Another best night ever

Earlier tonight, an old college friend of mine named Emory Stagmer made an excited post to Facebook. He had happened across a live web stream of a concert by one of his favorite artists, Randy Stonehill. “Watching tonight from Baltimore!!!” he posted, with all three exclamation points.

I had him beat, and told him so in a comment.

“I am here in person,” I wrote, after seeing his post during intermission. “Ten feet away from Randy.”

My first exposure to Randy Stonehill was on a Contemporary Christian Music compilation album — I don’t think it was anything released to the public; it was something sent out to radio stations by a Christian record label. My father was working at a Southern Gospel radio station at the time, and they had no interest in CCM whatsoever, so Dad brought it home to me. That album only had one of Randy’s songs, “Christmas Song For All Year Long.” Earlier in the 70s, Randy had been one of the founding fathers of Christian rock, a protege of the late Larry Norman and originally signed to Larry’s record label, Solid Rock.

The first Randy Stonehill album I ever owned.

When I went away to what I refer to as Famous Televangelist University, I suddenly had all kinds of access to Christian music, through the campus bookstore, our campus radio station (which I worked at my first couple of years), and an unusually prominent FM station there in Tulsa, KCFO. I rediscovered Randy and fell in love with his music and his personality. While I was still a freshman, I rode with some others to see Randy along with the band Daniel Amos in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

I think that the music of Randy, Steve Taylor and the band Daniel Amos helped me keep a sense of perspective in my college years. Christian college can be a weirdly conformist environment, and here, to me, were Christian artists who were unafraid to be themselves, to laugh, and sometimes (in the case of Steve Taylor and of Daniel Amos) to even poke fun at the foibles of the church, and of Famous Televangelists like the one who ran Famous Televangelist U.

My senior year, I was a vice president of the Student Association in charge of campus activities. Our concert chairman, Mike Rapp, did an outstanding job of booking concerts that year, and none had me more excited than a concert featuring Randy Stonehill and Mark Heard. I looked forward to sitting next to Randy at the post-concert meal.

Unfortunately, Randy had one of those air travel catastrophes. He arrived in Tulsa having not slept the previous night, exhausted. But you would not know it. He was the perfect Christian gentleman, even when we had to tell him that (because of an arcane ORU rule) we couldn’t hand out flyers for Compassion International, a Christian relief agency with which Randy was heavily involved.

He did a great show, and after the show he talked to anyone who wanted to come down front and meet him. Understandably, he did not stick around for the post-concert meal. So I didn’t really get the chance to talk to him, but I was thrilled to discover that he lived the life he sang about.

After college, I moved home to Tennessee. Even though I wasn’t in as close connection with the state of Christian music, I did occasionally hear about it when Randy, Steve Taylor or Daniel Amos put out an album.

Some years ago, Daniel Amos — which hadn’t toured in ages — made a concert appearance in Smyrna. But it was the one week of the year that I was in camp, at Mountain T.O.P.’s Adults In Ministry program, up on the Cumberland Plateau. In a strange coincidence, my roommate that week was Mountain T.O.P. veteran “Smitty” Smith, who attends the very church where Daniel Amos was performing that week.

One Christmas, my sister bought me a ticket to a big CCM reunion concert at which Randy was supposed to be one of the headliners. The concert was to be taped for a TV special. But the event got canceled.

Then — as I’ve explained in one of my favorite blog posts — I got the chance to see Steve Taylor in concert, thanks to a fellow ORU student who had followed the parody radio spots that I and the late Kendall Durfey put together and which were played before the on-campus movies. So I was at least batting .333.

A few weeks ago, though, I saw a notice on Facebook of a private house concert by Randy in Nashville. John Joseph Thompson, a veteran of the Christian music industry and now an author and an associate dean at Trevecca Nazarene University, was hosting Randy in his out-building, with a crowd limited to just 30 people. John suggested an appropriate amount for a love offering, and the first 30 people to agree to the terms would be admitted, with a waiting list if necessary.

It was a spectacular evening, just Randy and a guitar. The second song he performed, “Your Love Broke Through,” is one of my all-time favorites, which Randy wrote with the late Keith Green and both of them recorded.

The music was great, and Randy was just as funny in his stage presence as I remembered him. He also still has the same beautiful spirit.

I made a conscious effort to take a few photos but not too many, and otherwise be in the moment. I didn’t realize that the concert was being live-streamed, and so when, during intermission, I checked my phone, I was surprised to see Emory’s post that he was watching it online.

I bought a CD, a new release in which Randy performs stripped-down, unplugged versions of some of his classics, much like what I’d been hearing in the concert.

At the end of the evening, he was gracious about meeting people and posing for photos (even though there were also some people in the room who were his actual, real-life friends, and whom he wanted to catch up with).

All in all, just a fantastic evening.