a liger! There were zebras, camels, bison, water buffalo, mini-donkeys and horses. There were tortoises walking around everywhere along with goats, sheep, cows and other farm animals. We got excited at the black bear, hippos and giraffes, but I think the highlight of the trip was seeing the fat little prairie dogs running around in their colony and in the road. We had to stop several times to allow some of the animals to cross the road. It was an absolute blast! The ostriches and emus were the self-appointed guardians of the place and walked boldly up to each car and poked their heads at the window glass and eyed everything suspiciously. We found out quickly why there were signs everywhere for us to leave our windows up!

Soon it was time for us to head back over to the church for our concert. We did a quick equipment check and said a prayer. The church was full when we started and everyone seemed to enjoy the music. The whole concert was streamed over the church’s website and our families back home in Tennessee were able to watch it all. It’s always a blessing to share our music with people who’ve never heard us before and this concert was no exception. The Lord truly blessed!

Pastor Byrd delivered his final message after our concert, so we took the time to head over to the ABC and meet with the manager Mickey Johnson. He was very accommodating and made it very easy for us to set up our product table. He even located us right by Pastor Byrd’s table where he’d be selling his book!

When the meeting was finished, the people started coming over to the ABC and we had a steady stream of visitors to our table for about two hours. We signed a lot of CDs! We gave each other breaks and took advantage of the Pathfinders’ concession stand where they were serving the best veggie corn dogs we’d ever tasted! We were exhausted by the time the ABC closed and had no trouble falling asleep that night.

Heading home the next day we enjoyed the Arkansas countryside as we drove, thankful for such a great weekend!

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