Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Musical Influences of a Lifetime Part 2

Today I share with you my musical influences.  Yes, I have shared some previously.  Yet, of those, I have never shared the albums that molded my upbringing and my tastes.  Part 1 Michael shared his journey.  As I read through those albums I remembered many albums that I hadn't thought of for many years.  Some of those albums were from artists that Michael selected, and others from the few artists he only mentioned.  For me, there are to many albums to select from (Michael had the same problem when asked to guest write), but I will indeed present the top 5 most influential albums of my lifetime (up to recent).  Without further ado, here they are.  Enjoy.

WARNING: This list, and any artist/band in list does not mean anything other than that of an influence.  I can not confirm the quality of artistry of said album(s) or artist(s).  One or two selections might have been great selections during their days on the charts but does not mean...or might not mean the inclusion in list speaks of any longevity.  NO MOCKING!  You have been warned!

HONORABLE MENTION: Because some of these are to good to not mention but had to be cut.
To Hell With the Devil - Stryper - Video for "Honestly"
Atomic Arena - Barren Cross - Video for "Imaginary Music"
Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons - Video for "Roll Away Your Stone"
Upbeats and Beatdowns - Five Iron Frenzy - Video to "The Flowery Song"

And now the Countdown:

5. Can't Slow Down - Lionel Richie
Released in 1983, Lionel was topping the charts of the Top 40 world well into 1984 with several singles on this album.  With the few stations my parents listened to, he seemed to be on most of them.  Sometime during early 1984 I received a gift certificate to a music store in my hometown.  I was excited!  I was given an opportunity to get my own music.  When my parents took me to go purchase the music of my choice, the only words of wisdom my father provided me were, "I don't care what you get, just make sure the lyrics are clean and it is something you want."  Not wanting to be to rebellious (yet), Lionel found his place in my musical collection.  "Hello" was the hit of the album.  The song hit #1 on Billboard for a few weeks, had a video and one unforgettable line, "Hello! Is it me you're looking for?"  Sure, I had heard the other hit song called, "All Night Long (All Night)," but it was the piano and the guitar solo of "Hello" that hooked me.  I played that album (tape if not mistaken) frequently.  Being this was my first ever album I bought, I didn't really know the impact it would have on my musical adventures.  It was also the album that I learned I would never have problems with my parents telling me I couldn't listen to something as long as the lyrics weren't horribly perverse or vulgar.

4. Beat The System - Petra
This album was another first for me.   Released in 1985, if featured the radio single "Hollow Eyes" which somehow received airplay on the Christian radio station in Seattle.  A station that regularly played Amy Grant, Philip Bailey, 2nd Chapter of Acts and Sandi Patty, this single sounded nothing like the piano driven music of the above mentioned artists.  I sounded more like rock music!  Late that year, my parents took me to the Christian music bookstore to buy some music.  Not only did I find this album and buy it, but I scored it in CD version.  Yes, aging myself just a bit, this was during the huge transformation from vinyl to CD.  Sure, tapes were still big, but this was a CD and I had to keep up with technology, especially since we had just gotten a CD player for me to have in my room.  Once I began playing the CD I discovered the greatness of Petra.  Imagine going from the adult contemporary sounds I usually heard to the synth heavy rock of songs like "Computer Brains,"  "Witch Hunt," and "God Gave Rock and Roll to You."  My musical tastes were not only opened, but suddenly changing to a harder and slightly more rock sound.  And, the change didn't end here.

3. Sons of Thunder - Sleeping Giant
My tastes in music have always been vast.  I have always listened to harder music and loved it.  From 80's hair bands to 90's grunge, Seattle had some of the best music available in the late 80's and early 90's.  Bloodgood, MXPX, Pearl Jam and Nirvana all called Seattle and the area home.  But it wasn't until this 2009 album that I really found the one hardcore album that influenced my love of hard music.  Actually, it was seeing these guys live for the first time that led me to purchasing this album.  Not only were they a hardcore band, they were a worship band.  Sure, the title track was good. Yes, the songs are really deep lyrically.  "No One Leave This Room Sick" killed it and spoke of healing available for anybody.  Yet the one that got me, and when seen them playing it live with White Collar Sideshow, was "He Will Reign."  This song alone took 200 plus hardcore kids from a very large mash pit into instantly worshiping God in reverence.  Yeah, a sight to see.  Even better, this album (CD) still receives heavy rotation in my truck, as does the follow up album "Kingdom Days in an Evil Age."

2. Jesus Freak - DC Talk
So many lists will feature this album.  If you are in the Christian music industry, you know this album.  Many of today's artists were influenced by this album.  This album very well could be the most talked about album ever for those who love Christian music.  And, the title track is the one song that might have changed the face of not just the band, but also Contemporary Christian Music and the CCM radio format.  My love for these guys began in 1989 with the song, "He Loves Me" and the soulful sounds of Michael Tait.  Their sound continued to grow on me with 1990' Nu Thang and 1992's Free At Last.  But, their sound changed forever in 1995 with this album.  Instead of mostly rap with some rock, they were now mostly rock with some rap sprinkled into some of the songs.  The change was awesome!  "Colored People" addressed the beautiful difference, and yet the similarity of the human race, how messed up we as a society are, and learn to accept the differences in each race, forgiving where needed, and loving no matter the difference.  "What if I Stumble" shared their fear of what others thought if there were a time one of them were found out to not be perfect (and how it would affect everyone involved in their lives and/or fans).  Finally, after all the hits, it was their cover of Charlie Peacock's  "In The Light" that became my favorite on this album.  This was a song of admission of failure and a need to have a Savior, and a plea to live as Christ wants us to live.  Yes, this album gets rotation in my truck as the CD has found a home there.

1. I Predict 1990 - Steve Taylor
Had you asked me in 1985 who Mr. Taylor was, I would have given you a blank stare.  One Sunday night in 1987, a visiting youth pastor asked if I wanted to go to a video screening of some song by some guy named Steve Taylor.  Thankfully, my parents agreed to let me take the trip to North Seattle for the screening.  Little did I know that, "Jim Morrison's Grave" would change my world.  That night I learned not only about the song, but I learned about a man and the brilliance of his art.  So, after the screening and a few days later, I made my way to the Christian bookstore and bought the tape of I Predict 1990.  Little did I know, but my local bookstore was one of the few stores that actually carried the album due to the controversy of the album art.  Controversy aside, the music was phenomenal!  From the first song, "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" to the final song, "Harder To Believe Than Not To," every song I heard had meaning.  Sure, many of the songs (along with the album cover) were satirical in nature, but they were speaking truth in how unconventional the Christian thinking was of the day (and at times, still is in my opinion).  "What Is The Measure of Your Success" addresses the perception of success and leads into "Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better."  From perceived success, to the pursuit of said success, boiled down to just giving up hope, no matter how successful you are.  From satire to the serious tones of "Principled Man" this album gained a place on my permanent rotation.  Yes, to this day I still pull up Spotify and give this album a spin.

There you have it.  The albums that have shaped my musical tastes.  Yes, they are vast and heavily 80's influenced (yup, aging myself again).  Amazingly, the longevity of these artists is amazing and somewhat remarkable.  From movies (Steve Taylor and Lionel Richie) to solo careers (all of DCTalk).  From college speaking gigs (Tommy Green of Sleeping Giant) to college professor (Steve Taylor).  Be it a band being rumored to be reuniting (DCTalk), having reunited (Petra), to a band still in its prime (Sleeping Giant) or an artist still going strong (Lionel Richie) or someone who sings that put a band together for a return to touring (Steve Taylor), nothing can change how these albums have influenced me, nor can anything replace them on this list.  If you heeded my warning at the beginning, you are not mocking these selections (well, maybe a little as I am a little on a couple of them), but you made it through the list.  Hopefully, you have discovered some new (or older) music which I can only wish you will like.  Enjoy the links.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Musical Influences of a Lifetime Part 1

As many of you have read here over many a post, I'm a music junkie.  It is my passion.  I pass time listening to music, working in music and discovering music (sports and family also consume my time, but that is another post all together).

Today, I introduce a friend of mine with a very similar passion for music and the industry.  Meet Michael Reed, husband, father of three and one that I call friend and brother.  Our paths crossed a few years ago when he was in the music industry.  He was the manager of a band, and I was the booking agent.  Not only did we work well together, but we instantly hit if off like long lost relatives.  We understood each other, respected each other, and thought like each other.  Shortly after that work relationship began, it ended.  No matter though, we had formed a friendship that would grow into something neither of us ever imagined.  No matter the circumstance (cancer, loss of job, new careers, mental illness, child illnesses) our friendship has become a rock for both of us.

Now, it is my pleasure to share with you part one of a two part blog about music, the never changing constant in the friendship Michael and I have.  This two part blog highlights the music that has made us who we are.  The albums that inspired us to live, to love, to breath, encouraged to carry on and more importantly, are part of what we are today as people, as husbands, as fathers.  Enjoy Michael's journey through his top albums that have influenced him and his life.

Preface: I grew up in a traditional non-traditional home. On the outside we were a very happy family. On the inside was a whole lot of dysfunction. We were always the first ones at church. But as quickly as the church clothes came flying off on Sunday mornings, I found myself growing up with chaos all around me. I found myself lost. Dazed. Confused. I was constantly picked on due to my height (I have a growth disorder and have not grown since the 6th grade). I suffered from constant depression. I had very few friends. And I engulfed myself into one thing: music. I was a trumpet player. But my dream? I wanted to SING. So I blared my cassette tapes (yes, I am admitting my age) as loud as I could to drown out the chaos that was outside my bedroom walls.

I went through the typical teenage phases of rap and hip-hop and grunge. But nothing really satisfied me. That is, until the 7th grade. I went to a "Christian" summer camp for a week. And it was life changing. People accepted me for who I was, not for what I wasn't. It was at this camp that I was introduced to the world of Christian music. And it was at this camp that I heard album #1 for the first time.

#1 Michael W. Smith i 2 eye

This may be an "old" album on many aspects, but i 2 eye  introduced the world to Smitty. The modulations, key changes, and the ability to make it all flow so simply attracted me to his style. Then, I actually listened to the words. One of the greatest songs ever written is "Secret Ambition". I played this song so much I actually ruined the cassette! The melody and the catchiness of the chorus all spoke to me in ways I could never imagine as a young man.

As I grew up my tastes changed. Smitty and Amy Grant used to be the only option for mainstream Christian music, but as times changed other amazing artists came forward. And using Smitty, Amy Grant, Carmen and Stephen Curtis Chapman as their foundation, Christian music EXPLODED into a more mainstream style. All of a sudden there were actually DIFFERENT TYPES of Christian music to listen to. Enter Casting Crowns.

#2. Casting Crowns Lifesong

Wow. You mean I can listen to music and praise and worship at the same time!!?? Yes, please!!! Casting Crowns came to the scene in the early 2000's and swept the world with their incredible blend of worship and pop. Mark Hall, lead singer, made it a point to only tour through the week so that his family could be together on Sundays for church. He, to this day, is still a youth pastor at his Georgia home church.  With songs like "Who Am I", "Lifesong", and "Praise You In This Storm" this album is a constant reminder that God is with us no matter how impossible the obstacle seems.

With the "Praise and Worship" era in full swing, Christian music transformed again. Someone realized even though we are Christian we can still have our "boy bands." Hello Tenth Avenue North. We have been waiting for you.

#3. Tenth Avenue North Over and Underneath

Tenth Avenue North erupted with their first hit "Love Is Here" but as you listen to the album you realize that these guys have really experienced issues in their lives. "Times" discusses the struggles with depression. "Beloved" shows the immense love of a marriage. The hits go on and on with this amazing blend of pop and rock and no matter what stage you are at in your life, there is a song on this album for you.

There is an open argument about whether old school Christian music is better than today's Christian music. My opinion has always been this: It doesn't matter HOW someone gets to know God, as long as that person finds God. But, for the sake of argument, what if you could blend the old with the new? Thank you, Newsboys.

#4. Newsboys Restart

The Newsboys have been around for a LONG time. They have transformed many times over the years, and with each change their style has become something different. With the addition of Michael Tait as the lead man, the Newsboys engulf the old with the new, and a whole new generation has become Jesus Freaks. Their award winning song "We Believe" is an anthem to all Christians, young and old. "That Home" is a tribute to Michael's mother who passed away last year and shows the passion of a mother and her son. "That's How You Change The World" is a decree for all of us to stand and make a difference. It is a great album full of life, heart, and love.

So now what does the future hold? Christian music today is much different than it was 20 years ago. With bands like Red, for King and Country, and countless others the future looks bright for mainstream Christian music. But one artist, to me, sticks out. Not necessarily because of her abilities...but because of her life.

#5. Plumb Need You Now

Plumb has been around for a few years, but it was when she poured her life into her songs that people really began to take notice. The title track "Need You Now (How Many Times)" was written in a very dark place in her life where she almost lost her husband. "Lord I'm Ready Now" talks about letting go and letting God take over. Her music comes from deep within her soul and you can feel her passion in every note she sings.

So there you have it. My top 5 albums. I encourage an open mind and open heart when listening to this music. God DOES change lives through music. After all, he changed mine. God bless.

Thank you, Michael, for your contribution to the blog.  For more of Michael's story, head over to his blog,  It is a great blog, and a story of healing, entitled, "Being Mentally Ill Without Being Mentally Ill."  Part 2 of this blog coming later this week.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Coming To A Festival/City Near You...Or Not

February is upon us!  Sure, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and assured us of another six weeks of winter.  Since then, Boston and the Northeast have been pounded by snow storm after blizzard after snow storm.  The mountains of Colorado and plains of Wyoming are preparing for a fun couple of days of snow.  Heck!  They're even talking snow in the deep south (Carolina's, Missisippi, Atlanta, Tennessee) for next week.  Despite all the snow, and the seemingly constant rain in the Pacific Northwest, there are many planning for summer.  Not just any summer either.  I'm talking the summers spent in a lawn chair with the sun umbrella covering you from any potential burn.  It's just you, your family and friends and the sound of good music from afar.  Well, maybe the music isn't too far off, and maybe you have 30,000+ other friends with you.

That is right!  Music festival after music festival is nearing the final stages of securing your favorite band to play your hometown festival.  Maybe your hometown festival is a couple hours away, but it is your festival and you can't wait to attend it every single year!  They always bring in some of your favorite bands, occasionally you get to meet some of the artists, and you always get to buy a T-shirt (or five) and a couple CD's.  So, now that you are getting just a little excited for your hometown festival, did you know there is something wrong with it?

Yes, you heard right.  There is something drastically wrong with many of today's Christian Music Festivals.  From the smallest and newest upstart festival to the well established attended by the tens of thousands, there is indeed something drastically wrong with them.  Most people in attendance don't see it though.  Sure, maybe you notice that there just aren't as many people as last year, but maybe they had other things to tend to or they just couldn't afford it.  Other than what one sees on the outside, you just don't see what is wrong.

Sadly, today's Christian music festivals are all a reflection of the music industry as a whole.  People just don't care.  We tend to like what we hear on the radio.  Maybe our friend likes a band, persuades us to give them a listen and we like the one or two songs of the band.  We decide with all the music we listen to and hear that we just want the songs we know.  We head over to iTunes or Amazon (or our favorite digital download site), cop the songs we know and love, and done.  We have the music we love.  We have effectively supported our favorite artists.

Great, we have supported their music through a purchase or two.  But, we haven't purchased their whole album.  We only know the radio friendly songs.  We don't realize that song 7 on their newest album is the one that reflects who they are as people and a band.  But, such is the plight of today's American society - like what we know, get what we like and want, and only have enough attention span to download just the one or two songs.  There is always something better to do with our time than download music.

Now, dig a little deeper than just being familiar with an artists music.  Festivals are long.  Having been to many, I'll confirm they are just long.  They start between 9 and 10am and by the time the headline act for the night is walking off stage after their encore, it is 11pm at the earliest and midnight at the latest.  Of course, some festivals (no longer around) ran even longer on their busiest days.  But the length of time is only the beginning of how long the festival is.  Add to that, you have to camp!  So not only are you sticky and sweaty from being in the sun all day, you might not get a shower, probably won't go to sleep until 1 or 2am, and then won't sleep well anyway since you're not in your own bed.  Repeat this cycle for two to four days, and you have one very long festival.  But, this is what makes a festival.  Yet, many are just not that into camping, going without showers (maybe getting a washcloth bath), living on minimal sleep and hanging out with thousands of others that are sticky, sweaty and smelly.

Another big hold up in attending a festival is paying for a ticket.  Why would anyone want to pay close to $100 (sometimes more) to go be uncomfortable to listen to mostly bands no one knows (unless you are indeed a local or are really into music).  This might seem shallow, but it is very true and words I have heard.  And really, most people don't want to pay to go to something they might not enjoy as much as they had hoped.  Which leads me to: why wouldn't anyone enjoy a festival filled with bands/artists they love?  Don't they have other things to do besides just the music?

Yes, there is the skateboarding/bike exhibitions.  There are the kids bounce houses and art areas.  There is the merchandise tent as well as the seeming miles of non band related merchandise to browse through.  There are prayer tents and baptism tanks, basketball hoops, video game consoles and more!  But, people are increasingly more apprehensive to pay to get all this and music when they can stay home, do the same activities and listen to the music they like and know as opposed to the lines and music they aren't familiar with.

Yet all the above mentioned aren't the biggest problems facing Christian festivals.  With decreased attendance, these festivals are now faced with decreased revenue.  This leads to decreased sponsorship money.  This leaves less money to bring in your favorite band.  Fewer bands with notoriety means fewer people.  Vicious cycle.  One that many festivals have not found and easy resolution to.  Those festivals that have figured it out, are now partnered with larger parent companies.

Years ago, many festivals blamed the economic crash.  Today, this excuse just doesn't work.  I blame money management, over priced bands (seriously, the just starting local doesn't need $1k, and the nationally recognized hot band of four years ago doesn't need $25k ),  Yes, each band deserves to get paid, but are they (or their management) asking to much?  Yes, many festivals charge admission to help cover costs, but is that admission to high an asking price?  Or is it not high enough?  Are people not thinking they are getting value in their purchase?  Tough questions, no easy answer.  But, there are some great examples festivals could turn to in their quest to maintain and increase success.

1. Free!  Of course many cynical individuals believe you can't get good quality for free.  But, I know you can.  In a sermon on how to reach people, churches needed to employ in reaching out to their neighborhood.  Free, food and fun - the three F's.  If festivals can't provide free food (vendors would go out of business), the least they could do is make the festival free and fun.  One of the largest and most successful festivals is Lifelight Festival.  It is free!  If you don't want to give them a dime as you walk in the park, you don't have to.  But, they do have collection buckets as you walk in, and then again during the evening session offering.  Somehow, they have managed to have money for every band and some for the next year.  And yes, when I attended there, I contributed at the gate and at the evening offering...just like many others did.  If people see a value, they pay for it.
2. Stop hiring a "professional" to fill the roster spots with the favorite bands of today.  Wouldn't it be just as easy to have an internal person listen to the radio, watch Radio U or JCTV, and stream music from the major stations across the nation to help determine which bands to book?  At the worst, they could cut their costs and leave a little more for the bands.
3. If they can't make the festival free, why not make them much cheaper to attend.  Road Show seems to be capitalizing off cheap tickets.  Sure, this is a festival and not just a few hours, but make them cheaper (closer to $30 tops).
4. Bands need to work tirelessly to put on a good show.  Yes, they are probably running on little to no sleep, but put on the best show you can.  People love to be entertained, and you just standing in one spot singing isn't entertaining.  Make people want to see you.  Make your performance the one people want to see and never forget.  Capture us and pull us out of out our ADHD culture placing us in a few minutes of pure bliss.
5. Lastly, even though it is hard, for the love of big hairy smelly people, provide showers for those camping.  Sure, it might cost a little extra, but provide that amenity - junior high girls, moms and germaphobes everywhere will thank you.

Finally, what is it that has killed...or is killing Christian music festivals?  I don't find just one thing.  I see many.  Ticket prices, poor band selection, a passive society, bands (or management) seeking to much, boring bands, festival saturation, financial mismanagement and more that I probably have overlooked.  All of this spells doom for many a festival.  So, if you love your music as much as I do, and you live close enough to a festival (nearly one in every state now), go check them out.  Support your favorite bands by supporting the festival.  If you're blessed enough to be going, it might just keep that festival afloat.

Good bye to: Purple Door, Tomfest, Rage, Music in the Rockies and Cornerstone.  Welcome back Ichthus and Heavenfest.  Glad to meet you Soulstock and Elevate.  For all the rest of the festivals, best of luck and many blessings to your coming year.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hardcore Show, Softcore Lessons

Many of you know the love affair I have with music.  Well, maybe not a love affair.  Maybe it is more of my sometimes daily trip to the therapists office.  Yes, music is my therapy.  Mostly it is through streaming that music, sometimes via CD while home alone or in the vehicle, and every once is a while it is by attending a live concert.  Monday, I was blessed to go see a live show.

As a former promoter (who dreams of playing that roll again), I have seen numerous concerts.  Some of those concerts I saw from afar, some I only saw tending to the constant demands of being the promoter.  One of those shows I saw from a prone position in a prayer circle in a makeshift prayer room.  Still others I saw backstage.  And, as any promoter has the privilege of doing, I've taken in my fair share of concerts/festivals as a guest of somebody (promoter or band).  But, this is not about those concerts.  No, it is about the once concert I attended Monday night.

August Burns Red, Miss May I, NORTHLAND, and Fit For A King were featured Monday.  Being a resident of Cheyenne, a tour this big rarely, if ever, travels through town.  So, along with a friend and acquaintance, we made the trek down to Denver to take in this show.  Sweet show.  Enjoyed Fit For A King (better than expected).  NORTHLAND was a huge surprise for me, and I found them pretty darn good.  Miss May I is not for me.  I wasn't impressed.  Sure, they are for some people, but I am not one of them.  August Burns Red was my highlight.  If you ever want to take in a hardcore show and they are on the bill, I highly recommend going to see them.  I would put them in my Top 10 list of hardcore bands any fan of the genre should go see.  Of course, this post isn't a review either.  Nope, it isn't.  This is a post of a few observations from Monday night.  Some serious, mostly just things that caused me to chuckle.  Hopefully, I present my observations in a way that will cause you a chuckle as well.  Now, sit down, buckle up and enjoy the ride of a hardcore concert through the eyes of me.

1. If you have ever been to a hardcore concert, you are familiar with the circle pit.  Which also means you are familiar with a mosh pit, stage dives and crowd surfing.  Riddle me this: why is it ALWAYS the big hairy sweaty dudes that take of their shirts thinking no one cares?  And, why are they always so eager to crowd surf?  Yeah, this is one reason I stay out of mosh pits.
2. Scene kids apparently believe they are entitled to the mosh pit.  Yes, you may have been waiting at the front of the line to get in the doors the second they opened, and yes, you had to go outside to get some fresh air after the first band.  But, you are now 5 songs in to the 7 song set of the second band, and returning from outside does not mean you are entitled to that spot you abandoned.  And please, for the love of my ribs, stop using your elbows to push your way back to that spot!!!  Okay, so I only got elbowed once, but one of the guys I was with was pushed and elbowed many times, including a couple times where beer spillage occurred (including once on me).
3. Amongst the items seen flying through the air: shirts, shoes and a couple bras.  Here I thought the throwing of bras was a thing reserved only for 80's hair bands.  Silly me.
4. Headbanging is a must for many in attendance.  So is drinking for those over 21.  I do neither.  I don't drink and my body is to old for headbanging.  However, the whole drinking while headbanging is a feat not easily done, especially for the guy in front of me.  The level of frustration over not being able to make solid beer can to mouth contact while moving head rapidly to the beat was too much for him, so he gave up...a lot...many times over.  Not sure if he ever finished the beer.
5. Apparently, all tall people migrate to the area in front of short people.  Yes, this happened on more than one occasion to me. 
6. Previous hardcore concerts I have attended have always had at least one band feature, "The Running Man," while on stage.  It is the only hardcore dance move that I not only know, but could actually pull off.  Monday was devoid of said move...until the second to last song pre encore.  I almost thought the days of hardcore were dead.  I was also ashamed that I would miss that little move.
7. People still haven't learned dress codes for concerts.  NEVER wear a band shirt of any of the bands on the bill.  Even if you buy one from their merch table before or during the concert, DO NOT put it on!  Nothing says, "I'm cool cause I'm wearing you product," by doing this.  It actually says, "I only wear this because I want to prove I'm a big fan but really know nothing about you."  Maybe I'm a snob, but I know I'm not the only one that feels this way.
8. Last but not least, band life is hard.  I see these guys on stage giving their all.  Sure, the accolades they receive are many while on stage and at their merch table.  But, what about before and after the show?  What about on the road?  They may see your tweet or post on Facebook, they may even retweet or respond.  But, how often do they do that?  How much support do they receive any time else?  Do you buy their merch?  Do you buy an album?  Or, do you put money in the tip jar?  Do you ever ask them how their day was or if they need a meal after the show?

Yeah, this is how my mind works.  Call me crazy, but I sure did enjoy all these observations...no matter how gross the thought of that big fat hairy guy that just rubbed sweaty belly to elbow/forearm with me is.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stranger At My Door

What would you do if you had a random stranger show up at your door asking for some food?  Or, what would you do if you had a friend show up at your door in tears asking to use your phone and grab a glass of water?  Of course, the other fun scenario is that drunk guy on the corner of Main Street, USA asking you for your spare change for, "some food."  What do you tell him?  Do you give him your change?

These questions are the premise of a book I completed reading last week.  "Strangers At My Door" by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a biography of sorts.  He (Jonathan) chronicles the adventures of making his family home an outreach/mission.  Not just any mission or outreach that you might be familiar with.  He and his wife decided to take the Bible at its word, decided to open their front door to anyone and everyone, and watch what happened in the lives that walked through the door - including theirs.

Such a powerful book.  Despite it being different than I had anticipated, the ending was indeed challenging.  Open your door.  Don't be afraid, no matter how scary the act might be.  We know the knock is coming, so be ready.  Even when the knock interrupts a meal, a family movie, or your alone time, just be ready and answer.

But, this is not a book review.  I'm not good at writing reviews.  I have a hard time finding anything wrong with books.  If I don't like the book at the beginning, I'm not gonna read it.  If I like the book, I read it and will recommend it to people.  But, to write a review, yeah, not my calling.

Let's revisit the questions above.  What do you do when you have a knock at your door?  Usually, I'm curious wondering who it is that is knocking.  But what if the knocking at my door is just a metaphor for something bigger?  What if there is a broader application of that door?  Is it possible that any knock on a door is a reference to the hungry guy on the corner as I walk through downtown?

As the book concluded, one line really spoke to me.  Jonathan is talking about family meals, the banquet John saw in his dream while on Patmos and his haphazard family sitting at his table.  "You do not know what tomorrow will bring, but you whisper the only grace that makes sense at such a meal: 'Thank you. Help us. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.'"  Simple right?  Wait, what were those two words after thank you?

Help us!  Help with what?  Reading the book, Jonathan speaks frequently of what he needed help with.  He was often hesitant to ask for help, especially when it was seemingly the same people being asked of.  But, he asked, even when it was hard.

Asking, this is what this blog is about.  What is the hardest part of asking for help?  Is it the pride keeping us from seeking help?  Or is it the shame in acknowledging our need and inability to provide for that particular area in our lives?  Maybe it is even the simple lack of knowledge of who could help.  Whatever it is, there is a huge void in our lives when it comes to asking for help.  Even more tragic, is the fact that for those of us that attend a church regularly seem to avoid seeking help even more than those that don't attend church.  Oh SNAP!!!  I just admitted that!

Yes, I'm call out myself and others that attend church.  If we need help, why are we so afraid to seek the help?  And if we are so afraid to ask for help, does that prevent us from opening our door to those who knock seeking help?  Doesn't God tell us that if we seek, we find?  If we ask, we receive, don't we?  Well, do we believe what he says?  Or is it just lip service?  And for those that are knocking at our door (literal or figurative doors), they must not be to afraid to ask.  But, are we too afraid to answer?

Am I making sense?  Am I the only one seeing this paradox?  I must confess, I'm not perfect at any of this.  Sure, growing up as a pastors kid (or church board members kid) there were times I remember a knock on our door at odd hours of the night, during meals or family time.  I remember my dad being late to pick up my brother or I because of someone needing help.  Answering the door has never really been a problem as God has always provided both the example to teach, and now continually provides a way for Janda and I to provide.  Yes, we've received calls and knocks at odd hours from bands and friends needing a place to stay, or needing a meal, or just someone to talk to.  We love that, but it doesn't mean we've been perfect.  But the part I struggle with (even after learning how) is the asking for help.

Going through my battle with cancer taught me it is okay to seek help.  I had to ask for help.  There was no way to survive without that help.  I marvel still today over how much help we received during that year.  Yet, it seems I still have a long way to go in learning how...and when to ask.  I find that I'm not alone in this lesson.  I know too many people who are afraid to ask for help, especially from the ones that are supposed to be helping.  It shouldn't be this way.  Christians shouldn't be afraid to ask other Christians for help!!!  Yet, we are.  We just don't, and it needs fixed.  But how?

Here is my challenge:  Ask.  Ask for help, even when it is gonna hurt, ask for help.  Even if you don't know what you need help with, ask.  When you're done asking, then open the door when you hear a knock.  Maybe, that knock you hear is more than just someone needing help.  Maybe, just maybe that knock is someone there to help you when you need it most and don't know how to ask.  Helping them turns out to be the best help that you can not only provide, but receive.

Yes, that is the one thing in "Strangers At My Door" that I learned.  Jonathan wound up providing so much help, that eventually, those he was helping became the ones that helped him the most.  Helped him learn to lean on God more than he ever knew he was going to have to.  Helped him to trust, even those that could hurt him or his family.  Helped him pray when he had no idea how to pray.  Helped him to just ask.

Who is your stranger?  What is your door?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thank you,from Anonymous

Dear Family of Stuart Scott,

Thank you!  Thank you for sharing your son, ex-husband, father, boyfriend and brother with us.  I could tell you all the positives I know about him, but you already know those attributes, after all, you knew him personally.  I might have lived with him in my house nightly, but you saw him daily.  You had him at your side every minute of every day.  So really, I don't need to tell you what you already know.  Rather, I just feel you need to hear an average Joe thank you for your selfless sharing of the man you knew and loved.  Or is it know and loved?

I'd also like to ask a few questions, ones that you have no answer for...at least not one for me.  But, there really isn't one you need to offer to me.  Actually, these are questions that I have found myself reflecting upon as I look at my own mortality.  I had to ask myself these questions once before as I began my battle against cancer.  In light of Stuart's passing, I've found the questions resurfacing. Please know, these are from the heart and are meant for nothing more than reliving the joys and triumphs of the life you lived with Stuart.

First, what a roller coaster life you live!  What was that like?  Seeing him graduate from high school, and then North Carolina, you couldn't have been more proud.  What was it like seeing him move south to Florida to work his first gig reporting the news?  Did you miss him?  Were you able to see many of his reports?  Better yet, were you able to take a little vacation yourselves, mom and dad, to sunny Florida to spend time with you son?  What kind of a celebration did you have with him when he was offered a position at ESPN?

Former Mrs. Scott and now current life partner, what was it like sharing your husband/other with the world?  Was your house always on some sort of sport?  How often were you able to enjoy a work trip with him?  What was your favorite city to visit?  Hearing all the stories of his passion for family, I'm sure he helped around the house, took you to dinner frequently (or even cooked a meal or two during the week) and probably watched your favorite movie with you every so often.

Taelor and Sydni, I'm sure you knew how much your dad loved you.  He spoke of it often to his peers, and I'm sure he told you every night.  Heck, he even told the world during his ESPY's speech, including hugging you, Syndi, on live TV!  Yet, I'm sure you find yourselves asking, "Now what?" and "When will I wake up from this nightmare?"  Sure, you certainly had your disagreements on when homework should be done, which friend you could have spend the night, or even which boy you could go out on a date with.  Rest assured, as a father to you, he was doing it out of a love that only fathers know.  It is that love, that fathers love, that you will hopefully one day understand how deep and unspeakable of a love it was.

Lastly, to Stuarts siblings, how many fights did y'all get in growing up?  How much mischief did he cause that somehow got you into trouble?  Did he ever blame you for being mom and dads favorite, or was it the other way around - him being the favorite?  What about the times you picked on him just because you could?

I say all this to simply say, I can't imagine what you are going through.  However, I do know the emotions of cancer.  I do know some of the thoughts Stuart had during his battle with cancer.  I have faced the prospects of death in my battle with cancer.  I struggle daily in accepting my diagnosis despite being in remission for two plus years.  I know my cancer can, and probably will return at some point in the future.  When faced with death, I asked myself if my kids, my wife, my parents and my brother knew how much I loved them?  I'm certain they had emotions that I will never understand, just as you had when watching Stuart stare face to face with both cancer and death.  I also wondered what kind of a legacy I would have left behind had I not won my battle?  I believe Stuart wondered what he could leave behind for all of you to remember his legacy by.

What now?  Words of encouragement fail me.  Sure, his colleagues, friends and peers have sent you many cards, flowers, condolences, called and what not.  But me, I only have this letter and I'm certain you will never see it.  I'm okay with that, maybe it isn't for you to see.  Maybe it is only for me to write and other random people to read as an opportunity to cope with their thoughts and grief.  It is something therapeutic for me to write these thoughts, and maybe that is all it is.  No problem, at least I hope it isn't a problem.  I hope and pray that if somehow this reaches you, you can reflect on the many great times you had with Stuart, and that these questions caused you to find solace in one of the memories.

Again, thank you for sharing Stuart with us.  Know, that if he never impacted anyone through anything other than his battle with cancer, know that he has encouraged thousands with his attitude and his never give up spirit over the years of fighting this horrible illness.  Know that my life is forever impacted by how he continually stared at cancer, spit in it's face and told it to kiss off.

Sincerely and God Bless,

Aaron C Casey
Average Joe America

Thursday, December 25, 2014

My last blog was a prelude to what this post is all about.  I have been accused of being a bit of a Scrooge.  Far from the truth.  I love Christmas!  My love for Christmas doesn't start until after Thanksgiving though.  Sure, I'll get a few things as gifts for the kids before Thanksgiving, but only if I'm out with Janda.  But, I'm usually waiting until what I believe to be the appropriate season for all things Christmas related.  This is also including my Christmas music playlist.  

Typically, I'll come up with a list that I post to Facebook throughout the Christmas season.  This year, I changed things up.  I wanted more depth to the list.  Something that caused me to work just a little harder than posting what the current song being listened to.  You know, the type of work that causes a little bead of sweat to run down your forehead.  And unlike Lebron melting in an non AC'd arena, I am pushing through the heat of getting this done.  Apparently, I am a little like King James returning to Cleveland as I find myself back in Marysville, WA - home for 21 years.  Speaking of a king, I'll get to the list of Christmas songs for the year.

Christmas Song List 2014 consists of songs with meaning to me.  Creating a list is always a fun task no matter the subject.  But, to compile a list specific to a season narrowed by a prerequisite of emotional significance makes it just that much more difficult.  That said, here is a list of Christmas songs that hopefully shed a little light into why I love this time of year.  Additionally, I hope you can take your own little stroll down memory lane and discover/rediscover what Christmas should and is about.

Growing up, my mother loved Christmas.  To this day, her love for Christmas has grown to new levels I never recall experiencing.  One thing is certain though, Christmas isn't the same without watching a little Rudolph and singing along with Burle Ives.  Song number 1 will always bring memories of sitting down, watching Rudolph and singing, "Holly Jolly Christmas."

Another song invoking those childhood memories isn't my typical desired genre.  Heck, it isn't even from an artist I listen to anymore.  Should I say, I don't listen to them except during Christmas.  Yes, the first ever concert I went to was headlined by this artist.  Yes, they are a very gifted songwriter, musician and singer.  Yes, at one time they were on a constant rotation on my record player (kids, ask your parents what a record player is...and you still won't believe that anything like that existed).  No, I have no reason to not listen to their music other than I just don't enjoy their music.  But, even after a career in music spanning five decades, and a song that maintains it's place on my Christmas play list, Amy Grant's "Tennessee Christmas" will bring me back to the many Christmas' spent in the old farm house I grew up in.

Another song that is older than my kids comes a song I love.  Sure, it made its way onto a couple Amy Grant Christmas albums, but as covers of Michael W. Smith's version.  I'm not sure when this song was originally released, or by whom, but it is the voice of  Mr. Smith that is forever etched in my memory.  I can't say I'd consider it a Christmas song.  However, those who developed the whole "WOW" collection of all things Christian music decided it is indeed a Christmas song and placed it on their 2002 Christmas album.  I must admit that every time I hear the song, I do immediately think Christmas.  For a simple song with minimal lyrics, "Emmanuel" says more than anything I could ever say.

Next up on this list is a classic.  Song yearly by many generations and in various settings, this song tells a story.  It wasn't until this past Sunday that I learned of the whole evolution of this song.  Had I not been attending church with my brother at his church, I can't say I'd have learned of the depth of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and all that surrounds the song.  Of all the versions you can listen to (and there are many I enjoy) The Civil Wars take on the song captures the chant feel that was a part of the songs centuries old start.

As I deliberated how to mix the flow of the songs, and how best to transition from old to new(er) songs, I soon realized there was no way to have a brilliant segue.  Thankfully, Joy Williams and John Paul White have made that transition much easier.  Hopefully, your still moved by their take on the fourth song.  If you are still moved, then please, go grab a tissue or two for song number five.  I know, these are only Christmas songs, but when you can have a song made into a movie, have said movie debut on The Hallmark Channel and suddenly find your song topping charts across the nation with no regard for genre/market/format, then you have done something right.  That something right came in the heart grabbing, tear jerking original from the guys in Newsong.  "The Christmas Shoes" stirred emotion in me the first time I heard it.  That was the same year I had the privilege to perform a human video for that song with Ethan for our churches kids performance.  Fast forward to 2011 - I was looking a the real possibility of celebrating my last Christmas with my family.  Cancer is a scary word and a scarier reality to live with.  To this day, I cry every time I hear Newsong's original.  So many artists have their own version that I enjoy, but none of them get to me like the original.

Another favorite of mine does take us back to my high school days.  And yes, that does mean this isn't an exactly new song.  But as you search for your favorite version of "Mary Did You Know" your sure to find artists from original artist Michael English to Pentatonix's newest version, or one of several from Mark Lowry to even Cee Lo Green.  Yet, I have always enjoyed listening to the version from Christian hard rockers Spoken.  Yes, guys used to rockin on stage show their softer side and it is a beautiful sound.  Even more beautiful than the sound is the message of the song.  I often wonder about the emotions Mary went through, and this song captures the questions I'm sure some of which were asked by Mary and, yes, even Joseph.

Another song that I absolutely have to listen to at least a half dozen times is actually a cover by a group of guys I listen to periodically.  Of course, the irony in the song is that it is a cover from a group of guys.  "All I want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey is a good song.  When a group of guys cover the song, and I find it better than her version - genius.  Thank you, House of Heroes, for making every Christmas with this song that much better.

My next to last must listen to song in this list has quickly become a family favorite.  The mark of many artists from years ago was their ability to tell a story in the song.  Not many artists today are able to do that.  I don't know if many artists even try.  But one group captured the story telling ability in this one song.  Capital Lights, though no longer together, have forever captured Christmas popularity with "His Favorite Christmas Story."  At first listen, you might hear a catchy little tune and miss the story.  Go ahead and give it a good listen a couple times through and you'll hear of a love story that was sadly missed by two people in the right place at the unfortunate wrong time.  You might need a tissue for this one too.

Finally, to end this long list for eight songs, I bring you the reason for Christmas.  In between the hustle to buy gifts, eat food, spend with family and for many others to miss their lost loved ones, there is really one reason to celebrate Christmas.  Relient K has always been a band that can provide catchy tunes.  They have also been one of those bands on my must see bucket list.  And then they came out with "I Celebrate the Day."  It is a song that stirs my thoughts and motives as to what I'm doing, and what I'm teaching my kids every Christmas.  And, am I really celebrating a season, a day, or more?

That's it!  Eight staple songs on my Christmas playlist.  Eight songs that mean more to me than most songs.  Songs that speak life to me.  I pray they have blessed you.  Mostly, I pray that as you celebrate Christmas this year, you reflect on what you are celebrating and why you celebrate.  May you find a joy that words can't explain, and a contentment that no matter what you go through, God is in control.

Merry Christmas!