Friday, February 27, 2015

#62 SHALLOW WATER by Servant (1979)



SHALLOW WATER by Servant (1979)
Tunesmith Records (TS-6000)
They were raw, rowdy, and rough around the edges. Like the ocean waves featured on the inside of the Shallow Water gatefold cover, Servant crashed into the burgeoning CCM scene and made quite a splash. Many loved them. Some did not. But one thing was certain...they were impossible to ignore.

 Comparisons have often been made between Servant and Resurrection Band. After all, both groups were associated with "intentional communities," both groups rocked pretty doggone hard, and both groups featured dual lead singers -- one male and one female. The reality was that Rez was somewhat more polished and played a harder brand of rock than Servant, bordering more on metal. But there were definite similarities. In fact, the origins of both bands date back to a Christian community in Milwaukee, WI, led by Jim and Sue Palosaari. 
Owen and Sandie Brock
 
The Polasaari group in Milwaukee split into four smaller groups in order to expand their reach. One of those groups ended up in Chicago and took the name Jesus People USA. That group, of course, ended up being the home base for Resurrection Band.

Meanwhile, the Polasaaris themselves moved to Europe where they staged a Christian multimedia rock opera titled Lonesome Stone. Two of the Lonesome Stone cast members were Owen and Sandie Brock

A few years later, the Brocks reunited with the Palosaaris in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The foursome had long shared a similar worldview and heart for ministry, and it wasn’t long before they were exploring new ways they could team up and share the Gospel together. They attracted other like-minded Christians and before long the idea of forming a band surfaced. Never mind that the Brocks had little talent and no training (their words, not mine). They viewed music as an opportunity to communicate God’s love in a way that would be received by their generation. They honestly felt that their own passion and the Holy Spirit’s anointing was all that they would need. And with that, Servant was born.



Back in 1976, Servant consisted of Owen Brock on rhythm guitar, Sandie Brock on vocals, lead guitarist Bruce Wright, bassist Rob Martens, and David Holmes on drums.

Like so many others had done before them, the members of Servant hit the road and shared their music and their testimonies anywhere they could – parks, street corners, coffeehouses, bars, you name it. They’ve been quoted as saying that their motto during that time was, “Whatever skill you lack, you can always make up for it with volume." 
Servant in 1977

They played their songs and drew people into conversations about who Jesus is and what He had done for them. One young man who responded to their message (after a concert in a public park) was Bob Hardy. He soon climbed into the van and hit the road as an official member of Servant.

There wasn’t a lot of money to be made for Servant in the early days – they often survived on “love offerings” that were more love than offering ($25 to $200 per gig for band and crew). They sometimes had to take side jobs as couriers or migrant fruit pickers to make ends meet.

1977

From the beginning, Servant used drama and theatrics to draw attention to their concerts. This is something they had picked up from past associations in Europe with the Palosaaris. Jesus, rock music and theater was an irresistible combination for the band’s small but growing audience in the mid 1970s. But it also earned the band a lot of criticism.

They were also criticized for their living arrangements. An element that set Servant apart from most other bands – but likened them to Chicago’s Resurrection Band – was their association with an “intentional Christian community.” Servant’s community was known initially as the Highway Missionary Society, and later as the Servant Community. They ended up being based out of Grant’s Pass, Oregon. This modern-day interpretation of the Early Church was a source of joy and an important foundation for the band. Some viewed this as cultish and referred to it as a “commune.” They wrote Servant off as hippies and socialists. But the band members themselves viewed it as a glimpse into God’s Kingdom and would not be dissuaded. The community, which grew to about 100 adults, was organized around the shared beliefs of Christian community, simple living, compassion and “justice for the poor.” It was all about "common life in a missionary training environment." A portion of Servant's album and ticket sales went back into the community, and was used for missions. 

Constant touring caused Servant to become a better, tighter musical outfit; it also caused them to become better known. Servant signed a recording contract with Canadian label Tunesmith Records in 1979. Shallow Water was initially released on red vinyl, eight-track tapes, and cassettes. To celebrate, the band hit the road for four and half months (over 25 concerts per month). Their travel rig was an International Travelall pulling a homemade wooden trailer.

  Resurrection Band was probably the only band anywhere near CCM that rocked harder than Servant in 1979. Shallow Water was released on a small label and probably recorded with a small budget. But it holds up pretty well. That might be thanks in some part to engineer Bob Rock who would go on to work with the likes of Metallica, Motley Crue and Skid Row.

Servant in 1978

Side One (or, the "Top Side" as it's listed on the album label) of Shallow Water begins with a minute or so of dramatic dialogue performed by various band members:

I’d like another glass of something different. I mean, red, white, bubbly, flat, what have you got? They do this to the bacon, and now they do it to the cheese, then they bring me this. I can’t get flat, I can’t get bubbly. I mean if I was going to cater to a party, I would do better than this. If I had a business that was involved in this, I’d at least try to get some kind. And what is this, red cheese? Lost the wax. If you could just, if I could just get a decent cheese...

Listen I'm not even gonna go to Europe this year. I’ve decided on a month in the White Mountains. 

Oh, really?

Why, yeah...Europe leaves me so exhausted. 

Sure, yeah.

If they were so poor I don’t understand how they could even buy our ideas. 

Listen I hate to bring it up, I know it’s a touchy subject but isn’t Bob thinking about doing something over there? 

For some reason he thinks he has to go over there and get involved as a missionary and help these poor people. But like I was saying, I just think it’s ridiculous. 

Yeah, yeah, it's ridiculous.

There’s nothing to do to help them. 

Really... 

Can’t understand it. 

The thing, the thing that really upsets, I’m not, you know, too upset, I mean... 

But I told him God helps those that help themselves.

At that point, the sound of crashing waves and drums kick off the album's title track, a hard rock song with a heavy-handed message. Right out of the box, Servant's brand of stinging social commentary is on display:

Well, I'm sittin' by the TV
And I think I might hit the sack 
Life is pretty easy 
When you're just kickin' back 
I’ve heard about the starving millions 
About the TV and radio 
I know many are called and I don’t like to stall 
But I’m much too busy to go 
I’m walking in shallow water 
There's no depth to what I do 
If I try to go deeper I might disappear 
And I've got too much to lose 

Sandie's raspy but confident lead vocals are featured on this sarcastic, finger-pointing song.

I heard all about how Jesus lived 
But that was long ago 
Two thousand years have come and gone 
Things have changed a lot you know 
Everything's so available 
You don’t have to be poor no more 
I know there's a lot that some don’t have 
But I’ve got mine for sure 
I’m walking in shallow water 
And I like it fine right here 
The temperature's right and I’ll be fine tonight 
Just don’t tell me that the end is near 

The album's memorable cover is an illustration of the title track. On the front cover the band members appear to be enjoying their wine and cheese in shallow ocean water. When you open the gatefold cover, you find a photo of the band being wiped out by ocean waves -- tables, food and all. The cover served the song in a spectacular way...and probably helped sell quite a few copies of the record. 





The song calls to mind a story from the Gospels and takes a redemptive tone in the final verse: 

Shallow Water recording sessions
Now Jesus called to Peter 
He said, "Come take a walk on the sea 
Leave your fears in the boat and you will float 
Just put your trust in Me" 
The things that we all cling to 
They're gonna drown us in the end 
But the helping hand of the Lord is near 
On that you can depend 
I’m walking in shallow water 
And I may as well be dead 
Freedom's in reach if we leave the beach
And get in over our head 
Well, I’m walking in shallow water 

There's no depth to what I do 
Walkin' in shallow water 
Does it all make sense to you

It was at once a pretty effective rebuke of materialism and a call to involvement in world missions. It also served notice to listeners who were unfamiliar with this new group that they were indeed radical and committed.

The band continued to drive home their message and worldview with the album's next song, Rich Man

All the silver’s been varnished 
The linen’s white as snow
I’m hiding in the library 
Where no one ever goes
And I’m thinking about the wealth 
In this big old house around me
You know I feel so ashamed and poor 
Because the Spirit hasn’t found me

If I could lend someone a hand 
I’d be a rich man…

Written by Sammy Hagar (remember him?), Rich Man is a midtempo ballad sung by drummer David Holmes with plenty of vocal harmonies on the choruses. 
1978

Sandie is back front and center on the upbeat romp, Here Comes David. Over a bed of electric guitars and guest musician Robbie King's organ, she retells the Old Testament story of King David praising God in his underwear. 

Rejoice had a real classic rock vibe. Maybe it's because it was written by Joe Grier and David Eden of “e” band (an early Christian rock group that featured a young Greg X. Volz). Sandie is again featured on this worship song.

Side One ends with one of the album's highlights, a full-on rocker titled Jesus Star. Sarcasm again takes center stage as the song begins with the voice of a radio DJ...

Thank you for tuning into the station KRNL -- where the sound flows and your mind blows! Ha ha! We have a man here who used to be a big star but since putting Jesus in his pocket he’s climbing the charts with a monster hit to become a super star!

Good, old-fashioned twin analog synthesizers are featured on the song's intro.

Ah, I'm a super star for Jesus 
And my day being at dawn 
Well, my time is in demand 
And my book is going strong 
I used to be a nasty 
'Twas a bad dude in my day 
You know the press, they love my story 
Who says crime don’t pay? No way! 

My press agent called 
He said, "You got autographs to sign."
And then I do an interview 
With a famous friend of mine 
Oh, they need influential people 
To get the Gospel sold 
Now there’s fame in my name
And they can use that, use that on the show

Jesus Star could've been a dig at the commercialism that we now know was infecting and overtaking CCM around the turn of the decade, as the 70s gave way to the 80s. That's about the time Keith Green asked to be let out of his contract with Sparrow. That's about the time that Terry Clark asked to be let out of his deal with Good News. Chuck Girard, Nancy Honeytree, and others say that there was a definite shift on the part of the record companies at the close of the 70s...away from ministry and toward commerce. Nothing wrong with selling albums, nothing wrong with musicians being able to make a living with their music. But the focus had become airplay, personal celebrity and album sales at the expense of ministry. Some of the bands and artists who had been mightily used of the Lord to usher in the Jesus Movement suddenly couldn't even get arrested by 1980. 

Another potential factor that might've been in play is that celebrity "testimonies" were quite in vogue at that time. Even the President of the United States at the time, Jimmy Carter, had made a big deal of his personal testimony as a Christian and his background as a Sunday School teacher while running for office. Once elected, he did nothing to stem the holocaust of our time (abortion), and actively worked against the best interests of Israel. Since leaving the White House he has come out publicly in favor of so-called homosexual "marriage." But I digress.  

You know the DJ, he asked me 
"Oh, tell me exactly what you do 
You’re so rich and famous 
Well, all we ever hear about is you!" 
Well I told him, yes I told him 
At a thousand bucks a night I told him 
"I’m a singer, I’m a writer 
Maybe I’m an athlete 
I’m a famous politician 
I’m a con man off the street 
Yeah, a universal Jesus Star 
And I’m really doin' well 
You know the Gospel's just too hard to take 
Without me, it won't sell 
It just won’t sell, baby! 

After some blistering lead guitar work, our central character chimes back in...

I’m a star 
I’m a star, Lord 
With me, you’ll go far


Side Two (or the "Bottom Side") begins with a classic song. Water Grave is a song about baptism and new life in Christ. It was written by Steve Chapman and first recorded by the country rock trio Dogwood. The definitive version was released by the Imperials on their Sail On album in 1977. That song was basically Russ Taff's coming out party. But this version by Servant rocks harder than the others and is one of Shallow Water's greatest moments. Water Grave is a rock anthem that can inspire faith and send chills down your spine at the same time. 

Group harmonies are featured on Cup of Water, a ballad that ties in lyrically with the theme of the album. 

Give a cup of water in the name of the Lord
We need to give away all the things that we have stored
Too much time spent thinking of ourselves
When all around us people crying out for help

THE most memorable song on the album was up next. Holy Roller Blues was an absolute delight. Great lead guitar work and appropriately rough-edged vocals by Bruce Wright make this classic blues tune a favorite of Servant audiences everywhere. Not to mention the humor found in the lyrics:

Well, they call me a holy roller
Yes, I do believe it's true
You know they call me a holy roller
Yes, and I do believe, I believe it's true
If they really knew my Jesus
They'd be-a doin' some rollin' too 

They call me a Bible thumper
Whoa, and I do believe, believe it's true
Yes, they call me a Bible thumper
Whoa, and I do believe, believe it's true
Hey, if they really knew what was in the Word of God
They'd be-a thumpin' that Bible, too

You know they call me a Jesus freak
Yes, and I do believe, I believe it's true
You know they call me a Jesus freak 
And I do believe, I believe it’s true, yes I do
Wanna ask you one last question before I go
I wanna know
I said I wanna know
I said I really wanna know
Whose freak are you?


Bruce Wright
Barry McGuire had sung about "Jesus People," but Holy Roller Blues just might've been the first time the term "Jesus Freak" had been used on an album. In Servant's live concerts Bruce Wright reportedly performed a theatrical monologue that went with Holy Roller Blues and "left folks rolling in the aisles." 

Another full-on rocker closes the album. Crunchy electric guitars and fat, analog synthesizers punctuate this song about the rapture. Sandie Brock sings lead on Fly Away. As an Assemblies of God preacher's kid, I grew up in churches that sang I'll Fly Away on a regular basis. This tune by Servant seemed almost like a rock 'n roll update on the old hymn. My brothers and I used to perform it for a time in our family's evangelistic services. I did my best to replicate the keyboard solo on my Moog synthesizer. The album track ends with the sound effect of an airplane taking off. 



As an album, Shallow Water is at times dated...imperfect...rough...a little ragged around the edges. But that's also what gives it a lot of its charm. Servant's energy and passion definitely got their message across on this debut album. It was a fitting introduction, and a welcome addition to the very small cadre of CCM groups willing to rock hard. 

Servant's sophomore release, Rockin' Revival, was even better. And the band became known for their high energy live shows. It's been said that a Servant concert in the early 80s was like a festival event. They incorporated comedy, video, drama, lasers, pyrotechnics, fog and lights in a way that eclipsed anything being done by other Christian bands at the time (and most secular bands). They shared tours with bands such as DeGarmo & Key and Petra.

My one and only Servant concert was (wait for it) at PTL's "Big Barn" auditorium at Heritage USA. The laser light show -- especially the "competition" between Servant's drummer and the "virtual" laser light drummer -- was like nothing I've seen before or since.


Servant in 1987
 

Servant's style morphed over time as they switched labels and released several more albums. In the mid 80s a decision was made to relocate the band's beloved community from Oregon to Cincinnati, OH. For whatever reason, the move just didn't work and many families dropped out. The "community chapter" of their lives was over. Owen and Sandie, who were part of the community from the first day until the last, have said this was a difficult time, and they considered it "the loss of a dream."  

Servant's final concert was held in Banff, Alberta, Canada, in 1990. The Brocks began a new phase of their own lives and ministry, while the other members of Servant at that time regrouped to form Over the Rhine.

Sadly, Bruce Wright died of cancer in Victoria in 1993. 

Servant reunited to perform at the legendary Cornerstone Festival near Bushnell, IL in July of 2011. They were awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from GMA Canada in November of 2013. 

Owen and Sandie Brock
On the band's website, Owen and Sandie Brock write these words:

Jesus, and His amazing love reached down and changed our lives. Through His grace we let that seed of truth flow out of us touching others. Many times it was not easy, we were often sleep deprived, sick from exhaustion, surviving horrible accidents, amidst pregnancies and vehicle breakdowns, and lack of money, but through all these things He was present. Let it be known that He used us, a scraggly crew of passionate lovers of Jesus to go into the highways and byways and invite others in. The only ability that God needed was availability. You can do the same.






Fun Fact: Originally named Higher Ground, the group later changed their name to Servant.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

#63 LIGHTEN UP by Barry McGuire (1974)

LIGHTEN UP by Barry McGuire (1974)
Myrrh Records (MYR-1020)
What a great album cover. Rough. Dark. Real. It’s just Barry at the microphone, a close-up shot of what looks like a pained expression on his face, his long hair blending in with the darkness that surrounds him. There are similarly impactful photos on the back and inside of this gatefold cover. The artwork gave us a clue that this was an inspired collection of songs that not only celebrated our hope in Christ, but also acknowledged the darkness of our broken world and the need for sincere and authentic repentance.

Lighten Up, Barry McGuire’s second album release after surrendering his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, begins by hearkening back to an earlier time. The record’s first track is a slow, moody treatment of Barry’s monster hit from the sixties, Eve of Destruction. This acoustic version of the classic protest song features Barry alone at the guitar.

It’s a song that became his claim to fame…and also made ‘Barry McGuire’ one of several possible correct answers to any trivia question about “one hit wonders in 1965.” It stood as his lone hit radio single, but it was a pretty big one, selling over a million copies and traveling all the way to #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in September 1965. According to Barry, Eve of Destruction was recorded in one take. He sang while reading the lyrics from a crumpled piece of paper. It’s a depressing song, really, that listed lots of societal problems while offering no solutions. Still, the song reverberated around the world as an anthem for the times and paved the way for McGuire to accept roles in motion pictures (The President’s Analyst, Werewolves on Wheels) and the male lead in the original Broadway production of Hair (opposite Diane Keaton).
By this time, Barry was smoking dope and searching for spiritual truth. He found that Truth in the person of Jesus Christ after an encounter with a Bible translation called Good News for Modern Man. Barry McGuire would never be the same. He had “stumbled into the fullness of Truth,” as he puts it.




McGuire’s first album as a Christian was Seeds in 1973. It would be another two years before Lighten Up would hit the shelves, leading off with those familiar words…

I can’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction

On Lighten Up, Eve of Destruction segues into a rocker called Don’t Blame God, making it clear to the listener that the issues and problems mentioned in ‘Eve’ were a result of the sins of America:

This land of ours is dyin’
And you know it won’t be long ‘til it’s gone

She’s building up a debt that she can never pay
Piling up the bodies that she can’t hide away
She’s got godless people failin’ her
She’s got drunken seamen sailin’ her
Dead on upon a deadly reef of greed and moral decay

But don’t blame God for the sins of America
America has fallen from the ways of the Lord
But don’t blame God for the sins of America
Livin’ for the dollar, she’ll be dyin’ by the sword

On every silver coin and every dollar bill
You see the words “In God We Trust”
But out of fear we kill
Freedom’s just a mockery, communist democracy
Materialistic pleasure slaves lookin’ for another thrill

We’ve got million dollar churches but nobody’s on their knees
There’s so many selfish people just doin’ what they please
You know we sent some people to the moon
We’ve got a TV set in every room
Just to watch a world that’s dying of starvation and disease

Wait a minute…isn’t this album titled Lighten Up?





Barry sang this depressing assessment of his country as if his hair was on fire. It was sung and played with urgency and conviction (Ben Benay delivered some blistering electric guitar work, while a young Michael Omartian played piano on the track), but it was every bit as dire and dark as the album’s opener. But don’t despair, friends…help is on the way! The third tune in this opening trilogy was titled II Chronicles and was based on the seventh chapter and fourteenth verse of that Old Testament book:
“If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
According to CCM historian Mark Powell, McGuire had debuted this suite of songs at Explo ’72 in front of 250,000 Jesus freaks at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas two years earlier.
Next up was a song that would become a favorite for Barry’s legion of admirers. Few songs have ever described the irresistible pull of God’s love better than Calling Me Home. Thankfully, producer Buck Herring resisted any urge he might have had to burden the song with lush strings and other instrumentation, allowing pianist Larry Knechtel to provide the perfect accompaniment to McGuire’s gravelly, earnest vocals. Knechtel’s performance on this song was simply exquisite, while McGuire’s singing was authentic and even haunting. Had he sang the song backed by a rock band or even a symphony orchestra, it still could not have been any more compelling. Kudos to Mr. Herring for knowing this.
Pay the Piper is a rocker that reminds us that we will face the consequences of our actions. Larry Knechtel shines again, this time as an organist.
Next, Barry breathes new life into a 19th century hymn titled When the Mists Have Rolled Away. And wrapping up Side One of Lighten Up is Walk in the Sonshine, a joyful statement of faith penned by Buck and Annie Herring. This song demonstrates the brighter side of Mr. McGuire. Considering the somber tone of the two tracks that opened the album, we’ve travelled quite a distance on the first side of this record! It sometimes is amazing, the ground that he’s able to cover. In much the same way that Randy Matthews and Randy Stonehill could have you laughing one minute and crying the next, Barry McGuire was equally at home with dark, melancholy material as well as upbeat expressions that were boisterous, happy, and just plain fun.
McGuire (R) with the 2nd Chapter of Acts
By the way, Lighten Up features a supporting cast of “A list” singers and musicians -- Leland Sklar on bass, drummer David Kemper, Mike Deasy on guitar, the aforementioned Larry Knetchel and Michael Omartian on keys, and the 2nd Chapter of Acts providing background vocals. Produced and engineered by Buck Herring, the album was recorded at Pudget Sound Recorders in Maple Falls, Washington and Sunwest Studios in Hollywood.
Hey World! kicks off Side Two of Lighten Up. It’s a full-on rocker that serves as a call to sanity. It’s followed by You’ve Heard His Voice, a simple, folk-rock ballad that’s perfectly suited to McGuire’s voice and singing style. The song points out the many ways that God can speak to us and reveal Himself to us:
If you’ve ever walked in a summer rain
Slept where the winds and the snows have came
If you’ve ever known the lonely things
Then you’ve heard His voice
You’ve heard His voice
And you know His name


If you’ve bowed your head when you’re filled with pride
Learned of death when a friend has died
Tasted a tear when a child has cried
Then you’ve heard His voice
You’ve heard His voice
And you know His name


Perhaps Barry’s best known and most loved song from the early 70s is the next song on the album, a simple, upbeat tune called Happy Road. At first glance, this might seem like just another life-on-the-road song. But it’s really about being happy in Jesus while on the road of life. It became a signature song for Barry. And it’s a classic.
Why it’s a happy road that I’m travelin’ on
I just can’t help myself
You got me singin’ out a happy song
Since Your Son came shinin’
I know it won’t be long
Until Your happy road is takin’ me home
I been out on the highway for thirty-nine years
Somehow it seems like just a day
I’ve seen a lot of heartaches
I’ve shared a lot of tears
But then You came and took them all away
Barry delivers another convicting vocal performance in How Many Times before closing the record with what one reviewer called “a joyous romp” – Anyone But Jesus. This track would be another signature song for Barry McGuire, a rollicking testimony song about just how much the Savior means to this former hippie turned Jesus Freak:
Once I lived in darkness
I’d chosen not to see
Then Jesus came into my life
The Truth, to set me free
But in my fear I tried to hide
My Lord called me to His side
I threw away my foolish pride
And now I know why Jesus died
I’m not gonna think about
I’m not gonna talk about
I’m not gonna sing about
Anyone but Jesus
Later in the song, the quintessential evangelist turns his attention to those who haven’t yet surrendered their hearts to the Lord…
So if you’re living in darkness
And cannot see the light
And everything you try to do
Ain’t nothing turns out right
Won’t you take a tip from me, my friend
It’s getting closer to the end
Just take the Master by the hand
And then you’ll understand
I’m not gonna sing about
Anyone but Jesus


And that wraps up our look at one of the landmark projects of Barry McGuire’s music career. The lyrics are insightful, the playing superb, the emotions raw and real. Who would’ve thought back in 1965 that the angry, gravelly-voiced young man who sang passionately about doubt and destruction would become a hairy, lovable, folksy Jesus freak with a big smile and an even bigger voice?  


Barry McGuire is still singing, if on a limited basis due to age and health concerns. He does solo dates here and there, but mostly sings with an oldies review called “Trippin’ the Sixties.” It’s a show dedicated to the folk songs and pop music that was popular in the 60s, with a Christian song thrown in every now and then. So these days, his pledge to never sing about anyone but Jesus seems to have been broken. But he’s doing what he loves with friends of his and having a blast. Barry McGuire is still on that “happy road.”

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Concert Review: PHIL KEAGGY • Lee Street Theatre • Salisbury, NC • 2-6-15

I've seen Phil Keaggy turn in a full rock set with a live band at the Cornerstone Festival. I saw him on the Keaggy-King-Dente tour in 1998. And I'd seen him do solo acoustic concerts two or three times. But it had been awhile. I was overdue for an evening with Mr. Keaggy.

My brother, my pastor and another friend from our church climbed into an SUV and made the 2.5 hour trek to Salisbury, NC. Turned out to be a quaint, southern town with an apparent emphasis on theatre and music. After killing 20 minutes in a downtown guitar shop, we had dinner at Uncle Buck's All American Pub & Grub. I had a burger with a fried egg on it and some of the best mashed potatoes ever. I'd give Uncle Buck's a solid 4 stars, maybe 4.5.

We found the Lee Street Theatre, stood in line in the cold for a while, and then found seats in the center of the 5th row. It's a 300-seat venue that's perfect for concerts of this sort. And tonight there was not a spare seat to be had. The sellout crowd seemed to really enjoy a four-song opening set by a young classical guitarist.

Phil was welcomed to the stage at 8 p.m. He was dressed in dark clothing with a jacket and his now trademark hat. He opened with Metamorphosis from the Acoustic Sketches album, followed by one of the night's strongest songs, Strong Tower from Find Me in These Fields. Phil was in fine voice on this upbeat rock number.


Keaggy was in great humor. He was funnier than I recalled. (Maybe that's the result of spending too much time with Randy Stonehill?) There was playful interaction with the audience all night long. Phil did a Bryan Duncan impression that had the audience howling with laughter.

Just before playing a lengthy instrumental titled Shades of Green, Phil joked, "This was one of my biggest hits in CCM." He continued, "This is a pretty long song. But it has its moments."

It was a treat to hear Pilgrim's Flight (from The Master and the Musician) and That is What the Lord Will Do for You, which was the opening track on Phil's first solo album released all the way back in 1973. He acknowledged that it was the first time he'd sung that song in a very long time.

Next up was Salvation Army Band, a song that he seems to do in every concert. Admitting that he'd been suffering with a head cold, some of the high notes were a strain on his vocal cords...but no one seemed to mind. Phil's in his early sixties now. The tone of his voice remains unchanged; but it probably wouldn't hurt to lower the key of the songs here and there.

After Village Bells and Legacy, we were treated to the title track from Phil's 1976 sophomore release. Several audience members sang along with the chorus to Your Love Broke Thru.

A couple of covers were up next. Phil tried his hand at the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun, and delivered a fun (and pretty accurate) Elvis impersonation on One-Sided Love Affair.

He told the story of how he lost the middle finger on this right hand and shared some personal memories of his sister Mary Ellen, including a fairly detailed account of her career as an actress (who knew she had a speaking role in The Ten Commandments?) and the circumstances surrounding how she led him to the Lord in 1970. He followed with a song about Mary Ellen titled How Can I Thank You. This was the first "kleenex moment" of the concert for me.

Phil admitted that he didn't really have a setlist. "Well, I do, but it's 7 pages long," he joked. "You can leave whenever you want, but if I were you I'd stay and get my money's worth!"

At that point, he ripped into John the Revelator (by request), followed by a tune from The Wind and The Wheat.

Some of the alternate tunings were quite impressive, as well as his ability to record and play back layered tracks and tune various strings on the fly. I'm not a guitarist, but I know that what I saw and heard last night was extremely difficult to pull off. For Keaggy, it seems effortless.

Earlier in the show, an audience member had yelled out, "Time!" Phil made a face and tried to dismiss the request by saying, "I'm not that young anymore!" Later in the evening, a gentleman seated right behind me, perhaps emboldened by Phil's playing of the requested John the Revelator, yelled, "Time!" yet again. Keaggy made a pained expression and said, "You just want to hear the riff. So, here, I'll play the riff." So he cranked up his effects and got his recording machine going, tapping out a rhythm track on the body of the guitar. Once he had that going, he plunged into the easily recognizable intro to the beloved song first heard on the Love Broke Thru album. But a funny thing happened on the way to "just playing the riff." Apparently, it felt good to him and he continued, singing pretty much the entire song, much to the thrill and delight of audience members who were also longtime Keaggy fans. His vocals were amazing on Time and it was just such a treat to hear that great song once more in a live setting.

And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the evening's final "kleenex moment" came for me as Phil sang the worshipful classic, Let Everything Else Go.

One more piece from The Master and the Musician, another instrumental that I didn't recognize, a playful Happy Birthday song (for an audience member on the front row, having flown from California as a 30th birthday present)...and the concert was history. He had played for an hour and 45 minutes.

Phil Keaggy's talent, wit, charm, and humility can be appreciated by all. But he is an absolute treasure to the Body of Christ. I left the Lee Street Theatre uplifted and thankful to Mr. Keaggy for his faithfulness to use the talent God gave him to bless so many people for so many years.

These words from the song Village Bells summed the evening up pretty well for me:

As decades roll into each other
We reminisce with one another
Generations wane, the photos yellow
And as we age we too grow mellow

Oh let us pray and let us give thanks
For the gift above all gifts
And let us raise our hands to the Son
Oh let us remember this




Click HERE to read another great review of the concert.