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Backstage in Dallas

I’m sitting behind the merchandise table backdrop in a gigantic church building, nursing a cold.

We just finished soundcheck a few minutes ago, and I have a little pocket of time before I have to go shower and eat dinner before tonight’s concert, so I thought I’d fill you in on what the Christmas tour has been like so far.

Let’s see. We have Sara Groves and her husband Troy, along with their three sweet kids, Jamie Rau (road manager and nanny), Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn, along with their youngest son Tyler, Dan Brown (sound guy and author of the Da Vinci Code), Andrew Osenga, Marcus Myers, Gabe Scott, Bebo Norman, Cason Cooley, Garett Buell, and Ben Shive.

Seventeen people!

The rehearsal in Nashville before we left was a sweet (if stressful) time, where we played through the songs at at rehearsal studio while wives chatted over pizza and our many kids ran around jumping over gear cases. Music is a fine thing, partly because it’s a community effort. I remember emailing with a guy named Jef Mallet who writes the comic strip Frazz, which I like. He’s a music fan and we’ve exchanged emails a few times, partly because in my first email to him I asked if he was Bill Watterson in disguise, which would be like him asking me if I was really James Taylor or something; he took it as a high compliment.

Anyway, one of his strips joked about how books are usually dedicated to just one person while CDs have paragraphs of thank-you’s in the liner notes. The joke, if I remember correctly, was that musicians are long-winded or something. Can’t remember. The point is, I felt compelled to write him to let him know that (now that I’ve made records and written a book) there’s a huge difference between the two. Book writing, for the most part, is a solitary occupation. You only really get any work done at the expense of social interaction. Sure, you’ll need your manuscript read by people you trust, and their input is invaluable, but the bulk of the work is done alone. Music, on the other hand, is by nature a community effort, and anyone who’s put a record out or played professionally for any amount of time realizes early on that there’s just no way to make this kind of art on your own. (I guess there are exceptions when it comes to solo musicians and folky stuff–Bruce Springsteen did it with Nebraska, but you know what I mean.)

I have the feeling that in forty years I’ll look back on these times fondly. I count myself blessed beyond measure to share the stage with songwriters like Osenga, Gullahorn, Groves, Phillips, singers and players like Shive, Norman, Scott, Buell, Cooley, Myers (I had to write each name down in case one of them reads this and thinks I left them out on purpose; we musicians are a fragile lot). I love the way music pulls us together toward a common purpose. I love the way we prepare in an empty auditorium, hoping that each seat in the house is filled, and that each heart who attends will be filled too. We eat together, laugh together (or play Boggle together, which is what they’re probably all doing right now), and then, just before the show, we pray together.

The thrill of walking out on a stage to share your gifts with a good audience is like nothing else I know. I went to an artist’s retreat last week at Charlie Peacock’s Art House. The room was filled with musicians and writers of an intimidating caliber, and during the question and answer time I was too sheepish to speak up, though I had definite opinions about what we were talking about. But at some point in the retreat the conversations were sometimes tinged with frustration or discontent. It seemed like many of the artists were wanting the Answer to the question of how to succeed in the music business. I admit that I’ve gone through long periods of frustration, looking for that same Answer. But the Lord has shown me that there is no Answer apart from him. He’s the only place we’ll ever find satisfaction or joy. I don’t know why God has blessed me with being able to play music for a living. He knows I don’t deserve it–

—-

Just after I wrote that last sentence, I got interrupted. It’s now 11:03 PM, and the show is over. We’ve packed up and are sitting on the bus, about to head to Taco Cabana for a midnight snack (when you’re in Texas, you just have to stop at the Cabana). I re-read what I was writing earlier, and I’m not sure how to wrap it up. I’ll say that the show was a delight. The musicians assembled on this tour are humble, gentle, joyful, and I’m thankful for each of them.

It would be easy to idealize this group of people. It’s important that you know that we’re sinful. We talk frankly about the nature of our sins here on the “Guy Bus”. I’ve spoken with the Groves fam and the Gullahorns on the “Family Bus” and I know that the same is true over there. We’re a community of people who have doubts and insecurities, people who are lustful, selfish, greedy. The tour’s been going for not even a week and I’ve probably had to apologize four times already for saying something I shouldn’t have. That sinfulness (and I know this confounds Satan) allows us to love one another better. We can hold one another up only because we are bent low with our own weakness. What a beautiful mystery we find ourselves in. I keep wondering why God allows us to sing these songs, why he fills my life with such goodness.

I will keep asking that question, because the answer is so good I love to hear it over and over again.

AP

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