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Massey Auditorium, Belmont University, Nashville

Tribute Concert

Picture: Shown onstage for the finale of the three-hour tribute to Mark Heard are James Hollihan, Buddy Greene, Steve Taylor, Randy Stonehill, Phil Madeira, Danny O'Lannerghty, Phil Keaggy, Rick Elias, Pierce Pettis, Dave Perkins, Kim Hill, Pat Terry, and Bob Bennett

Of the 1300-plus people that assembled to pay their respects and attempt to help Mark Hoard's family settle the debt that his lingering illness had amassed, perhaps only a couple dozen knew Heard, and fewer still could claim to be close friends. But in a very real sense, the entire sell-out crowd and stellar cast of musicians (including Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, Chagall Guevara and Bruce Carroll) and support crew were as acquainted with an artist as one could be through his music. And the music of Mark Heard spoke volumes about the man and his faith.

From the start, the evening took on the atmosphere of a New Orleans funeral; a mix of solemnity and celebration. The men responsible for maintaining that precarious balance - promoter Mark Hollingsworth and musical director Phil Madeira, addressed the crowd at the outset, encouraging the audience to enjoy the music and appreciate the man. Though it might seem unfair to mention "highlights" in an evening such as this, some moments clearly stood out above the rest.

Appropriately, Pat Terry, a fellow Georgian and the musician who had known Heard the longest(over 20 years), began the concert with Heard's "Well-Worn Pages," followed by the original "We'll Laugh for A Million Years," a touching and hilarious recounting of how Heard developed his knack for telling long, involved jokes. Terry was joined by the house band of Madeira on organ, James Hollihan and Rick Elias on guitars, Danny O'Lannerghty on acoustic bass and Mike Radovsky on drums. (This ensemble would perform yeoman's service the entire night, having learned more than a dozen Heard tunes for the event, as well as songs by each of the guest artists). Ashley Cleveland took to the stage next, offering her new "Henry Doesn't Care." A song based on her family's foibles, which perfectly complimented her rendition of "Lonely Moon"(from Heard's Second Hand). Pierce Pettis, who was the last performer to share a concert stage with Heard, spoke for many of the artists when he observed that "Mark was a man more concerned with telling the truth than selling the truth." Pettis also drew from Second Hand for a lovely reading of "Node Over Coffee." Balladeer Bob Bennett provided a moment at once serious and comical with his "The Place I am Bound," the story of a man who, like many of us, would secretly like to attend his own funeral. The song carried just the touch of irony that one sensed Heard would have appreciated. Randy Stonehill, who admitted he still hadn't been able to say goodbye to Heard, capped the first set with his original "Heart Strings," which proved a visibly moving tribute and a cathartic moment for much of the audience. Before a short intermission, Stonehill thanked the crowd for showing its support by simply being there, and asked for its generosity once more, as a special offering was taken for the Heard family.

Phil Madeira opened the second portion of the concert with his own bluesy "Change of Heart," which instantly transformed the evening from a subdued memorial to something of a raucous Irish wake. Rick Elias, one of the performers who freely admitted that he didn't know Heard personally, still captured the frustration and ache at the core of much of Mark's music with his version of "The Pain That Plagues Creation." Impressed by his fellow musician's tales of Heard's integrity and honesty, Elias offered an original tribute, "Man of No Reputation," tastefully drawing parallels between Heard's lack of commercial acceptance and Christ's words going unheeded in his own time.

A special presentation - a poster signed by all the participating performers - was made to Mark's widow Janet, who bravely stepped onstage to a thunderous ovation. She haltingly admitted that she hadn't listened to Mark's music since his passing, and thanked the artists and audience for allowing her the opportunity to again appreciate the diversity of her husband's music. Hollingsworth presented the Heard family with the first financial fruits of an offering which has since swelled past $18,000, and will climb higher with the anticipated release of audio and video tapes of the event.

Dann Huff of Giant cranked up the music again, with a version of "Threw It Away" so hot it blew up his amp, then dedicated an acoustic version of a new Giant song, "Life Goes On" to Janet. Chagall Guevara offered a searing rendition of "Treasure of the Broken Land" (the final track from Heard's last album, Satellite Sky); its chorus "Waiting wind of Gabriel/Blow soon upon the hollow bones" providing an eerie epitaph. Phil Keaggy spoke of treasured moments in studio with Mark before reprising Heard's "I Always Do" and proffering the blistering "John the Revelator" from his new Crimson and Blue set. That brought the crowd to its feet, where it remained as the entire cast concluded the three-hour concert with a ragged, unrehearsed version of "He Will Listen to You."

The evening was a success, not just for the financial benefits reaped by the Heards, but because several hundred people got to hear the lyrics of a spectacular songwriter for the first time, thus insuring the legacy of Mark Heard's music will continue for some time to come.

Bruce A. Brown ( CCM - In Concert, March 1993 )
Copyright © 1993 CCM Magazine

Mark Heard Memorial Service