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The Great Comforter: A Hutchmoot Restrospective

Hutchmoot was a beautiful quilt, sewn together with the ties of common bonds and uncommon love. Like a homemade quilt, lovingly crafted from swatches of familiar patterns, and recycled from classic old dresses, I witnessed a living and breathing piece of art.

There was the memorable material known informally as Andyland (the Andrew Peterson Message Board). I finally met Allison and Gaines at the Counting Stars concert. They are a young couple with whom I’ve felt a special spiritual bond watching their family grow in the cyber world. How odd that this was my first real meeting of these delightfully kind and sincere young people, and yet I have long felt the compulsion to pray for them routinely.

Then there was Chad, another long time Andyland friend. I first remember e-mailing Chad when he posted something that resonated on an early version of Andyland. Chad was serving in the military, and has been open about the battle he fights with cancer. He’s stayed in touch, despite much relocation. I was so thankful that he found me at the show.

When I met Ron, lovingly referred to as Ronzilla due to his extra large stature, he reminded me that we became acquainted before both of his children were born, about ten years ago. Our cyber relationship was built on a mutual respect for straight talk, music talk, sports, and conservative politics. The relationship survived the infamous Amy Grant disagreement, a hot message board thread that seemed important at the time. Now I’d have to concentrate to remember what prompted such spirited debate.  I wonder if I may have carried things a little too far in that long-play thread when I began using footnotes.

Then there was Rick and Melinda from Georgia, a beautiful couple and parents to Gabriel, 3 and Liliane, 1. I met Rick and Melinda at a concert in Cedar Falls, Iowa (or was it Cedar Rapids). Rick works for an airline and is blessed with the benefit of special airline privileges (read, free tickets), which they have used liberally to follow Andrew Peterson to shows all over the country.

I saw Sharon again, a kind lady from Ohio that I first met via message board conversations. Later we put names with faces at an early Andrew Peterson Behold the Lamb of God presentation at Belcourt Theatre in Nashville. Around a dozen of our giddy group shared dinner and conversation at a nearby restaurant. Sharon has promoted Square Peg concerts for years and is usually on the cutting edge of great indie music discoveries.

Chris and Lyndsay Slaten made it after all, after a near cancellation. I’ve known Lyndsay–who can convey more enthusiasm in a message board post than pretty much anybody alive–for ages. They are fellow lovers of books, music, and film and Chris is an indie recording artist. I’ve long enjoyed the simplicity and beauty of his record Under Green Canopies. In my enthusiasm to say hello, I woke their newborn baby; that may have been my worst Hutchmoot moment.

I caught a glimpse of Christiana and Heather. We exchanged hellos but little more; one of the weekend’s sad realities was being unwittingly swept from one conversation to another, without time to marinate in any one exchange.

Then there was dear Brandy C., who introduced me to her Nashville friend, Mandy C. the editor for LifeWay Christian Resources. I enjoyed referring to them collectively as Brandy/Mandy through the weekend. I well remember when Brandy unexpectedly lost her step-father Dennis. She was transparent about her pain and the resulting struggles and questions.

While attending college, Brandy apparently thought I had some kind of writing credentials and sometimes sent samples, asking for critiques. Now she could serve as my mentor as she crafts good work as a writer for Compassion International. By the way, Brandy authors one of the best food blogs around.

And how about those Travis Prinzi and S.D. Smith dudes? Did you have the sense that their entire lives had prepared them for what they said at Hutchmoot? Could they have been any more informed and articulate? When Andrew Peterson ask Travis about the characters in fantasy literature that most embodied a particular characteristic, his off-the-cuff answer was like a scholarly laundry list, as if he had been researching that particular question for years. In fact, I suppose he has.

Other beautifully familiar swatches of quilt material came from those I first met at an Andrew Peterson or Square Peg concert. It was a joy bumping into my old, young friend Ben B., who introduced me to his lovely and articulate wife, Ashley. Our initial meeting came when my son and I road tripped to an Andrew Peterson/Eric Peters concert at a church in Kansas City, so many moons ago. Ben B. was a student at the time. He brought his sisters, which was bound to impress a family man like me. I vividly recall Ben discussing the music of Andrew Peterson, how it touched him to the core, and often made him weep. Bingo. Instant friendship. Since then, I run into Ben routinely at area Square Peg concerts.

Ben Y. was there. I’ve noticed Ben Y. at several shows, but was particularly moved when he once accompanied Randall Goodgame on the cello, with little rehearsal time, lending another dimension to Randy’s songs. Recently, I noticed a YouTube video of Ben Y. doing a spectacular  Jason Gray cover. I have talented friends.

My friend Laura is another wonderful sister that I first met at a Behold the Lamb of God show that she promoted in Elkhorn, Nebraska. She brought her husband Tom, the C.S. Lewis buff. She is a strong, supportive advocate for meaningful music and puts her money and time where her mouth is. Laura is a sterling silver example of a woman that uses her God-given gifts to His glory. It was great to see people like the Bens, Laura, and Ashley, who are part of my literal community in Nebraska, be so moved by the concept of Hutchmoot, that they flew or drove half-way across the country to attend.

The patchwork quilt was also crafted by my supremely talented Rabbit Room colleagues, some of whom I had not met until our planning and prayer meeting prior to registration. The substance and depth of these passionate men and women of the Lord humbled me, though I didn’t share as many moments with them as I would have liked; our goal was to use the needle and thread of Christ’s love to stitch everyone into a human work of art, to His glory, not to inhabit Rabbit Room cliques.

There was Andrew Peterson offering a kind or encouraging word, despite his own worry and fatigue.

And Jason Gray, who long ago and far away participated in a message board for Christian acoustic artists and fans that I moderated. He was present with humor, insight, and compassion.

Evie’s work in the kitchen–assisted by her servant’s heart crew–were Babette’s Feast moments.

Ron Block conversed with relaxed confidence and humility, as one who is assured that he is in Christ.  Ron’s Square Peg Concert moment was stunning. More importantly, his shoe-leather theology made me want to be more like him and Him.

Jonathan Rogers wove tales in the story-telling voice of an old sage. I want Jonathan to be my neighbor.

I shared a meal and conversation with Randall Goodgame, learning about his trip to Africa, and the gift from God that he brought home, his son. I awkwardly posed some nerdish questions about Randy’s songwriting process. Let’s be clear; Hutchmoot without nerdish moments would not be Hutchmoot.

I enjoyed a few snippets of conversation with my old buddy, Eric Peters. Like many of the Hutchmoot artists, here’s a man who lives with the knowledge that if the market were just, his records would sell more units than Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman combined. Nevertheless, he persists with passion.

And the solid rock was everywhere, otherwise known as Pete Peterson, who organized and by sheer force of will held together the world of Hutchmoot.

Then there were the three clergy Musketeers, Thomas McKenzie, Russ Ramsey, and Matt Conner, who rode in with casual dignity, loving us with grace. These honorable men were always at-the-ready with kindness, compassion, and prayer. They offered sage, literate wisdom when the rest of us were at a loss for words.

Sarah Clarkson, Chris Wall, Janna Barber, Kate Hinson, and those that I’ve failed to mention by name, you were part of the majestic beauty of Hutchoot. Your words were thoughtful and true. Your hearts were beautiful and transparent.

Brannon McAllister is the designer and creative consultant from Brooklyn, NY, responsible for so much of the visual beauty on Andrew Peterson’s most recent records. The long conversation I had with Brannon was typical of those that randomly sprouted in the rooms of Hutchmoot, like wildflowers on sunlit mountainsides. The free form dialogue was as comfortable as the Church of the Redeemer couch on which we sat. Now the name Brannon McAllister will not be just a talented name in liner notes. When I think of Brannon McAllister, thanks to Hutchmoot, I’ll also think, “Nice guy.”

There was Aaron R. who shared a personal/spiritual realization that had come to him at Hutchmoot, which provided peace of mind and an attitude of service. Aaron is a Rabbit Room buddy, our resident comedian. But woven into all that lighthearted humor burns an earnest heart of passion to be a man of God.

I had a flesh and blood meeting with Aaron, his wife Lindi–who was so helpful in Evie’s kitchen–and their children, when they passed through Omaha on their way to a family reunion in Iowa, just several weeks ago. It was a massive blessing to renew that friendship at Hutchmoot.

The late night, post concert kitchen conversations with Rabbit Room buddy, Tony and his wife Cherie, my new friend Tom M., Russ Ramsey, and so many others, were as meaningful as our Rabbit Room exchanges, with a little added warmth, like the insulating layer of that hand-made quilt.

Finally, there were you, my new friends: Walt, Tenika, Anne, Breann, Phillip, Tom, John, Jennifer, Whit, and the rest of you whose names are inextricably linked to Hutchmoot. There was an art major from Grand Island, Nebraska and a songwriter from North Carolina. I wish there was a published list of Hutchmoot names, so I could better recall the beauty that is Hutchmoot. I met so many of you, whose names escape me in this stream of consciousness narrative.  Still, as swatches were tied together, I noticed you. Timing and circumstance didn’t provide enough time to learn more about you and your journey, but I wanted to.

In some locales, quilts are called comforters and the threads that link swatches together are called ties. When a quilt is hand-made, the ties more effectively hold the material together than those quilts that are commercially produced; all the better to withstand washings and the rough and tumble of life.

As the beauty of our respective lives are integrated into the fabric of our local communities, may we be mindful that despite its beauty, this quilt of community should not be the kind of art used exclusively for display. May it live and breath authentically as living art, reaching hearts that are weary and broken, loving uncommonly, like The Great Comforter. Blessed be the ties that bind.


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