Monday, August 18, 2014

breaking it down: rock and soul sunday...

Well, our "Rock and Soul Revival" was a gas with over 100 folk joining the party. We were able to raise over $2K for Berkshire Environmental Action Team and show some of the folk how connected a church can be to changing our hyper-individualistic culture using peace, trust and music. Three comments were repeated often to me after the gig:

+ First, the way all of you played together showed how much you love and care for one another.Most of this crew has been with me since the first
show began in 1997. That means we have almost 20 concerts under our belts and each one gets better artistically. And one of the reasons for this has to do with how much each musician values the others. There are NO divas allowed at this gig and not because they are banned, but rather because there simply isn't space in our hearts for self-centered bullshit. This is a love fest and when this crew comes together everyone works hard and makes certain the other performers shine and do their best. And as a performer, you can actually feel the loving support holding you up and pushing you deeper - and so can the audience - it is palpable. 

+ Second, I don't think I've ever heard a group in a church play so beautifully. Your music is a festival of sound and it is all done with care, commitment and quality.  Everyone brings their best game to these benefit concerts - nobody phones it in - and that is one reason there is such high energy. Another important factor is that we're all giving of ourselves for a greater cause. But a key factor is that whether you are a pro or an dedicated amateur, each performer has cultivated her/his own commitment to aesthetic excellence - and it shows. This is NOT a jam band. This is NOT a free for all. This is NOT Farm Aid (as much as I love that gig!) This is a living experiment in bringing our best music into the moment, in a well-practiced and disciplined form, and then sharing it to see what the Spirit can do when it is received in love. So, yes, this is the finest church band I've ever heard. Someone said, "Where do all these people come from?" I smiled and replied, "Well, most of them come from our church... and those who aren't with us regularly on Sunday morning are musical colleagues, friends and lovers who care deeply for one another and value caring for the wider community."

+ And third, the songs fit together like a liturgy - they told a story - a story about working and being together in both the joys and sorrows of life. That is not an accident, right? Each of our concerts/events is designed to tell a story through the music and poetry: sometimes the story is hard - like the Good Friday realities - sometimes it is a mixed bag - like our Festival of American Music on Thanksgiving Eve - and sometimes it is challenging - like yesterday's call to commitment re: environmental justice. It is my conviction that our music must not only be truly beautiful in an artistic sense, but that it must also take us on a journey: by the end of the concert we need to be in a different place from where we started. We must feel the challenges, know in our hearts the solidarity and trust the hope we've shared together over two hours. In a word, at the end of each show a sense of community must be realized or else the story didn't work.

In a down and dirty way, here's the arc of the story we tried to tell in song yesterday. This may be too much detail for the ordinary reader, but I want to document how it happened:

+ We began with the Indigo Girls' "Closer to Fine"- an acoustic folk anthem about what it feels like to try out everyone else's answers to life before finding that confusion is normal. It is a song that says we are on a quest and we're going to look everywhere for our answers. It is profoundly non-ideological in it's commitment to the journey of life and the perfect way to kick things off.

+ Then two Pete Seeger songs took place that stated the challenge of caring for the earth in a way that empowers people. Pete always used group singing to create beauty and encouragement, so why reinvent the wheel? He was already the master so we borrowed his tunes, had the crowd singing and had a ton of fun doing it.

+ Two gentle songs followed, one by an old and dear friend, and one by a new friend: both added depth to the journey. One sang "Feelin' Groovy" with a flute break and the other invited 3 other women to join her in harmonies as she told of experiencing the healing of the sea. The story deepens and reminds us that journey is as much personal as it is social and cosmic.

+ The next three songs became the heart of the story for me: "Helplessly Hoping" by CSY was beautifully performed with just an acoustic guitar and 3 voices in close harmony (we are in this together and can offer support even when life and love is cruel); then we deconstructed the 60s anthem "Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell into a lament (how did things so loving turn out so badly?) by starting it like a Childe ballad a capella and then adding voices and instruments (guitar, bass and soprano sax) to create a sense of weariness and sorrow. This section concluded with our sultry take on Mose Allison's "Everybody's Crying Mercy" (upright bass, piano, drums and solo voice) that makes it clear that "while everybody's crying mercy... but they don't know the meaning of the word."

+ Then it was time for some reflection so we did Herbie Hancock's "Cantalope Island" an upbeat instrumental that gave people time to groove and think. I followed this my mournful interpretation of "Nowhere to Run" in honor of Robin Williams reminding folks "to reach out to their helpers because life can be a bitch." Then it was collection time with the bluesy "Turn Me On" by Nora Jones that ended with the Wailin' Jennys' beautiful "One Voice."

So in that first set, we introduced the journey - we made it personal and social - we gave the people a chance to reflect and lament and at the same time draw strength from one another and from the beauty - so that by the time we reached "One Voice" the complexity of being faithful and compassionate in the quest for caring for the earth had taken on sound and form. The second rock and roll set did something similar - especially the arc of songs that included "Compared to What," "Long Train Runnin'" "Piece of my Heart" and "Feelin' Alright." As one friend said, "You got them up and dancing in church - not a small feat!" And we raised over two grand! 

It was a GREAT gig and I am so grateful to each of the musicians who donated their time. Let me also thank our two incredible tech men:  Rob Dumais on sound and Paul Durwin on video. They, too, give so much of their time and we couldn't do it with out them. (I hope to have some clips to post as the week unfolds...)


ddl said...

I am as much interested in the "how" as much as the concert itself which was awesome. Thank you for "breaking it down" for us and showing how it came together. Great to meet you and Di and to put faces to names. And yes, the invitation to participate and passion carried down the pews. And the young man who played-- with you standing close by-- He looked like he was having the time of his life-- all the joy of participating in something bigger than self-- but part of a team (band)...that was so evident. We SAW it.

RJ said...

Thanks for confirming that once again, Dee. It was a gas meeting you, too. It does my heart good to know that others value intentionality of this kind of gig. It is very different from just showing up and playing a random show. And my buddy, Ethan, is one of the treasures of this ministry. He has grown and matured into a fine young musician. Be well, my friend.

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