Sara Groves & Friends: Art Music Justice Tour Review

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I saw an invigorating concert tonight.  I was blessed to be surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world.  I sat next to Jill Phillips, Andy Gullahorn, and Don Chaffer (Waterdeep, Enter The Worship Circle) as the Art Music Justice tour unfolded before us – an artful combination of music, images, media, the Word of God, and the call to remember the poorest of the poor.  The tour was the brain-child (or perhaps heart child is more appropriate here) of Troy & Sara Groves and featured guests Charlie Peacock, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and Brandon Heath.

art_music_justice_large.jpgThe show was in Franklin, TN at Christ Community Church and a good crowd gathered for a concert that was more than just music, but also an invitation to join in a conversation about Jesus, how he loves the poor, and how we love Jesus when we love the poor.

I could talk at length about the performances – the way that Sandra McCracken all but channeled Emmy Lou Harris, Derek’s delightful crankiness, how well newcomer Brandon Heath held his own on stage with veterans like Charlie and Sara, the wisdom and authority that Charlie brought, and of course Sara’s disarming passion that is at once humble and emphatic.  I could talk at length about the artistry of the evening – the musicianship, the artwork displayed in the sanctuary and on the screen, the flow of the evening.  I could even talk in depth about the effective way that the ministries of Blood Water Mission, Food For The Hungry, and International Justice Mission were presented.  But it’s difficult to parse all these things out because they are all a part of the whole that made the AMJ tour so special.

When Sara was working on her last record that centered on themes of social justice, I was concerned for her – there are a lot of opportunities for that kind of material that when set to music can come off the tracks and fall either in the ditch of preachiness or the ditch of melodrama.  Her album successfully avoided these pitfalls and is a richly layered exploration of hope and responsibility.  These are the hardest kinds of songs to write and she pulled it off, making it sound easy.

A risky album would likely call for a risky tour, and I remember a conversation I had with Troy Groves last Spring about their Fall tour plans and how they wanted to do this thing, but they couldn’t figure out how to make it work financially.  But they felt like it was right, so they were moving ahead with it, trusting that God would provide.  And move ahead they did, and the hundreds gathered in Franklin tonight including myself are grateful.

I’ve been in and around the industry for a number of years, and you come to accept the business nature of the gospel music business – with it’s agendas, posturing, and bottom line mentality – though it does wear on your enthusiasm after a while.  Sometimes it can look like a lot of people trying to build their own kingdom.

What was remarkable about the AMJ concert was it’s insistent focus on the Kingdom of God and what it means to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  The music was amazing, the line-up of artists was incredible, the media presentations were cool, but the truth is all of these things were virtually invisible.  I would venture to say that even though the emphasis was on the poor, even this was secondary in the end.

I think hope was the star of the show.  Hope for the poor, yes, but also hope that we could all be a part of something bigger than ourselves (including our fears, disappointments, etc), that we are God’s craftsmanship and he has good works that he has prepared in advance for us to do.  That God is on the move, as He always has been, but that maybe He is inviting us to be a part of what He’s doing in a way that will bring us alive, or bring us to His life.

I spent much of this day leading up to the concert preoccupied with worries over the economy and the gleeful onslaught of doom and gloom from the media.  Tonight I felt like I could breathe again as I was reminded that God is watching over us, His Kingdom is moving forward, and that we are in His hands, and not only that but we are also called to be his hands, and that in this understanding, and in this trust, and in this obedience, there is peace.

A music gathering where we are called to trust, to give, and to cast our gaze outward to those whose troubles belittle ours at a time when all that is so counter intuitive may be just what the doctor ordered for our troubled times.

Thank you Sara and Troy for taking risks and adding to the beauty.  “Your dreams inspire…”


11 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    I think there is something so significantly meaningful about going to a concert that has a point to make or a story to tell that you’re less likely to find when you’re just hearing a performer perform songs. This is one of the reasons I so love the Behold the Lamb of God tour– there is a higher story being told than the story of any one artist’s current record or catch phrase. Same with this Art*Music*Justice tour. And I especially love the scope of musicianship covered there. Thanks for this review Jason. You remind us, as a herald, that there is purpose to our lives.

  2. euphrony

    Jason, I went to the final show of the tour last night, here in Houston. It was a phenomenal show, I felt. Wonderful artists, wonderful interaction on stage. I agree about Sandra McCracken channeling Emmy Lou Harris, and how well Brandon Heath did – me, as a relative new guy, on stage with a couple of my artistic heroes, would not go near so well. Although, Troy did pull a joke on Brandon – just as he was about to start his first song, Troy put on the Sonseed video “Jesus is My Friend” that has been so popular on YouTube lately.

    I got to chat with Sara and Charlie before the show, talking with them about the tour and about IJM. I’ll be posting the interviews on Inspired to Actionsoon. I, too, was impressed by the focus on prayer that was evident, and by Sara’s insistence that the people with IJM are “men of peace” – not cowboys, kicking butt and taking names, but people who desire peace, working peacefully to bring about peace and give hope. Really awesome.

  3. Jeff

    Thanks so much for this review Jason it really stirs my soul hearing that a gathering as this was so focused on the things you mentioned, I so wish these gatherings would come closer to my geographical area. I do long for and tend to rush to the concerts, musical gatherings where I feel that I will be fed and refreshed as you mentioned and to be able to take away from there something that I may be missing in my busy life of work, customers, church etc…and give away to someone. I guess that is why maybe I have been to several Jason Gray Concerts. You have a tendency to make me feel this way through your words and music. I have to mention that you know.
    Thanks again Jason.

  4. Tony Heringer

    Jason,

    Thanks for the post. I was disappointed that we couldn’t make one of the shows — I don’t recall if they were in our area or not. It certainly sounds like it was a wonderful show. I pray it inspires others to step out in a similar way.

    By the way, I’m assuming the Sara Groves project is the same one you reviewed here: http://www.rabbitroom.com/?p=178 I believe I heard at least one track and loved it. I’ll check out the post later, sounds like something to add to the collection.

    Finally, how is the new Jason Gray project coming?

  5. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Well thanks for asking guys. My acoustic fan project is finally available if that’s the one you’re asking about. It’s half live, half studio recordings of all acoustic performances of new and old songs. But what’s featured on this particular record are the stories I usually share from stage about the songs, including the story of the woman who tried to heal my speech handicap after a show by grabbing my tongue… I wish I were making that up.

    But as for the official studio release, I’ve spent every spare moment the last couple of months (thought there haven’t been many) writing and trying to get the material finished for the next official studio release that we hope to record early next year. I’ve been on a Fall tour that is based out of Nashville, and on the off days I’ve stayed in Nashville and written with Andy Gullahorn, Don Chaffer, Ben Shive, and some of my other favorite writers.

    I was feeling unsure of the material but played what I have so far for Andrew Peterson the night before I went and did the same for John Mays, my A&R guy at Centricity. I was encouraged that they were both pretty enthusiastic – one being an artist and the other from the world of the Christian music business. Since then I’ve written several more songs, so now I’m a place where I’m feeling excited about getting back to the studio soon. I still feel like I’m missing some key songs, though, so I’d be grateful for your prayers if you feel so inclined 🙂

    On another note, after the AMJ show the talk around Nashville was how surprised industry people have been over the success of this tour at a time when every other tour is struggling with low attendance, presumably because of the economy. Then along comes a tour with no real headliner (by Nashville music industry standards) centered around esoteric ideas of art and justice, and then attendees must know going into it that they will be challenged to give. And it’s turning out to be one of the more successful tours of this Fall.

    Sounds like the Kingdom of God to me.

    My fear is that the industry will try to duplicate the success of this tour and will ruin it.

  6. Tony Heringer

    Jason,

    Thanks for the update and I did mean the studio project. Sounds like it is coming along. I am sure there will be plenty here in the Room lifting you up in prayer. You can count me among them.

    As for this tour and others like it, well, if the hearts of the folks involved align with the heart of God like these artists did how can it help but draw folks? So, let’s all pray for this type of success to multiply like crazy. 🙂

  7. Bruce Stillwagon

    I too have been down about all the negative reporting, political fighting, weather tragedies, and financial crisis that is dominating the media. We Americans generally think too highly of our selves, we focus on our comfortable problems and not on the real problems in Africa and other areas. Our “financial crisis” seems so minuscule when compared to our ability to flush a toilet with clean water to kids in Zimbabwe that have to walk a mile or 2 just for clean drinking water.

    When I read that I (hardly rich) give more to charity, helping the poor, than 2 of the millionaire candidates that are running for President and VP, it makes me cynical about the whole political scene.

    No matter what happens, politically, financially, environmentally or personally, God is in control and His plan will be done no matter what we do or not do. Those with much, much more is expected of him. Based upon that, I think our country is in a financial crisis.

  8. euphrony

    Thanks for the update, Jason. Like you said, I would hate for the industry to take something great and (unexpectedly) successful, put their stamp on it, and twist it to ruination. But I wouldn’t mind their following in the mold of less entertainment focus and more focus on issues of God. Not that I wasn’t entertained at the AMJ concert – very much so, in fact – but that was only a byproduct and not the aim. I can’t tell you how many people I saw leaving there grabbing a Food for the Hungry packet or staying late to fill out a donation form at the IJM table. A wonderful sight. It looks like they raised around $48,000 for IJM and sponsored around 550 children over just 19 shows. Not bad at all.

  9. Brian Brinkert

    Hey Jason –

    Thanks for writing about this tour. Andrea and I went with the Bennett’s to see the AMJ concert in the Twin Cities. Our reaction was much the same… this is alot of what the Kingdom of God looks like. Definitely one of the top music events I’ve ever been too. I hope, as well, that the success of this tour doesn’t overtly commercialized by others. The beauty of artists Sara Groves and the rest of that gang is the simple desire to hear God and try to follow what He tells you to do. I don’t think you can “package” that….

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