Thursday, December 18, 2003  

Andrew Peterson Christmas Concert - Part II

"Myth" is an interesting word. I hear it associated with Christmas quite often - not in a pejorative sense, but in a reverent one. The preservation of the sacred myth of Christmas has been paramount, it seems, in church culture for at least my lifetime. We generally see Christmas in still life - the nativity scene in which all the characters stand around admiring the baby Jesus in His glory. Mary has a motherly glow (and, in some instances, a halo). Jesus is laying silently on a bed of straw. Joseph is a bystander at best.

Through his Christmas concert, Andrew Peterson manages to maintain the sacred, while revealing the myth. The end result is that the miracle of Christ's birth in Bethlehem is given its due as just that - a miracle - by not resorting to banal cliches. The true miracle of Jesus is re-awakened in the hearts of the believers (at least it was for this one). Andrew and his band of musical royalty pay tribute to the character and sacrifice of the ordinary folks that the God of the universe used in mighty ways that night, and throughout the history that preceded it.

Like the first half of this review, I'm doing most of this from memory, so please forgive me if I make a mistake or two. I wish I had the space to print the lyrics to these songs in their entirety, but you'll just have to settle for excerpts.

Andrew does "Gather Round, Ye Children Come"

So, sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, and made Himself nothing.
He gave up His pride and He came here to die like a man

By way of introduction, Andrew implores us, the audience, to hearken near and listen - "Gather round, ye children come/Listen to the old, old story." He simplifies the Christmas story into its most basic truth - God came to earth as a baby boy to deliver us from death.

Andrew, Randall Goodgame, Ron Block do "Passover Us"

Lord, let Your judgment pass over us
Lord, let Your love hover near
Don't let Your sweet mercy pass over us
Let this blood cover over us here

Andrew begins the historical journey through the Old Testament here by singing of the miracle of the Passover. Randall takes over most of the verses and shines as the chief storyteller. The notion of the Lord's protection of His people through the blood of the lamb is one of the most important and relevant concepts of the entire Bible and Andrew and Randall manage to channel the pain and the dependence of the children of Israel.

Andrew, along with Madeira on electric and Jonathan Noel's BGVs on "So Long, Moses"

We want a King, on a throne, full of power, with a sword in his fist
Will there ever be a King like this?

This song examines the concept of a "king" of Israel - both historically and symbolically. From the leadership of Moses, through Saul and King David, the Israelites were left without leadership and begged Isaiah for a peek at the future. Would they ever have another king like David? What Isaiah told them wasn't what they wanted to hear. Andrew's strength in this song is communicating the dichotomy between what King David represented - strength, power - and what the Messiah would represent - He would be rejected and despised, and be killed for our sin. This tune is very atmospheric, especially helped by Laura Story and her stand-up bass, along with the string section.

Derek Webb does "Deliver Us"

Deliver us, deliver us
Oh, Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath Your wings tonight

This song is so emotionally evocative - the lament of God's people through their struggles. Even though they no longer suffered in slavery, they suffered nonetheless. Derek's mournful tone and reverence establish a tangible feeling that creeps over the listener like a fog. This tune is more reminiscent of a dirge than anything.

An instrumental version of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" by Andrew and Gabe Scott.

The ability of musicians to evoke feeling simply from collections of chords and notes is no better displayed than here. Two guitarists simply paying tribute to the desires of the Israelites for the Messiah to come and save them. This has always been one of my favorite traditional Christmas carols and their version only enhanced that.

Andrew and the band do "Matthew's Begats"

Listen very closely, I don't want to sing this twice
Jacob was the father of Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Christ

Andrew shows off here with his musical version of Jesus' lineage - Matthew 1 set to music. Imminently singable, this tune is lively and fun. It takes quite a while to memorize (believe me, I've got most of it). Definitely a fan favorite, this song bridges the Old Testament part of the show to the gospel story.

Andrew, along with Ron Block on banjo and Hindalong on percussion, do "It Came to Pass"

It came to pass
That Joseph was the noblest of men
With a woman on a donkey
On the way to Bethlehem

This is the song that trumpets Joseph's contribution to the Christmas story. A man, who was pledged to be married to a young girl (who happened to be pregnant by someone else), Joseph trusted the Lord and followed through with the onerous responsibility of the being the father of the Messiah.

Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken do "Labor of Love"

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

This song is the star of the show. Lyrics that directly attack the myth of Christmas night as silent and sweet really show the nature of how God's will manifests itself in the world. It's usually bloody, cold, and very, very difficult. The song starts out by saying, "It was not a silent night/There was blood on the ground." Wholly realistic, this song is about the sacrifice of the girl that God chose to bear His son. Sandra McCracken, in the tradition of Emmylou Harris, tells the story beautifully. She, along with Derek's accompanying vocals, makes the pain of the birth of Christ not only real, but also beautiful. This song is the next great Christmas hymn, and belongs in the pantheon of Christmas carols. It's possibly Andrew's best song of all, and unfortunately, very few people will actually hear it.

Our two hammer dulcimer players, Gabe Scott and (somebody tell me who the other guy is, I can't remember - I'm sorry) do "The Holly and the Ivy"

Simply put, this version of the classic Christmas tune is a display of mastery. The two dulcimer players are masters of the instrument and their playing evokes the lingering joy of Christmas.

Andrew and the band come back out for "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night"

Hallelujah, Christ is born!
Hallelujah, Christ is born!

The joy of the ordinary men whose profession became so symbolic of the rein of Jesus Christ is stirred up here. And with Jonathan Noel's Hallelujahs coming from the background, I was reminded of the simple way that Christ came into the world, which is constantly juxtaposed against the majesty and the glory from where He came.

Andrew and the strings, along with Jonathan Noel's BGVs, do "Behold the Lamb of God"

Behold the Lamb of God
Who takes away our sin
Behold the Lamb of God
The life and light of men

A simple but effective Christmas carol, Andrew fills the room with the wonder of a man who looks upon a simple baby and sees the Savior of the world. A baby who looked like any other baby, who cried and wet his diaper. That baby was the king that God's people had been waiting for for hundreds of years. Their Messiah, their king, laid in a feeding trough.

Derek Webb and Phil Keaggy, along with Phil Madeira, do "Joy to the World"

He rules the world
With truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glory of His righteousness
And wonders of His love

Majestic and full, Derek and Keaggy rocked this one out. I really should be more clear about this - the entire band was rocking. Derek was singing lead, along with Phil on one verse. And, other than Derek completely missing a transition and Andrew having to catch it, it was really wonderful. We got to see some more of the venerable Mr. Keaggy playing better than basically any human alive. It was great.

The whole band came back out for a reprise of "Gather Round, Ye Children Come"

What a way to close the show. Just as it was opened, the show closed with a call to remember the sacredness of the story that had all gathered to celebrate. I wanted them to keep going, to do the whole thing again, but Andrew simply led the crowd in a verse of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and then walked off the stage. The lights came on and we gathered our things.


The myth of Christmas - that silent night when Jesus was born in quiet Bethlehem - is nice, but it pales when we see what really happened. When we see the sacrifice of two people who were used by God to fulfill basically every Old Testament prophecy, the myth just doesn't seem so sweet. Andrew Peterson and his collection of friends revealed the true, sacred nature of the Christmas story. I really wish that I had done it justice, but I didn't even get close. This was one of those concerts that I will talk about when I'm an old man. But, more importantly, because of this concert, Christmas in my house has a renewed reverence. Honestly, I had forgotten. I have been more worried about what Santa was bringing than what Mary and Joseph brought. Thanks for reminding me, Andrew.

there. I said it.| 3:22 PM

Tuesday, December 16, 2003  

How did you all spend your weekend? Here’s how I spent mine: my good buddy Kevin Partridge and I drove twelve hours to Nashville for a concert.

Andrew Peterson hosts a Christmas concert every year with some of friends. This year it was at Rockettown in Nashville. Kevin and I knew that Phil Keaggy, Derek Webb, Allison Krauss, and a couple of others would be there. So, we left Maryland at 3:30 AM and began our long journey into night. The trip started auspiciously, with snow pounding us from the second we left the house – but Kevin’s little Acura-that-could pressed on and we made it to Nashville.

We walked into Rockettown a few hours early and managed to stumble into the sound check (where we were standing about 15 feet from Allison Krauss). We hung out for a few minutes, then left to go get some dinner in downtown Nashville.

A small aside here – the restaurant where we ate dinner did not have sweet tea (in Nashville). Instead, they gave you one of those syrup pourer thingees with sugar water in it that you could add to your tea. Have any of you ever heard of that? It was actually pretty good, if not a bit creepy.

Anyways, on to the show. We stood outside in about 40 degrees for 45 minutes or so waiting for the doors to open. It wasn’t so bad except for the vast amount of 16-year-old youth groupers everywhere. I hope to God I wasn’t like that. I swear.

We got in a sat down – about 8 rows from the stage, smack in the middle. Not bad seats. We were sitting right behind Jamie Peterson (Andrew’s wife, who my sister Sherry went to high school with – she and I chatted about that some). Then the show started.

Andrew led off with the beautiful and heart-rending “Holy is the Lord” – his telling of the Abraham and Isaac story that became brand new to me the day that my son was born. A song about obedience in the face of great doubt – So take me to the mountain, I will follow where You lead/And there I’ll lay the body of the boy You gave to me/And even though You take him, still I ever will obey/But Maker of this mountain, please make another way Andrew had a string section, as well as Laura Story on the stand-up bass, along with the ever-present Steve Hindalong on percussion.

Andrew introduced the musicians one by one after that. Each artist would come out, do a song, and the sit down in the row of chairs on stage. So, by the end, there was a line musical luminaries seated on that stage.

First up was Jonathan and Amanda Noel (who I had never heard of). A husband and wife team. They did a song called (I think) “Lover of My Soul.” It was very nice, nothing remarkable, but nice.

Randall Goodgame came out next and did “The Opener” – a wonderful ditty about being the opening act. Randall compares himself to John the Baptist in that “I’ve got no camel’s hair today, but still I prepare the way.” At the first sight of 15 extra bucks, I’ll be buying one of his CDs. He was great.

Next was one of my favorites, Derek Webb, doing a Dylan song with this intro, “if this isn’t a Christian song, I don’t know what is.” He did “Every Grain of Sand” and knocked it out of the building. Uncle Bob would have been proud.

Now, I had never heard Phil Madeira sing before, but he was phenomenal with “If I Were Jesus.” He called Hindalong back on stage to play with him, and when he didn’t come out right away, Madeira said, “Well, there must be a bottle back there with his name on it.” The crowd groaned and he said, “If there’s a God in heaven, there’s a bottle with my name on it after this show.”

I lost my breath when Andrew introduced Allison Krauss and Ron Block. She is unassuming, so simply beautiful. She’s just a wisp of a thing and she still commands the room. And then she opens her mouth and sings, and the rest of the room goes away. They performed “There is a Reason.”

Next up was Phil Keaggy who did a tune called “Shades of Green.” I have no idea how to explain Keaggy. The best explanation I can come up with is that he’s from another planet. The things he can do with a guitar are impossible. Hindalong (of course) accompanied on percussion. Phil was the last one to come out from backstage, so they went back through the order again and everybody got another turn.

Jonathan Noel, after riling up the crowd by getting political and consequently apologizing, did a pleasant little tune about Vermont called “Lyndon.”

Randall Goodgame got back up and brought the house down with his song “Susan Coats’ Pants,” which is about a pair of camouflaged pants he has bought in a thrift store. Formally the property of a soldier, the pants inspired a tribute to our armed forces. The song was completely moving and when he sang “they die to set other people free/I guess they’re more like Jesus than I’ll ever be” there was a collective gasp in the room. This guy should run for President, I’m serious.

Then, instead of Derek Webb getting back up to sing, Sandra McCracken (his wife) came out from behind the wings to sing “Age After Age.” Gorgeous, beautiful, sweet, powerful. She’s also just a wisp of a thing, but, like Allison Krauss, she commands the room. Derek is a lucky man. I really wish she’d been behind the piano singing “Sunday Morning,” but I’ll take what I can get.

Phil Madeira led the crowd in a Christmas song about his in-laws called “We Ain’t Coming Home for Christmas This Year.” He’s a singer/storyteller in the tradition of Bruce Cockburn. Normally, I just see his name in the credits as the guy who plays every single instrument. I never knew he could perform that well solo.

Allison Krauss and Ron Block came back up and performed “Look Beyond the Dream.” Written by Ron Block, it was a sweet little ditty that showcased Allison’s voice again (of course, she could sing the phone book and I’d still swoon).

Last on the list was Phil Keaggy, who did “I Remember the Blood.” I remember my jaw being on the floor while I watched him play, that’s what I remember.

The head man, Mr. Andrew Peterson finished off the first half of the show with “Canaan Bound,” which I secretly believe to be a perfect song. There is absolutely no way in which that song could be improved. It’s perfect. Add to it that Allison Krauss sings on it, Steve Hindalong does the percussion, and Phil Madeira plays electric, and it’s better than perfect. I could have left after this song and been perfectly happy. It was definitely one of the greatest highlights of the night for me.

Throughout the show, I caught myself thinking over and over again, “I wish I had a camera – I have to preserve this somehow. I’m never going to see anything like this again.” Just to watch someone like Randall Goodgame play, while Phil Keaggy sang along with a smile on his face, or Phil Madeira applauding Sandra McCracken, or Allison Krauss standing next to Andrew Peterson . . . the whole thing really left me pretty speechless. Then, during intermission, Kevin talked to Steve Hindalong and found out that all of the artists did the show for free. Truly remarkable.

Folks, that was just the first half – I hope to get the rest of it up tomorrow . . . we’ll see if that really happens.


there. I said it.| 12:21 PM

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