Thursday, March 27, 2008

Batman and Rockin

I make no apologies for that title. You'll see...

Well, I’m in DFW to do 4 days of shows. Hope to see some of you there. Already had one great show tonight. I’ll get into all that in the next few days. But first I thought I’d share some stories and pics from last weekend.

Michael, Ben and I spent the weekend at a retreat in Leakey, TX. We led worship for about 700 teenagers. We had one of those weekends when every single set that we did seemed to be really tight, musically. I love a big band, but sometimes it’s fun to see how a 3-piece can come together and sound like much more.

Here are the pics. I had no idea there was a camera there, but it looks like Ben did. Check out that second pic. I mean, what kind of musician has the guts to stare straight at the camera and make a “look how awesome we are” face? He’s so much better at being cool than I am.

Here’s a good story from the weekend. Michael already referred to it in his blog, but he didn’t expound, so I’m taking this one. I guess I need to say up-front that I think you really had to be there, but I’ll do my best to convey the disturbing awesomeness.

Does that whet your appetite? If so, read on.

We were playing in an covered outdoor facility. I think it’s referred to as The Tabernacle. The weather was fantastic, so it was actually really nice, but the downside was that there are lots of bats that come around at night.

Yeah, bats. Let’s all pause for a collective moment of shuddering. More on that in a minute.

So there’s this little closed-in room at the back of The Tabernacle that serves as a sound booth. The system in this place really isn’t too bad. It’s all JBL, which ain’t top of the line, but the speakers are flown and there’s decent subs and everything. I’ve seen all manner of awful sound systems, and this one was way better than the average in my 13-or-so years of traveling.

When we get there, we unload our gear and we meet the sound/tech guys who work for the camp. Nice guys. They let us know that they’re not really professionals, which doesn’t scare me because they seem nice, and nice/unprofessional is way better than jerky/professional. Besides, if all else fails, we can run our own sound. When you’re as un-famous as me, you do that sort of thing from time to time.

But it turned out fine because, pro or not, the sound was excellent. Big thanks to the Alto Frio staff (especially Ben and Ty) for coming thru.

Back to the story. That sound booth room has these wooden, fold-down window covers that are put on the windows each night, I guess to protect them from wind or something. Whatever. Well, when they unhook these wooden covers and fold them down, there are 4 bats sitting on them. Bats! 4 of them!

Well, like everyone in the world, I’m rather uncomfortable with bats.

Let me rephrase that.

Bats make me want to poo my britches and run screaming like a little girl into the bushes where I can hide with a motorcycle helmet on my head and one of those shiny radiation suits covering every last inch of my body so that there’s no chance that one of those flying vermin can attach itself to me and flap my fragile, shivering body with its nasty little wings or molest my face like a randy canine on an innocent leg.

So I’m pretty glad that I’m really far from the booth when this quadruple bat discovery is made. Michael and Ben and I are like “Look, there’s 4 bats on that window cover thing,” and inside my head where no one can hear, I’m like “Please Jesus don’t let them come over here and do unspeakable things to me.”

Anyway, one of the dudes from Alto Frio (I’m not going to tell you who, because in a few sentences, he will be revealed as a hero to some and a villain to others, and I don’t want to be responsible either way) picks up a big heavy stick and swings at the window cover, really hard.

Always ready to think the best of others, I’m like “Hey look, he’s scaring those bats away.”

Only before the words have fully escaped my lips, I realize that he’s not scaring them off. He’s beating them to death with a stick!

Wham! Whamwhamwhamwham! WHAM!!!

4 dead bats. Just like that. Splat.

Apparently there is a zero tolerance policy on bat occupation in the sound booth area.

Listen, I love all of God’s creatures. I respect nature. I know bats serve a purpose. But I didn’t cry a single tear. That’s 4 less bats that could nest in my ‘do and hatch eggs in my eardrums and give me rabies and make me get one of those shots in the stomach that I heard about in 3rd grade. So maybe I’m cruel and uncaring. I don’t know. Pray for me.

Either way, that wasn’t the end of it. The next night, while the preaching/teaching time was going on, me and the guys were hanging out just outside of The Tabernacle, listening to the message and high-fiving over how hard we rocked, we started getting dive-bombed by MORE BATS!

Well, now I’m wondering if they’re just ticked off about losing their brethren. I mean, anyone who came across those carcasses ain’t gonna wonder if they died of natural causes. Them was some bloody, smashed-up bat parts.

So Michael and Ben stuck around, probably trying to keep their stare-into-the-camera-and-dare-you-to-love-them coolness. But not me. I walked away to rock another day.

I’m pretty sure neither one of them got bit, molested, or otherwise violated by any of the bats. But if they had, it would have been their fault for sticking around. And I would’ve had to find a new band for the last worship set.

And that’s the anti-climactic end of the story. Maybe I should’ve quit with the dead bats, but I guess the softy in me wanted to let you know that their friends lived on and scared us (me) a little (a lot).

House concert recaps in a few days.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Huge in PA!

Actually, this time it's more like I'm huge in MD, but I just like saying that. I've been saying it (despite the fact that it's a complete and utter fabrication) since '03, when "Clear the Stage" spent at least 2 weeks on the top 20 charts in Lancaster County (check out #46 of the '03 Top 100 and see for yourself that, at one time, I was almost-but-not-quite a chart-topping hitmaker). Those were the glory days, kids.

But I move on. I don’t dwell on it. I mean, occasionally on rainy days during various media-related writer’s strikes, I sometimes eat an entire bag of Funyuns and Bean Dip in the dark and dial my own cell phone, listening to the “Clear the Stage” ringtone and weeping uncontrollably. But it’s not like I dwell on it. I move on.

So anyway, here’s the schedule for the upcoming PA/MD tour:

Thursday April 17 – Gravity Bookstore in Reading, PA
Friday April 18 – Location TBA in Baltimore, MD
Sunday April 20 (AM) – Lifepoint Church in Reisterstown, MD
Sunday April 20 (PM) – House Concert in Reisterstown, MD

I’m pretty sure the first two shows are wide open. Not so sure about the others. If you’re interested, let me know. Also, if you'll notice, I'm not doing anything Saturday night. I had some offers (sorry to those of you who I had to say no to), but it was just going to be hard to do a show on Saturday night and then play early on Sunday morning. But fret not, loyal minions, for I’ve already got some plans to come back to the NE in the summer.

If I keep this up, I know the Christian radio is bound to notice me again and get me back on the charts. Faster than you can scream "stop asking Oprah what to do!" I'll be nestled snugly between Jeremy Camp and Casting Crowns. Wait, that didn’t sound right. Well, either way, I hope they like Funyun breath.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Quotable if not notable

Below are 5 of the more thought-provoking things I've read/heard lately (warning: cuss word spelled with asterisks ahead).

1) "you were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord
to hear the voice of the Spirit begging you to shut the f*** up
you thought it must be the devil trying to make you go astray
besides it couldn't have been the lord because you don't believe he talks that way"

(Lyrics from Pedro the Lion song “Foregone Conclusions”)

This is why “music that's fun and safe for the whole family” will never be a synonym for “music that grown-up Christians might need to sit down and listen to until it hurts and heals” (to be fair, their motto is easier to remember than mine). And if you're tempted to be offended by the language, just step back and apply that energy to this thought: what kind of experience led the singer of an obscure indie rock band to write this? And no, I don’t think the Spirit drops the F-bomb.

2) “The Power of Passionate Shopping” (Motto on huge sign at an outlet mall)

A five-word sentence about buying stuff, that somehow had the brazen courage and literary cleverness to work in both “power” and “passionate.” Did I mention that it's a sentence about buying stuff? Welcome to America.

3) “The quality of your website reflects the quality of your ministry.” (Quote from promotional video of Christian media consulting firm)

This video was playing on a loop in the "internet cafe" room that was set up at the pastor's conference I attended recently. I don't know how often this phrase popped up in a little box at the bottom of the screen, but I saw it several times, and I wasn't even trying to watch the video. I had to write it down, because it got me so worked up. How lucky for us that the people who discovered this powerful truth are also, conveniently, equipped to rescue us from the dominion of Media Hell into the Kingdom of the Cyber-Slick Elite.

4) “There would be a strong argument for saying that much of the most powerful preaching of our time is the preaching of the poets, playwrights, [and] novelists because it is often they better than the rest of us who speak with awful honesty about the absence of God in the world and about the storm of his absence, both without and within, which, because it is unendurable, unlivable, drives us to look to the eye of the storm.” (Frederick Buechner, from his book Telling the Truth, p. 44)

See Pedro the Lion lyrics, above, to be reminded what kinds of things the world is saying about the absence of God (and see quote 3 to be reminded what kinds of things Christians will do to fill that absence). Seriously, wow. This Buechner book is specifically speaking to preachers, and I’m definitely not much of a preacher, but it's been knocking me out.

5) “Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place.” (The Apostle Paul, in his second Biblical letter to Timothy.)

After slapping us with the not-so-subtle gangrene analogy, Paul has the nerve to name names. Isn't it funny that he says to avoid "profane chatter, "and then he talks publicly, by name, about some folks who are guilty of it? I used to think I knew exactly what gossip was, but now I’m not so sure. Welcome to Honest Study of the Scriptures.

Here’s a thought. Maybe I’m just getting old and crazy, but somehow quotes 2 and 3 feel more like “profane chatter” than quote 1.

That's a glimpse of what's in my head this week. Thoughts?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Church, Humanity, Lent, Religion, etc

The dude on the left is Thad Norvell, my good friend and co-pastor. The dude on the right is me with a little more weight and a little less hair. I chose this photo because it makes us look like outdoorsmen when, in real life, we're a couple of sissies.

Anyway, Thad has written a fantastic post on his blog (it covers all the topics I listed above, and then some). In the old days, he did that a lot, but now that he's our main teaching pastor at Community Church, his writing hasn't been as frequent. But if you trust me at all (and if you love colorful Irish slang words, and who doesn't?), you should go read this right now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rock Never Sleeps; Blogs Do, Though

First, sorry for the long absence. The last two weeks have been some of the busiest I’ve had in many months. Tons of traveling, tons of studio work (including the super-awesome Clairmont record), and even some sickness. I’m not complaining (well, maybe I am about the sickness). Daddy has to pay the bills and all. But blogging wasn’t first on my list.

The Sugar Land show was a hit. Big thanks to Billy Newhouse and Mark and Holly Jacobs, organizers/hosts of the concert.

This weekend I’ll be in Leakey (pronounced Lay-Key), TX for an Easter Retreat. But next weekend I’ve got the DFW tour. Most of the shows are already full, but there may be a few spots left, so let me know if you’re interested. If you can’t catch me this time, I’m going to try to do another Metroplex “leg” this summer.

That’s it for now. More soon. I’ve got final details on the PA/MD stops in April, and I’ll finalize some more San Antonio dates later this week. I never made it out to Arizona, Florida, or upstate New York, so my apologies to those of you in those areas who tried to work stuff out. This “Ross does his own booking and management” thing allows me to be super-cheap, but you get what you pay for. Anyway, hopefully I’ll make some of those as-yet-un-rocked locations this summer or early in the fall. Thanks for your patience everyone.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Upcoming places where I will rock faces

Here are a few upcoming house concerts, for those interested:

Saturday March 15 -- Sugar Land, TX
Thursday March 27 -- Azle, TX (15-20 miles northwest of Fort Worth)
Friday March 28 -- Sanger, TX (10-15 miles north of Denton)
Saturday March 29 -- Arlington, TX
Sunday May 18 -- San Antonio, TX

As usual, let me know if you're interested in any of these shows. Some of them might already be "full," so I can't make any promises, but I'd love to hear from you and see what we can do.

Also, I have a gig in Reisterstown, MD (just NW of Baltimore) on April 20, and I'd love to do a few house shows in the PA/MD/NY area while I'm there. I'd especially love to hit some of the spots that I missed during my fall tour. So, if any of that applies to you, don't be shy. I need to book flight within the next 2 weeks, so I've got to finalize all that. Who's with me?

Finally, I'm also doing lots of worship-leading these days, so the spring calendar is actually pretty full. I don't know how much more house-concert-scheduling I'll be doing before May or so. If you're interested in a date, check my other website calendar first, but Summer/Fall will probably be best.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Smart Guy

Just finished reading The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis, for – I think – the third time in my life. The first time I read it was early in college (I’m pretty sure I didn’t finish it that time). The second time was maybe 10 years ago (I finished it and loved it). The third time was just this past week.

For reasons that I can’t understand now, a particular section that has been very significant for me, in this third reading, never grabbed my attention before.

If you’ve read the book, you know that it is much more a work of philosophy and fantasy than of theology. (It’s important to say that because Protestant theology nerds like to tear it apart for it’s Purgatorial themes.) One thrust of the book is Lewis’ theorizing on sin and temptation and various kinds of lust. There’s a whole lot more to the book than that, but that’s one aspect that is especially thought-provoking.

This particular quote comes from an exchange between an artist and resident/saint of Heaven. The artist wants to paint what he sees in Heaven, and the saint tries to talk him out of it (for reasons that Lewis verbalizes far better than I). The whole thing is really beautiful and mind-blowing. You should read it. But even if you don’t read it, chew on this for a few days:

“Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.”

There’s just a whole pile of stuff I could say about this, including how true this can be in me. But I’ll let Lewis speak for himself. And I'd love to hear anyone who wants to chime in. Thoughts?

Monday, March 3, 2008

This silly songwriting hobby is bound to dry up soon...

... and when it does, I'm going to be calling upon my eldest son to pay the bills with his drum-master skills.

When we last documented Sam's playing, he was accompanying his Pop at Com Church family camp. He was about 5 weeks shy of 4 years old at the time. This video was taken a few weeks ago. Sam is now 4 years and 4 months (for those who need exact figures and such).

This video doesn't necessarily represent some huge improvement in actual playing, but I think it's significant because it shows you that he has this really instinctive thing happening. The musicians among you will notice that the boy just really looks like he belongs "on the throne" (that's a drummer joke, not a dumb joke about my last name or a hyper-ambitious claim about Sam's playing). He makes some mistakes (I mean, he's 4) and his finish is a little muddy. To be fair, he did this at my request, without any forethought or rehearsal.

Whatever. I'm a proud dad, even if I am still kind of weirdo, perfectionist musician. And you're just the lucky soul that gets to enjoy it.


***This was my first time using blogger's stock video feature. Not sure I like the way it's set up. Anyway, if you prefer a little bit larger version, here it is on youtube.