The internet home of John Voelz

music Archive



July 2019



15 Funny Questions I Get Asked as a Working Musician

Written by , Posted in artists, money, music

Q: I know you usually play for two+ hours. Since we only want one hour, can we pay you half?

A: I understand but, no. It takes me an hour to set up, an hour to tear down, travel time, and practice time for your gig. Playing one or two hours makes no difference to me. Same price. Also, I make more tips for two+ hours. Higher tips come at the end of the evening so, cutting my time and guaranteed rate in half works out to cutting my take home by about 60+%.

Q: Do you want to bring a friend to play with you? That could be fun.

A: Absolutely fun. But, I pay my friends to play so either you have to pay more or I have to pay them out of my pocket.

Q: Do you want to play my event for free? It would be great exposure for you.

A: No, thank you. I get plenty of exposure and I believe in paying musicians what they are worth. When musicians start playing for free, it cuts the throats of musicians who try to make a living at it. Also, free exposure doesn’t have the payoff one might think.

Q: Can you play my event for free? It’s a benefit concert.

A: Maybe. I do at least one benefit a year. I also donate art and give money away to various charities. I’m a fan of generosity. But, I get asked to do about 10 benefits a year so, give me some grace if I say no.

Q: Since you’re officiating our wedding ceremony, can you also bring your guitar and do a few songs?

A: Probably not. Unless we are really close friends and, that’s a lot to ask. It’s like asking your mechanic to do a free oil change and rotate your tires since he’s checking out that noise anyway.

Q: Since we are hiring you to play 2 songs in our wedding, will you throw in music at the reception?

A: See above.

Q: Can we save money if we provide the sound system? My friend has one.

A: I’m willing to talk but, in most cases the answer is no. Once I showed up and they wanted me to play through a stereo receiver using the headphone jack for my guitar and just sing really loud without a mic. I now travel with my own sound system and everyone’s happy.

Q: Do you ever play for tips only?

A: No. But my freshman-year garage band did. We sucked.

Q: The wedding is in Yosemite but, you only have to play two songs without amplification in the woods. It’ll take you like 10 minutes. Is that cheaper?

A: No. Sorry.  It’s more expensive. Yosemite is a 3.5-hour drive one way. Your wedding is at 8:00am so, I need to spend the night the evening prior to make sure I can be there on time. Which means, I’ll be committed to your wedding from about 3:00p on Friday to 1:00p on Saturday. Plus accommodations. Plus meals. Plus fuel.

Q: I can’t pay you too much but, food is provided! The food will be awesome! Is that okay?

A: Thanks, but . . . as my friend, Ben the youth pastor once jokingly said when he received a bunch of cookies, bread, and jam at Christmastime, “Someone please tell these people I’m not hungry. I’m poor.” Also, food and drinks are provided at almost every gig I play for my going rate.

Q: How many people will you bring to our restaurant when you play?

A: Ummm. I put the word out but, I don’t require RSVP’s to my shows. It’s a gamble. I can tell you I usually draw 50-100 folks depending on the venue and the night. I can’t make guarantees.

Q: Can you do all these songs on this request list?

A: I like doing new songs that I usually don’t do but, that takes time to learn them. If you want to pay me to learn songs not in my repertoire, I’m game. I’m usually generous and add one or two I know you like but, not your 150-song list of B-sides and Rarities. However, I LOVE hearing what kinds of songs you enjoy so I can see how that lines up with my repertoire.

Q: Can my (daughter/son/husband/wife/friend) get up there and do a song with you?

A: I like having fun. If you are the person paying me, we might be able to work that out. Let’s talk about it in advance and keep it to a song or two. Also, it depends on the venue. And, it means I’ll have to set up more equipment.

Q: Can I bring my (guitar/harmonica/uke/djembe) and join you sometime?

A: Probably not. Unless you are a professional, and I’ve heard you, and you want to practice, and we talk about the tunes in advance, and it seems best for the gig.

Q: Can you play Free Bird?

A: No.

Other things that are sometimes used to try and “sweeten the deal” that aren’t super helpful:

“It’s a beautiful place. You’ll love it here!”

I’m sure it is.

“Your wife can come too!”

My wife has heard me 10,000 times. She’s my biggest fan but, would rather stay home and sip chardonnay while binge watching Madam Secretary. I understand.

“This might lead to other gigs.”

Actually, that makes sense sometimes. Not always. Rarely, actually.

“We will put you up for the night so you don’t have to drive home.”

I appreciate it but, I love my bed and my wife that’s in that bed.

“You can drink all you want!”

Thanks. While I enjoy a good beverage, I’m a professional and limit myself so I can give you a good experience instead of drunk playing.



June 2015



So, You Want to be a Pastor?

Written by , Posted in church, leadership, ministry, music, pastors, Uncategorized, worship music

I’ve had an abnormal amount of friends in the last year tell me they are ready to go into full-time pastoral music/worship ministry. Some have interned with me. Some I’ve mentored. Some are friends and co-laborers.

All of them had the same pressing general questions: “Am I ready for it?” “What do I need to know?” “Do you think I can do it?” And, all of them asked me specifically, “What have you learned that I should know?”

I’ve been in music ministry for going on 30 years. I’ve been asked these questions many times. My answers would have been much different 20 years ago. I know this because I recently made a list of the Top 20 things I’ve learned (at least the ones that jumped right in to my mind) and realized . . . very few of them are about music.

If it’s helpful for you, here’s the first list I came up with.

#1 Continue to develop a philosophy of ministry. What does the Bible say about worship? Is it for everyone? Is it evangelical? Is it private? Is it corporate? What ways do we worship outside of music? How is worship defined throughout all of scripture? What is my role as a leader? What is the goal of the weekend experience? How can I measure the effectiveness of what I am doing as a leader?

If you don’t have answers to the above, you have some work ahead of you.

I say, “continue to develop” because I guarantee, once you have the answers, you will change your mind at some point. Maybe God will reveal something new. Maybe God will do something new in your congregation or in the community at large and you will have to find a way to respond to it.

I know too many men and women fresh out of college or fresh from some worship leading mountaintop experience or season who are ready to take on the world and fight for what they “believe” to be true about worship without knowing how to listen to others, pay attention to the signs around them, or pay attention to the people they are supposedly ministering with and to.

When I was young in ministry, there was always someone who had my back and had all these answers for me. They gave me a platform and fought my battles. Then, there comes a time where you can’t call for mom and dad to come wipe your butt anymore.

#2 Define your methodology. Why do you do the things you do in the way you do them?

In some ways, you may be paid for your style, opinion, and personality. If someone hires you, they probably like you. Or, at least, the idea they have of you.

You have quirks and idiosyncrasies that filter out into the way you do ministry. You don’t have to apologize for those things. But, you will serve the church well by being able to articulate the things you believe to be true about ministry in non-confrontational, non-militaristic, non-jackassian ways.

Make sure you develop a relationship with your leaders above you and converse about methodology often. Get on the same page. Decide what you are willing to bleed for and bleed together.

#3 Keep training to be a theologian. Not everyone has the knack for theology. Not everyone is a bookworm. Not everyone is articulate in being able to cross-reference scholars and commentators on the fly. We don’t all have to be that person.

Still, don’t simply be a spiritual sponge. Don’t sit on your bum and wait for Sunday’s sermon or your favorite podcast to speak in to you.

Continually ask, “What do I believe about God and His people?” “How is God working in this world?” “What is He saying?” “Doing?”

Then, download some books. Pick up a pen and pad of paper. Grab your Bible and a highlighter. Read. Seek. Study.

Sound theology is not only helpful for preachers and evangelists. Music ministers should be able to decide what songs they want to introduce to their congregation by testing the words as much as they test melody, memorability, approachability, and singability (among other things).

#4 Say it with me, “There is no such thing as balance.” Young people out of college and most of my interns like to use this word a lot. But, it’s a forbidden word around me. Ministry is not about balance. Many times, your life will be totally unbalanced.

Ministry happens in cycles and seasons. If you think you’ll be able to have some kind of normalcy to your schedule or that your life in ministry can work like it does checking in to a 9-5, you’ll be sorely disappointed and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Celebrate the seasons and talk through them with your family. Let them know what is coming up and what life will be like on the other side of tough seasons. Look forward to rest and vacations and private time. Protect those times. And, enjoy the chaos when you’re in the middle of it. If everyone gets on the same page it will help make ministry a rewarding career/vocation.

#5 Get your spouse on board. Your spouse is part of the ministry life whether he or she knows it (wants it?) or not. He or she will have expectations put on them. Unfairly at times. They will be looked at as an expert at what you do and what is going on at the church by association. So, communicate well with your spouse so they aren’t the last ones in-the-know.

Don’t share ministry grievances at home. I learned this early on. When you tell your spouse about the person who treated you harshly, they will remember it forever. Even after you reconcile with said person. Chances are, you will forget to tell your spouse the reconciliation story and, even if you do, the damage is done. Now, you’ve caused your spouse to sin by holding a grudge and in a strange twist, you’ve become the offender.

Finally, help your spouse define his or her role in ministry and defend them. Don’t let anyone put expectations on your spouse. Celebrate your spouse’s individuality and role in the kingdom. Don’t let them be defined by others or by your ministry.

#6 Be available for counsel. People will come to you for advice. You don’t need to be the advice guru but you should at least know where to send them for it. You should also be attentive to their needs and issues. Listen well. Share your experiences and things you have learned along the way. Good, bad, right, or wrong, when you are an up-front leader, you are a go-to person for counsel. Be a friend and offer all you have. Sometimes the listening is all they want.

#7 Develop a strong sense of self-identity. Who are you? What does God have for you? What is He calling you to do? What permissions has He given you?

At your core, you are not a pastor or a musician or a worship leader—you are a child of God. What you do is not who you are. Be able to articulate what God has called you—a Jesus follower—to do for the kingdom.

And, in the words of Damien Rice, “ . . . if all that you are is not all you desire then come.” Don’t be too big for your britches (as grandpa would tell me). You are a worshipper. Remember who you are.

P.S. Double-check your online persona. Who you are online is . . . who you are.

#8 Love people until they ask you why. This is the greatest piece of advice I’ve ever been given by my friend, Dr. Joseph Aldrich who is now at home with Jesus. Never let people wonder if you love them.

#9 Know your resources. Be a resource. Build people networks and information networks.

Hang around like-minded people. Don’t go to conferences unless they actually help you. Pick the conferences and think-tanks where you meet people you are bound to stay in contact with. Share your stuff. Give stuff away. Take stuff when it is offered to you and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Take advantage of opportunities to meet new people you can learn from. Take advantage of opportunities to teach others what you know. Say yes to a bunch of stuff. Too many people will tell you all about boundaries and protecting your time. Those same people come to me all the time and ask me how I do what I do. The difference between us is usually the experiences I have created for myself and have taken advantage of. I am no one special but I know a TON of people who are great at what they do and we are all connected. Why? We say yes.

Invite folks in to your world. Keep no secrets. If it costs you money to teach others, do it. It all comes around.

#10 Put a high priority on ingenuity and invention. What role does creativity play for you? What sparks your creativity? What are you dreaming up? What are you making out of nothing? You should have answers to these questions if longevity in ministry is important to you. As Howard Hendricks once said, you would rather be a “running stream” for your teams and the people you lead as opposed to a “stagnant pool.” Keep learning. Keep inventing.

#11 Be easy to work with (and/or for). What do people say about you when you aren’t around? Are you fun? Are you interested in them? Do they want to be like you? Do you energize or suck energy? Cultivate your people skills. It’s not too difficult. It starts with sending time with people.

#12 Be a giver, not a taker. I have a friend who gives stuff away to me all the time. I have stopped telling him about things I like in his house because he just gives them to me. When we go to lunch, he buys. When we visit another town, he takes me to all his favorite spots. When he finds something he likes, he buys a few of them and gives them to his friends. He is not trying to buy our love—we love him for many reasons outside his generosity. But I want to be like him so bad. I want to be that giver. It breeds positive energy.

I have another friend. He is always asking for things. Nothing is ever right in his life. Always the victim. Always looking for a handout. He sucks the energy from everyone within listening distance of him. He is what we call an ask-hole. To love him is a choice. No one wants to be like him.

Outside of not wanting to be perceived as a jerk and a killjoy, the reasons for being generous are infinite. Jesus modeled it. It brings joy. It is life giving to be a giver. It adds years to your life. It increases blessing. You’ll find you keep getting more to give away. Take time to look around at your “stuff” and find ways to give it away to someone who will appreciate it.

#13 Cultivate a soft spirit and tough skin. Soft-spirit-people work on approachability. They invite people in. They listen to stories. They cry with people. They hug. They ask questions. But, you also need a bit of a shield in ministry to take the darts. Don’t be defensive but don’t stand there while people piss on you. Weigh criticism, don’t count it. Don’t rent your headspace to people who just want to bring you down to their level of meanness and insensitivity. Soft and tough. You need both.

#14 Make sure your ministry drive is not a need for “the job.” People need to know you are about the call, not the check. Don’t air your grievances about your job with people who serve alongside you or attend your church. They pay your salary. If you don’t like the job, get another one. But, don’t talk about how God has called you and bitch and moan out the other side of your mouth. Read James 3.

#15 Kill your money motivation. In close connection with the above lesson, make sure you are not always talking about your lack of money. Quit making jokes about how pastors and ministers obviously don’t choose the job because of money. Don’t allow your family to constantly talk about what you can’t afford—there are others in the exact same boat. This doesn’t mean you can’t have hopes and dreams and aspirations. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a raise. This doesn’t mean you can’t have honest money conversations with your boss. Just, don’t be the guy or gal who is always on the poor-me train. Allowing yourself to wallow here zaps all your energy, keeps you from being inventive, and steals your joy. After a bit, people will be afraid every time you open your mouth.

#16 Get control of your money habits. Live, but don’t be stupid. Few things kill your credibility faster than foolish spending and residence in senseless-debt-jail. As far as you can control it, be wise.

In related news, whether you like it or not people are making judgments about your money habits. They may misjudge you and shame on them for that. But, I have found it is wise to disclose everything I think might be misjudged and eliminate questions. It may seem unfair, but it will save you heartache. For instance, if you come in to an inheritance and you are able to pay cash for a home outside your means, tell the story. If someone blesses you with a sports car that would normally cost you two year’s wages, tell the story. If grandma writes you a check to take your family on a two-month European vacation, tell the story.

One more thing, unless your job is to manage church money, don’t touch it. Don’t take cash from people to put in the offering. Don’t carry the cash to the counters on Sunday. Don’t make the bank deposits. Don’t take cash withdraws from an ATM without prior approval and only when absolutely necessary, with receipts, and a precise account of the spending.

#17 Remember, you are not the sin police. Sometimes, even in ministry, people feel better about themselves by pointing out others’ wrongdoing. Don’t equate your role with that of an enforcer. It is not your job to make perfect people. Sure, hold people accountable, but remember that accountability and edit-ability are best with an invitation and in relationship.

#18 Constantly work on your stage presence and communication. Smile a lot. Think things through prior to stepping on stage. Think about pause, pitch, pace, and punch. You only have a few minutes to communicate Jesus each week. He’s worth your best. Study communication. Take public speaking courses. Read books. And, don’t underestimate the power of the lobby. The more hands you shake and hugs you give before you step on stage will improve your ability to make connection with people. Remember how hard you worked to make sure your very first times on stage were huge successes? Do that every week.

#19 Outwork everybody. There is no shortage of people who will tell you to set boundaries, take a Sabbath, rest up, beware of burnout, etc. They are not wrong all the time. But few people will say, “work hard” anymore. So, I’m saying it. Be the first one there and the last to leave. Volunteer hours on top of your salaried hours. Invent things that take your personal extra time and focus. Sweat. Don’t make excuses. Don’t make dumb decisions to ditch your work for things you don’t have to be at. Set the bar high for others and higher for yourself. Most people I know that have volunteer problems on their teams have a work-ethic issue. Your team will only work as hard as you do. In a world of high-tech, timesaving, “the computer does the work for you” work ethic . . . be the pioneer. Be the one willing to cross the mountains in the Conestoga. Be the one with callouses on your hands. You will never have a volunteer deficit.

#20 Be a responsible person. Have your affairs in order. Make sure you are above reproach. Follow through with commitments. Be on time. Apologize. Don’t be dumb.



December 2013



Q & A: Why We Write Much of Our Own Music at Westwinds

Written by , Posted in artists, church, music, music experience, songs, The Cue, westwinds, worship, worship music


Westwinds puts a high priority on being indigenous. Sermons, initiatives, missional endeavors, children’s curriculum, graphic design, visual art, songs, etc. Being indigenous is one of our plumblines—something that is not right or wrong but very important to us in the way we approach ministry. Indigenous means, local, homegrown, native, etc. This approach to ministry is very truthful and honest to who we are. We often say, “We grow our own WE.” Indigenous worship is not just about feeling good about ourselves or stroking our ego (though there is a good deal of healthy pride in creating out of our experience). It is more about being truthful and current in communicating and celebrating what God is doing in US. NOW.

I’ve written a lot about indigenous worship music on this blog and I dedicated a good portion of my book, “Quirky Leadership” to it as well. Weekly I get questions, emails, and comments about original music in church. So, I thought I’d take the time to answer some of those questions here and frame the discussion a bit different.

Here are some questions I received in 2013:


Q: I’ve heard you encourage churches to write their own music. Why not just sing the songs that people hear on the radio?

A: I don’t know what radio station your people are listening to. I think you are referring to the songs someone might hear on Christian radio. In this case, there may be a song here and there that is well written and works well for your congregation. If so, go for it.  We also hear songs from time to time on secular radio that work well as worship songs in our environment. I’d encourage you to give that a shot as well. A well-written song is a well-written song.

We are not entirely impressed with the music that is being played on Christian radio today. We are allergic to songs that sound formulaic, uniform, similar, and that aren’t really well written. So, it feels a bit cookie-cutter to us to pilfer songs that aren’t true to who we are. Just because it’s on the radio, it doesn’t make it good or good for us.

We encourage our writers to create music that is born out of our own story, from our own people, with words we believe and want to sing.


Q: How many original songs are too many to sing in church? Should we bring in other people’s songs as well? My pastor says it makes it easy for visiting believers and Christians looking for a new church to fit in.

A: I want to know who started the rumor that we need to sing other people’s songs in the first place. If you find him or her, I want a word with them.

Sure, it’s nice to go visit another church or go to a Christian concert and know the words. Sure, it’s nice to move into a new town and find a church that is singing the songs you used to sing back home. But, that is not the goal of worship music. If the goal is to sing what other Christians are singing somewhere else to make it easy for another Christian to transfer to your church that’s a crazy goal. If the goal is to sing the same songs to make it easy to visit another church that’s dumb.

Any time a new song is introduced from any source, there is a learning curve. Let the visitors and the seasoned Christians take a few weeks to learn your new songs. Pretty soon, they’ll be learning new songs right along with your own people.

Psalm 96:1-3 says, “Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord! Sing to the Lord; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.”

We don’t sing new songs because God gets bored. We sing new songs because there are always new reasons to praise him. The story is always changing. Our lives are finding new meaning in Him. Our circumstances change.

When we sing a new song, that song better ring true to our story. The best way we have found to adequately represent what God is doing in us and around us is to write our own music.


Q: My pastor says our songs aren’t as good as the ones he hears on the radio so he won’t let us write. What do we do?

Well, he may be right. But that just means you have to work harder at your craft. If it means enough to you, keep bringing your newer and better stuff to your pastor so he can see and hear the improvement. Pray he’ll give it a chance. Most people don’t write great songs from the start. It’s a craft and an art that takes time and dedication.

Talk to him about the wonderful benefits to your community of faith and your songwriters including the pastoral opportunities you have with them to shape their stories, disciple them, build camaraderie, create pride in your faith community, celebrate people honing their gifts and abilities and finding their place in the kingdom.

P.S. Your pastor’s sermons probably weren’t that great at first either. Maybe they still aren’t (please don’t tell him I said that).


Q: People have been singing other people’s songs for years. Why change it now?

A: Interesting. And only partly true.

We have always had a rich history of singing the words of scripture. Many of those melodies have been preserved and shared through the ages. Some have not.

Imagine a time before the Internet. Before Mp3’s. Before printed sheet music. Before email. Before easy and affordable travel. The cherished hymn writers had to start somewhere. They took pen (or quill) to paper and jotted down their thoughts like we still do. Then, they had to have an audience. Maybe they shared the song with their family. Maybe a friend or two. Eventually though, someone else had to sing it. The only reason Church B in Boston started singing Church A’s song from New York is because Church A started singing that song!

Once upon a time, your church would have sung Jewish and Byzantine monophonic chants (later and now known as Gregorian chant). Then, sometime during the 9th century, your harmony singers would have been thrilled as church music incorporated 2 or more melodic lines. In the 12th and 13th century your church may have learned a new song from a traveling minstrel or troubadour.  But all those songs started somewhere. And we can trace many of these songs back to their origins. To small communities. Or, to large cathedrals intent on writing good music. The music took a long time to spread. And, it always had a point of origin.

Today, church music still has a point of origin. And sadly, in many cases, that point of origin is songwriters sitting in a room writing music for a music company that will then distribute that music in 5 minutes (hyperbole) for the public to consume.

I have dozens of friends that are in the industry and are maddened by this process. They all want to go back to a time when it was simple and true for them as musicians. When was that time? When they were writing songs for their own church. Out of their own experience.


Q: Our church is thinking about writing our own songs. How do we start?

A: For us, it was as simple as discerning who had songwriting skills and mining for those who wanted to learn the craft. Then, it just takes time. Patience. And most of all TRUST. New songwriters need to look at their songs like they would a college paper. Expect to do rewrites. Expect to have theology challenged. Expect to have conversations about trite phrases and cliché rhymes. Expect to be challenged to write better. Expect not everyone to like your song.

Write some songs. Ask a larger group of people what they think. Play the songs in other venues. Get feedback. Then, try it out with your congregation.


Q: Are there advantages to singing other people’s songs instead of our own?

A: As a rule? No. But, if you find a good song that is true to your shared story, go for it! Celebrate it. We don’t write our own songs just to buck the system. Although, sometimes the system is worth bucking. Don’t do ANY song “just because” it is available and/or easy.


Q: What if you have a great song that isn’t easy to sing?

A: Good question. Some of the songs we do are harder to sing than others. Some have easy choruses and harder verses. Some take a long time to learn and aren’t easy to pick up on. But, if we think it’s good, we do it. If we think it’s good but it’s way too difficult for people to sing along with, we may just do it as a feature song. Just something we share.

Ephesians 5:19 tells us to be filled with the Spirit “ . . . speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” Sometimes, the songs that come from the heart aren’t simple and we certainly don’t want them to be dumbed down.

Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs give us a lot of freedom. God does not have a prescribed format for us. Different tempos, different themes, different stylings . . . God loves all these things. Sometimes songs are good to set the mood, celebrate, have fun, make a point, raise an issue. Some songs are about our journey. Some songs invite everyone to sing along. Some songs call out the name of God. Some songs are prayers. Some songs are responses. It’s all good with God.

We tend to steer clear of songs that say the same thing over and over. Or, songs that say the same thing a lot of other songs say. We don’t like songs that use the same easy rhyme schemes. We challenge ourselves to say things differently. Just like a good preacher does.

Harder songs may take longer to learn. That’s okay. If it’s too difficult, you’ll know soon enough. Then, retire it. We’ve tried out dozens of songs that didn’t work well for us—originals and covers.

But remember, good songs aren’t always easy. How many people do you know that sing along with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody?” A TON. It’s fun to sing. But, it’s not easy. It took a lot of repetition for them to learn that song.

Sometimes worship songs should be easy. But not always.







January 2011



FolkGalore is Coming in April!

Written by , Posted in Beyond 1000, folkgalore, music, the steel wheels, westwinds

Life is a story. Your story. My story. Our story.

Stories can encourage us, give us hope, connect us to one another, build a sense of belonging, create pride, empower us, inspire us, and create unity.

On April 4-8, the city of Jackson and surrounding areas will be invited to celebrate the art of story through music. Think of it as a “happening” as opposed to an “event.” The happening is called, FolkGalore.

FolkGalore is:


For 5 days and nights, venues throughout Jackson and the surrounding areas will host numerous musicians and artists creating multiple stages ripe with stories celebrating the human spirit. Over 20 different stages and venues will host multiple musicians each of the five days and evenings.

Coffee shops, theaters, youth centers, churches, and house concert venues will be filled with music and art exploring what it means to live, love, triumph, fail, celebrate, dream, and learn how to get along. One of the best ways to share in the larger story we are all a part of is through folk music.

Folk music, which is widely defined, has “story” at the heart of it.

For centuries, stories have been told through music and art. Folk music takes its name from “folklore” which consists of a culture’s legends, tales, music, oral history, proverbial wisdom and sayings, jokes, visual art, popular beliefs, fairy tales, customs, and personality.

Folk music has incorporated many genres over time to include Americana, alt-country, blues, country, bluegrass, acoustic, singer-songwriter, and a wide variety and variations of those genres.

But Folk is always about stories.

April 4-8 is Spring Break. With the way the economy has been, not many folks are preparing to travel out of town. We are bringing Spring Break to Jackson.

One $20.00 pass will give participants “all-access” to the venues for concerts and any after parties with the musicians.

Throughout the week, some musicians will also be holding clinics, lessons, and lunch discussions at various times in various locations. For an extra $10.00 a participant can receive a stamp on their pass to gain access to any of these extras.

On Friday, April 8th, the event will culminate in a concert with renowned Americana artists The Steel Wheels (above photo). The Steel Wheels show is included in the all-access $20.00. However, tickets for this show will also be sold separately at the door for those only attending this concert and none of the other weekly events. The Steel Wheels only tickets will be $12.00 at the door.

Save the date! Tickets will go on sale at the end of February.



December 2010





December 2010





July 2010



Worship Rises in Canada

Written by , Posted in church, music, worship, worship music

I know a lot of Canadian jokes. I share an office with a Canadian. I live in a state that borders Canada. The jokes I didn’t know before meeting him, he filled me in on. I know about moose, beavers, Bryan Adams, and Celine Dion. I watched the Olympics.

The jokes are all in fun and they aren’t really true but nevertheless my Canadian friends have to work extra hard to dispel the myths that they all smell like maple syrup and keep a pair of ice skates in their car for when a game of hockey breaks out. Well, maybe that last one is true.

Plus, I don’t joke much anymore because it eventually gets to where I call them “America Junior” and they trump me with “Canada’s Underpants.”

And with that . . . the following is NOT a joke.

Worship leader Chris Vacher, a Canadian, had a great idea. Chris and a bunch of his buddies that lead music in their churches started getting together and writing tunes with a few things in mind: indigenous worship, camaraderie, Canadian churches, the church worldwide, stretching each other’s artistry, etc.

They called their writing group, “Worship Rises.” Out of this group, they released a four song EP that showed up on iTunes in the states yesterday. You can buy the EP for a whopping $3.96 here.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Chris shared a little on his blog today about the album and the buzz surrounding it.

Follow Chris on Twitter.

Chris has become a good friend of mine over the last few years and I am proud of him. I want you all to know about the album not because he is my friend, not because we scratch each other’s backs in cyber world, not because he is paying me, but because I believe this is an example of what it looks like when God’s church takes their heads out of their self-absorbed rear ends.

I went to Ireland a few years back and the church I visited did songs they had written. About “the troubles” and the political struggles of Ireland, about living in their world. I fell in love with Ireland and the Irish church that day. Because, I was brought into their story. This EP makes me think of Canada, my neighbor to the North and it makes me smile that they took a risk.

This album and movement teaches us or reminds us–who are music people in our churches–of some great lessons:

1. Indigenous worship is honest, tells a story that is familiar and approachable, and has a special “je ne sais quoi” for the local church that is different than plug and play worship where we pick songs that the other cool kids are playing. Give thought to your music. Tell YOUR story.
2. With that said, it is a wonderful thing to then share your story with the world. They may say, “Hey, that’s our story too.”
3. Magic can happen when we rub shoulders with like-minded people in our greater communities. When is the last time you had lunch with another pastor in town (not from your church)?
4. THE church matters more than YOUR church because THE church is JESUS’ church and Jesus is what matters. Personality, style, doctrine, methodology, tastes . . . they grow strangely dim with a kingdom mindset.

Way to go, Canada. Now, let’s talk about the Nickleback problem. Can you help there, Chris?



July 2010





June 2010



The Perfect Key : : : Dana Key, 1953-2010

Written by , Posted in christian rock, dana key, music

My wife and kids laugh at me when I cry because a musician died. They don’t mean to hurt my feelings. They might think I’m “cute” or something. But, when a musician dies and their music meant a lot to me on some level, I can’t help it. Some music speaks to my soul. Maybe it’s because of the place I was at in life when they grabbed my attention. Maybe it’s because they spoke in a way no one had before. Maybe they made their instrument speak in a foreign tongue.

Sometimes, it’s like losing a friend.

Today has been a trip down memory lane for me. The Christian music world has indeed lost a friend.

Dana Key, guitarist and vocalist extraordinaire most known for his work with the band, DeGarmo & Key passed away yesterday from a ruptured blood clot. He was 56 years old.

When I was about 12 years old, my parents became Christians. I had been a Christian for about three years at that time. I was introduced to Jesus by our neighbor—a dear woman who took us to Sunday School every week.

When mom and dad started following Jesus, they did what many of their new Christian friends were doing at the time—they busted up their old rock and roll albums and threw them away with the weed, the booze, and whatever reminded them of their “old” life. Like, the TV.

Problem was, I never had an “old” life like them and I still loved rock and roll.

Mom and dad insisted I get rid of all my albums too. They threatened to destroy them by fire. So, I would hide my albums at friends’ homes and even gave a stack to my girlfriend for safe keeping (my girlfriend became my wife and the albums were spared from the fire).

I was shaped by the contraband I listened to in the 70’s and 80’s. Rock stars were more than entertainers—they were my friends. They were my authority. They were my heroes. I found comfort there. I found peace. I found me.

Many of my newfound Christian friends introduced me to Christian rock and roll. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, it was not cool to be a Christian rocker. Most churches frowned upon the music. Christian rock pioneers were strangers in their hometowns. Many were kicked out of their churches. I LOVED these guys.

Parents who hated rock music hated ALL kinds of rock. Supposedly demons would dance to it. Supposedly, even if you played Christian music backwards, Satan would whisper secret winning lottery numbers to you and make you like Queen.

Back then, Christian rockers were twice removed from the church and the world. They were Christians so the world hated them. They were rockers so the church hated them. I found comfort in identifying with these people. Rebels with a cause.

Early Christian rockers pissed off religious folk. That was a banner I was willing to wear. And, honestly, still wear.

One day (I think in 1981) while at a friend’s home, I perused his album collection. There were a lot of albums I hadn’t heard. A lot of Christian rockers I hadn’t been introduced to yet. A couple of albums really caught my eye by a band called DeGarmo & Key.

They had long hair. They dressed like normal rockers. Their smiles looked like they knew a secret. I was compelled to listen.

For a boy that grew up listening to his dad’s pre-charred albums like Clapton, Van Morrision, Jesse Colin Young, The Who, Cat Stevens, Allman Brothers, etc. this music was just what I needed.

I rode with my friend and his brother who was a few years older and just got his driver’s license to a little store where they sold Christian rock albums. I bought everything by DeGarmo & Key and some others including Larry Norman, Mark Heard, Petra, Servant, and Resurrection Band. My new friends.

I stored the albums at my friend’s home and got there as often as possible. One song by DeGarmo & Key would make me cry every time I heard it.

Addey’s a cat, she’s a fool, she’s a star, she’s a queen
She lives in a trap down on third, never heard, never seen
She’s desperate for a way to get out
But she don’t know what out means
Ah, Addey, don’t you be so afraid,
It’s not as bad as it seems

She walks cross the floor, toward the door,
To stairs, to the street
She calls up a cab for downtown
There’s a man she must meet
Ah, the thought that she has to go through
Makes her cry to be free
Oh Addey, wipe those tears form your eyes
You wouldn’t want him to see

She puts on your face with a smile
As she walks through the door
She thinks of her folks, and her home
And what she came there for
Ah, she tells the man that after this time
She won’t be back for more
But he says ; “Huh, Addey don’t you be a fool
You’ve said the same thing, time and time before”

She runs down the street,
In the heat, down past Nowhere café
She drops to her knees ‘neath a tree
But she don’t know how to pray

Oh Addey, there’s not life in that rig
Why don’t you pack it away
Trust in God for a new kind of life
Honey, He won’t lead you astray

DeGarmo & Key was one of my dad’s gateway drugs back into music. After his extreme reaction to all rock music in general, my dad came around and tried on his Christian rock pants for a bit. He too listened to D&K, Petra, Rez, Keaggy, Norman, Mylon and Broken Heart, Mustard Seed Faith, Heard, 77’s, and a host of others with me. Today, dad appreciates all music. Thank God. He even bought his old albums back—on CD.

Today I am praying for Dana’s family and the church he pastored in Tennessee.

Thank you, Dana for helping a kid and all his friends. We all boycotted hell.

Thanks for the music. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for the contraband.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Beyond the land of Oz
Beyond the reach of man
Beyond the stars

There’s a silver palace
There are streets of gold
There’s a place believers
Call their home

No more separation
No more tearful eyes
No more loneliness
No more goodbyes

–No More Goodbyes, D&K



March 2010



Passion: Awakening? It Will Take More Than This.

Written by , Posted in music, passion, worship, worship music

Earlier today I tweeted:

“Listening to a relatively new album that is apparently popular and wondering why I don’t like even one song on it.”

I left it open-ended so people would try to guess what I was listening to. Many people jokingly guessed I was listening to Miley or Justin Beiber. Well, I’ve heard Miley’s album many times in this home with a 10-yr-old girl and, honestly, I enjoy Miley’s latest album more than this one.

The mystery album? Passion: Awakening.

In February, I was given a copy of the new Passion:Awakening CD. I love free music. I listen to most of the free music I get. I’m curious if nothing else.

I tried to like this one. I really did. I wanted to like it. Especially since I’m always on the lookout for good worship tunes to do at Westwinds.

I read the tweets. I heard the hype.

But, I don’t get it.

Some of my friends love it. I’m not a fan.

I asked my wife to listen to it with me just in case I am missing something. In case I wasn’t tapping in to my inner soccer mom and looking past my own musical taste and missing a jewel that would speak to our church.

She’s not a fan either. Nothing grabbed her (although she is more gracious than I am and said things like, “I can see how someone would enjoy this one”). Although, still, nothing got the thumbs up from her to try on the set list.

Passion has turned out some decent worship tunes over the years. Some of our favorite church tunes over the last few years have come out of the movement. Some of my favorite worship music artists have been and are still associated with Passion.

But, this one . . . falls flat in my opinion. It’s not horrible. It’s just not interesting.

I might be getting old but, I don’t think that’s the problem—I can still rock with the best of them and I have a diverse palette when it comes to music. (although I don’t really enjoy listening to any “artists” with acronyms for names, lame monikers, hyphens and dashes in their name if the dash or hyphen follows one letter, or most music made in the Disney laboratories).

Maybe it’s that . . . and I KNOW this sounds like I’m getting old . . . but . . . it all sounds the same. Or, at least it sounds like every other major label worship album with a marketing budget out there with the exception of very few.

Maybe it’s that I’m tired of worship music mimicking U2. And falling short.

Maybe it’s that I wish someone would tell the powers that be that songs don’t need to be four on the floor (ummm, a kick drum every quarter note) to be cool and energetic.

Maybe it’s the mix. Lots of vocals. Lots.

Maybe it’s no variety in the instrumentation.

Maybe it’s that the majority of the lyrics are cliché. Overused. Same rhyme schemes. Not a lot of thought. I can get past a lot of cliché lyrics when there is a compelling melody that makes it hard not to sing but I was barely tempted to sing along.

Maybe it’s all the above.

I don’t want to take apart any specific artist or song. I wasn’t grabbed by any of them. Don’t get me wrong, I like many of the artists on the album, I just don’t like the album. Many of these artists are heroes of mine. Great people.

One exception on the album is David Crowder’s version of John Mark McMillan’s, “How He Loves Us” but that barely counts because it is 5-years old. The song has already been done by McMillan, Crowder, Kim Walker, Todd Agnew, Flyleaf, and The Glorious Unseen (am I forgetting anyone?).

A lyrical exception is Crowder’s, “Like a Lion” but, alas, Crowder didn’t write it. It was written by Daniel Bashta who should have done it on the album. The original is better.

There are a couple I might like if I didn’t like them better when they went by another title and were done in 1998. Or 2000. Or 2002. Or 2005.

Maybe the songs will work for your church. Maybe I’ll listen again and something will grow on me. Maybe a ton of people will request we do a song at Westwinds and we decide it’s worth a try. But, after 4 listens, I’m done.