I’ll never forget my first back-stage experience with a Grammy-award winning artist. I was 18-years-old as I waited patiently in line at the Lakewood Amphitheater in my hometown of Atlanta. I hardly noticed the unbearable humidity that early summer day as most of my sweat dripped from nervous energy and anticipation.
My family and several close friends were already sitting front row for the opening act. I was one of twenty-five people back-stage wearing a Michael W. Smith fan club t-shirt and desperately trying to keep my cool. As I anxiously prepared for a thirty-second conversation with a living hero, I got pumped thinking about my upcoming move to Nashville where I’d soon be starting my freshmen year at Vanderbilt. A city full of celebrities, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Mother ship of the music industry and home to all the artists in the world I admired most, including the man I was about to meet. By virtue of several providential threads, Nashville was going to be my home too.
Nothing could have prepared me for the encounter that day. I expected to meet a rock star. Smitty had been selling out arenas since his third album’s release in 1987 (when 8-tracks and cassette tapes were the thing), and he was still at the top of his game. He was anything but a distant celebrity though. We shook hands, took a photo, and had one of the more sincere conversations of my entire adolescence. He was humble and kind, fatherly and personable. He looked me in the eyes, spoke as he would to an old friend, and seemed to have no other care in the world but me. When I bumped into him at Rocketown several years later as a soon-to-be college grad, you can imagine my embarrassment as I stuttered over words and tried to explain again how much his music meant to me. You can imagine the joy when I helped manage a tour he headlined a few years after that. Though different every time, each of these encounters taught me not only something about being an artist in the industry but also about what it means to be human.
To be fully human is to give yourself away, to be constantly poised for encounter and open to accompaniment. I spent most of my 20s as a missionary, traveling the world helping young people encounter God and accompanying them within the walls of the Church. There have been few seasons of life more privileged and beautiful. In my free time, I was constantly booking shows, producing live records, and working quietly to promote my artist friends whom I’d come to know and love through the years. Some of them lived in Nashville. Some lived as far west as St. Paul, Minnesota. All of them reminded me of Tolkien (and Lewis and Chesterton and many of the other literary giants of the 20th century). Their faith was deeply imbued in their craft yet never worn on their sleeve. They were occasionally twisted mystics but always fellow sojourners on this brief pilgrimage of life. They had a way of putting people at ease with their artistry and helping them feel seen and loved by the end of a show. The experience of their friendship (and watching what they could do in studio or on stage) was not that different from the encounter with my high school hero many years prior.
When I went searching in high school for an alternative to Top 40 radio and found Christian music, I was happy for something wholesome and well-produced. When I went searching in college for something more, I never could have expected to befriend many of the artists whose music moved me most. Love Good began as a mere idea in the summer of 2013 with the hopes of supporting artists whose music was not only wholesome but beautiful, authentic, and artful. After our forty-five city house concert tour that summer that stretched as far west as Los Angeles, as far north as Boston, and as far south as Tampa, we knew seeds had been planted for something so much bigger than any one of us.
Love Good has since grown into a global movement of artists, patrons, and young people who are captivating the world with the beauty of their lives and building a better culture every step of the way. Together, we dream of a new mainstream where artists are free in their craft and able to provide authentic encounter with the true, the good, and the beautiful. This movement is not just about music, books, and media. It’s about culture, where friendship and shared life allows us to faithfully accompany each other in pursuit of the fullness of life.
While I may never be everyday friends with my high school heroes, I am grateful that many of them have taught me what Michael W. Smith exemplified many years ago. There is nothing sweeter than the encounter of the present moment and the joy of life-long accompaniment. I am forever indebted to the many creative souls who have given me a vocabulary to better understand these mysteries ever since. It remains a great privilege to share their gifts with the world.
At the end of the day, that’s what Love Good is about: helping you and me share life together well. To all those artists who step up as servants of beauty and to all those patrons who make their artistry possible, I stand grateful and amazed.
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