In 2003 I was a dreaming indie artist meeting with people in Nashville who I hoped might champion my music and make life a little easier by rescuing me from obscurity (oh how naïve I was about the way the music business worked). I’d had many such meetings over the years, but this one was different—in my mind at least—because I was finally learning how to write the kind of pop songs I hoped might make me attractive to a label.
During that trip, one of the people I met with gave me a stack of CDs for my drive home. Among them was Love & Thunder by Andrew Peterson. It was the first CD I put in my player and it ended up being the only one I listened to for my six hour drive that day.
Before a word was sung, I was surprised to find tears in my eyes, tears that would accompany me through the entire record as not only the artistry but also the spirit of the music stirred deep waters in me. “What am I doing?” I kept asking myself, reassessing my own music and the kinds of songs I was writing in hopes of courting the attention of the Christian music industry.
I still believe that accessible pop songs with a broad appeal as well as a heart and a brain are the hardest kind of songs to write, and therefore the kind of challenge I still really enjoy, but certain ambitions in my heart were laid to rest that day and new ones were taken up. All these years later Andrew Peterson’s work remains an inspiration and a guiding light to me. He is one of my heroes. He is also one of my great friends.
The first time we did a show together was eight years ago, I think. Afterwards he, Ben, Taya, and I sat at a Perkins and talked late into the night about things we loved. We talked a lot about books and authors like Frederick Buechner and Wendell Berry whose works had enriched our lives. We laughed a lot.
The next time I got to do a show with Andrew was many years later in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the week my label debut, All The Lovely Losers, was releasing. We were backstage and he was talking with me as he nonchalantly poured water into the cap of his water bottle. As the emcee was announcing me, Andrew said, “Well, have a good set,” and then tossed the capful of water into my lap so that I walked on stage looking as though I’d had an unfortunate accident. Of course I loved him for it.
I remember staying at Andrew and Jamie’s house a number of years ago. Jamie had left chocolates on my pillow and I had to break it to her that I had given up sweets for Lent. When I got back later that night, the chocolates had been replaced by a can of mixed vegetables on my pillow. I still have that can of vegetables and it occupies a prominent place in both my memory and my home.
Andrew has laughed with me and cried with me and enriched my life in ways too deep and wide to measure. He is a trusted friend who keeps some of my secrets. I know a few of his, too. Where once his work inspired and moved me, now his friendship shapes my life. But I’m still a fan, too.
As a young man I was always a music evangelist, telling my friends, “you gotta hear this artist I love!” I think I wore some of them out with my enthusiasm as I tried to turn them on to music I was passionate about. Who am I kidding—I still do that.
Andrew and I have talked about doing a tour together for years and I’m grateful that we finally get to do it. I’m excited about it for selfish reasons, looking forward to laughter, shared stories, and being with my friend. But I’m also excited to get to share him. Andrew has enough fans without my help, but one of the things I’m most excited about is the idea of getting to introduce Andrew’s music to people who have connected with my music on the radio in recent years.
I’ve always approached writing more accessible “pop” songs with the hope that people would buy into the whole record and hear the other songs. “Thanks for listening to ‘More Like Falling In Love,’ have you heard ‘I Will Find A Way?’ I wrote it with my buddy Andy Gullahorn?”
As I get ready to go out on the road with Andrew, I’m grateful for a similar opportunity. “I’m glad you like ‘Good To Be Alive,’ but you gotta hear this artist I love. . .” I’m also looking forward to meeting Andrew’s fans.
Andrew and I will be hitting the road this weekend with my good friend Spencer Ford (who joined me and Todd Agnew in the fall) on percussion as well as one of my favorite players around, the always impeccably dressed James Gregory on stand up bass. We’ll do two individual sets at the top followed by a joint song swap set in the second half. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, we’ll perform daring feats of singer/songwriterism. I’ll be nervous when Andrew is holding a water bottle. He should be too.
I hope you can join us for one of these special nights. And even if you can’t, if you’ve never heard Andrew’s music, you must check out his latest record, Light For The Lost Boy. It is one of the most beautiful and compelling records he’s ever made, which is saying a lot. “You gotta hear this artist I love…”
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Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".