They drove a long distance. They waited a long time. And when it was finally their turn to sing, Talladega County gospel trio Abundant Grace lit the place up, gaining accolades and special attention from at least one recording executive.
Amanda McLain of Childersburg, Katie Baggett of Talladega and Wesley Allen of Alpine only started singing together a month or so ago, and went to the Music City Holiday Talent Search in Nashville last weekend almost on a lark.
“We set out to do it for fun. We wanted to go meet some people and have a good time,” McLain said.
“It was like a vacation for me. I just wanted to go to Nashville,” Allen said.
They sang a medley of Silent Night and O Holy Night to a track that Allen had recorded in his basement with guitar, percussion, Dobro and jingle bells. And out of 136 acts, they won first place among duos and groups and first runner-up overall.
McLain and Allen first performed together at a funeral for a mutual friend, Martha Crews. McLain had been a caregiver at Crews’ home, and Allen, who knew Crews from Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Grasmere, would visit and play his guitar for the ailing woman. At her funeral, they sang Celebrate Me Home.
They enjoyed singing together, but realized they needed a tenor to complete the sound they wanted to achieve. McLain knew Baggett from New Day Ministries in Childersburg, where both attend. Baggett’s father, Ronnie Snyder, is pastor there.
“So that’s where it started,” McLain said. “We entered the contest and didn’t expect to win.”
The three sang together publicly for the first time on Nov. 24 at New Day, with friends Walter Hamlin on pedal steel and Bruce Johnson on bass and guitar.
They set out for Nashville on a cold, rainy day.
“After a lot of praying because of the weather and a lot of laughing, we finally got to Nashville,” Baggett said.
They got to the Opryland Hotel at 3 p.m. and the event lasted until 10:45. They were the next-to-last act to perform.
“First place went to a pastor from Mississippi who was just awesome,” McLain said.
One of the judges was a vice president of Daywind Records, and they also got some positive attention from an executive from record label Motown Gospel. Allen and McLain are now writing five songs for a CD to send to that executive.
“We weren’t expecting much, but we have 12 or 15 calls for bookings already,” McLain said.
The Nashville event is also leading to a bigger talent search to be held in Dallas in late February or early March, and the trio will open for the Dixie Echoes at a concert in Wetumpka in June.
By day, Allen is a student working on an information technology degree, Baggett is a massage therapist and McLain is a caregiver. “All our schedules are flexible, so right now we’re just going with the flow,” Allen said. “It’s kind of like this fell out of the sky into our laps.”
Baggett began singing and playing piano at 11. She says her piano teacher would get frustrated because she wouldn’t read the music; she learned by watching the teacher’s hands. She’s also learning to play the mandolin.
McLain toured and sang for eight years with the Griffith Family, and plays piano for her church. She has been singing since age 5, and also plays the autoharp.
Allen took piano from his grandmother, longtime Hepzibah Baptist Church pianist Lou Ann Allen, starting at age 6. He recently won first place in Dobro and second in dulcimer at the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Athens, Ala.
He calls what the trio is playing “progressive gospel.”
“We’re using old-time instruments, but we’re pushing them in a new way,” he explained. “It’s not really confined by genre.”
For more about the trio, find them on Facebook at facebook.com/abundantgracemusic.