Religious Experiences

The only way this past weekend could have been better is if some sweepstakes crew would have shown up with a handful of balloons and one of those giant checks. Let me get right into it and tell you about two soul-soothing experiences I had.

On Friday night, I attended the much-anticipated Vinegar Creek Constituency album release show at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA. The place was packed full of people celebrating the release of VCC's third album, "Don't Go Back in Time." These guys always put on a great show, but this one was, of course, extra special. I arrived with a few good friends, met up with a few more, took a spot along the rail, and just kinda basked in the glow of one of my favorite good-time bands. My only regret is that I sang along, despite the fact that I had completely lost my voice (not an exaggeration - all that comes out when I open my mouth is a little puff of dust) several days prior to the show. Drinking plenty of tea with honey to mitigate the damage.

If you want to hear more about "Don't Go Back in Time," I did a brief write-up on the new album for Tri State Indie.

Then on Saturday night, I attended the fifteenth annual Jazz Vespers at First Presbyterian Church. The event draws over 500 people to one of York's most beautiful churches and features such a stellar line-up of musicians that I get teary-eyed before I even set foot in the sanctuary. The event honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so the theme is peace and unity and social justice. Indeed, the pews are filled with a who's who of York, representing a wide cross-section of our community in terms of race, age, faith, socioeconomic status, sexual preference, political leaning - name a demographic or identity group, and it's represented at this concert.

My friend Jeff Stabley coordinates this event each year, booking the musicians and arranging the instrumental pieces. Jeff is an absolute rockstar. Each year, the line-up includes a host of other rock (jazz) stars, with exceedingly impressive credentials. And we get to show up and listen to them play for FREE (it's part of First Presbyterian's Abendmusik series).

When I set out to write this post, I thought I might tell you about my favorite part of this concert. But I haven't been able to narrow it down to one thing. Perhaps it's the way my arms break out into goosebumps when Diane Wilson drops her voice down to a whisper, and it's all you can hear in that giant room with the impossibly high ceiling. Or maybe it's when she raises her voice back up and it fills that same space so completely that you wonder whether the doors are going to blow open. It might be when Tim Warfield and Chris Bacas stand during the Coltrane piece and trade solos back and forth, until the excitement is so palpable it gets difficult to breathe. Or it could possibly be the part where the entire congregation stands for a call-and-response prayer of commitment, promising, in unison:

          I will not keep silent. I will struggle with myself. I will not rest until the dream of justice and freedom becomes my personal dream. I must realize that I am not an innocent bystander. I can help realize the dream by my action, or delay it by my inaction.

As someone who insisted my son memorize the Birmingham Pledge by the time he was a toddler, it is empowering to stand among so many from my community and declare our solidarity with Dr. King's vision.

But I think if I had to list one favorite thing about this event, it would be the fact that it moves me in a way that represents everything I love about live music. The spirit of togetherness around something intangible and fleeting, something that exists only in that moment, and won't ever exist exactly like that again. We, the members of the audience, have that one wholly unique moment in common while it's happening and forever after. It's that moment I'm always chasing, that feeling of being a part of something bigger and more beautiful than I could ever be on my own.

The thing is, I don't know shit about jazz. I really don't. I've taken classes, and I could tell you a little bit about the history and the context in which it began and grew. But the mechanics of the music itself? I cannot speak intelligently on that subject. I can't articulate why that concert moves me to tears and makes my heart swell to two times its normal size in my chest. But I think that's what makes it so magical, so powerful. 

Mack White, who was a featured percussionist at the show, also played with another group at last year's first York Jazz Fest, which my company produced. At the end of Jazz Fest, Mack came and found me and gave me a big hug, thanking me for putting the festival together. Mack White, whom I've seen perform at the MLK Jazz Vespers service, hugged me and thanked me. I thought about that while he played the conga on Saturday night, sharing his talent and passion with his fellow musicians and all of us seated in the audience. It reminded me how much I love my I love my life.