“We’ve been invited to a house concert where Son of Laughter will be sharing. I’d really like to go,” my wife said. I didn’t need any convincing. “Awesome, which grandmother should I ask to babysit?” I replied.
About a year ago Kathryn and I had dived into Chris Slaten’s (Son of Laughter) music. I have fond memories of listening to “The Meal We Could Not Make” on repeat during the holiday season of 2020. When I find an artist whose work I admire, generally a week or two of repeated listening follows.
The night of the house concert came around. As we drove down streets we didn’t know toward people we hadn’t met, I started to feel anxious. House concerts are unavoidably intimate. I couldn’t help but create scenarios in my mind about how interactions might take place. I can too easily assume what people are like before I’ve even met them. (If you’re like me, please stop reading this long enough to play Son of Laughter’s song “Flesh and Bone”.)
My worries were quickly dispelled. We found the front door slightly ajar, closed just enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay but open enough to signify we were at the right place. We entered the house and added our shoes to the mounting evidence of the company we would be keeping. Removing our shoes is an intentional part of our own house rules, so as my sneakers slipped off, I immediately felt at home. In the kitchen we were greeted by our hosts & fellow music lovers, laden with paper-plated goodies and warm introductions.
I learned more about our hosts, the Murphys. They lead worship at a local church and are welcoming people. One of our mutual friends—Matthew Clark—had told them that Chris would be passing through and was hoping to play a house concert. You might think that it requires special skills or possessions to open your home for a concert, but I assure you, it doesn’t. The Murphys, while notably full of generosity, aren’t “special” beyond responding to the call placed on their hearts to be hosts.
After some small talk in the kitchen, we were shepherded into a living room filled with fold-out chairs and repositioned furniture. As Chris took the stage—or in this case a carpet—we met both Chris and Son of Laughter. I was struck by how a pseudonym or stage name could be enlisted by some to either hide behind or give an air of grandeur. This isn’t the case with Chris. Son of Laughter is not a mask to hide behind, rather it is a tool he uses to announce who he believes we were created to reflect. In this small setting, we had the benefit of receiving the thoughtfully crafted art of a down-to-earth man and fellow believer.
The beautiful intimacy of the experience continued after the concert, into the authentic connections that followed with the others in the room. Trailand Eltzroth
As soon as Chris started playing, I was reminded of how wonderful a gift it is to see an artist present their own art in a live setting after being familiar with their recorded work. When you know the lyrics and melody of someone’s music, it’s a lovely feeling to share in the exchange together. As a performer myself, to experience this kind of engagement with your work is deeply satisfying and encouraging. For all in attendance, these moments were multiplied further by the intimate proximity of the living room setting. When we all joined in singing together, we were able to hear our individual and collective voices praising God.
The beautiful intimacy of the experience continued after the concert, into the authentic connections that followed with the others in the room. My wife and I were meeting everyone for the first time but quickly discovered a myriad of shared passions. We met a couple who sat in front of us that lived near a park Kathryn had recently discovered. While the ladies set a playdate for our kids, I met a local pastor who invited me to a songwriter’s dinner.
I spoke with Chris about his music but also connected over our shared love of Chattanooga. Unprompted, he asked me about my own music and genuinely wanted to hear it, whipping out his phone to look up my music online and saving me from struggling to talk about my own art. I realized that once the music had stopped, we all resumed being guests in the Murphy’s home as we got to know one another. All of the interactions that night were funneled through the respect and security created by being in someone’s dwelling place and the communal enjoyment and inspiration of meaningful and purposeful art. I’ve felt it rare to find such discussions happening as naturally within a church building, and I wonder if that’s because I don’t put enough effort into remembering whose house I am in.
“How amazing was that?” I asked my wife while we were sliding our shoes back on. “I’m so glad we came,” Kathryn said while carefully closing the door behind us. “That was a beautiful night.” Driving home I recalled when I had first heard of Son of Laughter while reading Andrew Peterson’s book Adorning The Dark. This memory started a discussion of how the enjoyment of intentional art encourages the discovery of other art and artists. As we pulled into our driveway, we were still talking about the songs we had heard, the friends we had made, and the ways we could participate in supporting further impactful evenings of art and fellowship.