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Gospel groups make a joyful noise at Mountains Center
Annual event draws family acts, loyal listeners
Hubert Cooke gestures to the Georgia Mountains Center audience during The Singing Cookes set Saturday night at the T&T New Year's Singing. The large crowd attending also were entertained by The McKamey's, The Primitive Quartet and The Inspirations.

Local residents and visitors braved the cold Saturday night to attend the 29th annual T&T New Year’s Gospel Singing at the Georgia Mountains Center.

Four gospel groups performed, including the Singing Cookes of Kingsport, Tenn.

"We are a family, the Singing Cookes — it is my wife, my three sons, and my grandson," Hubert Cooke said.

Cooke said that he used to get a little nervous when going on stage but not any more.

"It is always a joy to get on the stage before the people, and they accept you well," Cooke said. "It is a good feeling."

Cooke said that his favorite song that his family sings is "I Want Us to Be Together in Heaven."

Cooke became involved in the New Year’s event because of Hayne Tatum, who asked him to come sing. Since then, the Singing Cookes have been hooked on the January event.

Hayne Tatum, the owner of T&T Promotions, has held Southern Gospel concerts in the Georgia Mountains Center for more than 20 years.

"I got started because of the love for gospel music, and I didn’t really intend to stay for this long, but the Lord just kept blessing me, and I just kept hanging in there," Tatum said.

Tatum predicted that the concert would bring about 1,600 people to downtown Gainesville. With people making the concert a part of their yearly routine, Tatum is constantly planning for the next big performance.

"It is something that you can bring your whole family out to and all of them can enjoy," Tatum said.

Peg McKamey, a member of The McKameys of Clinton, Tenn., has been participating in the event since 1982. The McKameys consist of Peg, her husband, and their two daughters.

"Mr. Hank Tatum booked us for another singing when we were singing in North Carolina, and he asked us to come over here the first year that we came, and each year he has asked us back again," McKamey said. "We keep coming because we have a lot of friends in this area after all these years," McKamey said.

One of the most requested songs that the McKameys sing is "God on the Mountain," their signature song.

"It says that God is God in any circumstance," McKamey said. "Either on the mountain or in the valley, he is God, and he doesn’t change like we do."

McKamey believes many people look forward to the singing every year.

"They’ve been cooped up and there have not been many things going on around Christmas so they’re anxious and excited to get out and come to Gainesville," said McKamey. "There are people here from everywhere."

McKamey’s grandson, Eli Fortner, 15, believes that younger people can enjoy the event as long as they have an open mind.

"We have a guy who is 16 and a die-hard fan of ours," Fornter said. "It is all in what you like."

Fortner said there is a new adventure every night when he does concerts.

"Something will always happen whether it be a good night, bad night, off crowd, good crowd — there is always something interesting, and it is always fun."

Wesley Marquina of Athens was at the concert with his family because his aunt bought tickets as a Christmas present. He came last year and loved the event.

"I like the family groups and the sound they have," Marquina said. "The McKameys are one of my favorite groups."

Marquina got to know the McKameys when they came to his church, Central Baptist in Athens.

"It is good music and a good time to sit back and relax and enjoy," Marquina said. "Some of the songs that they sing are very encouraging."