“I don’t want to be here.”
That’s what I said into the microphone as I stood beside Gloria Gaither at the Friday night orientation dinner for a Songwriting Intensive that she had organized and asked me over a year ago to be part of. The crowd in the room laughed a little nervously.
“Seriously, I don’t,” I said. “I’ve tried everything I could to not have to be here and Gloria wouldn’t let me out of it.” Gloria, standing beside me, just smiled from to ear-to-ear.
“But I am here,” I continued—remembering the countless emails and texts I had sent to her and her staff, telling them I wasn’t ready—hoping that they would find someone else. Only to get a simple "you’re going to do great” reply.
“And the one that’s clear is that I am supposed to be here.”
And so began a weekend of teaching songwriting to 70 or so people who had traveled from all over the country to be there. The event was held a couple weeks ago at the Gaither studios in my wife Joey’s hometown of Alexandria, Indiana. While I spent my days at the event, Indy got to spend hers with her Grandmama, her Aunt Jessie, and cousins.
I was supposed to give four three-hour lectures on songwriting. Which is a lot. Especially, if you aren’t writing songs or playing shows or haven’t even been thinking about music in a couple years. So instead of talking about songwriting, I talked about life. That is something I know a little about. And I told our story. For almost three hours, I shared a a summarized version of my book and the special love story that I have been blessed to be part of. And then I told it again. And again. And again. There were tears in the room each time I spoke. Mostly mine.
And I did my best to explain the similarities of songwriting and life.
And how I am a ‘first line’ writer. When I write songs, I only need a good first line to get started. I don’t have to, or really want to, know what the song is about or where the story is going. I just let the first line lead to the second and that verse lead to a chorus, and so on.
And more times than not, I am in awe of the song and story that unfolds in front of me. Instead of just ‘crafting’ a good song or story from a title (which I’ve done many times also), I prefer to let it magically unfold in front of me.
I am also a ‘first line’ liver. I try to live my life the exact same way as I write songs. I start with a simple moment or a decision… and though I have no idea where it will lead, I have faith that it will take us somewhere special. Those moments that happen are like first lines to a song. I let them lead me, not the other way around.
When I look back on the story of my wife and I, the first line was probably… “this beautiful girl bounded up the steps, stood in front of me and said, ‘hi my name’s Joey’.“ I had no idea at the time what an incredible story God was about to tell, or the songs He would give us to share with the world.
And in early 2014, the first line was… “Joey and I are going to take a year off of music and get ready for the baby that was coming in a few weeks.” Again, we had no idea of the beautiful, heartbreaking story and song that God was about to write with our lives. We just trusted Him and let the magic unfold.
And so, today is the beginning of a new song. This moment is probably the first line of a new story in our lives. I don’t know what the song is going to be or how the story’s going to unfold. But I like the beginning line… “I’m going to get onstage and play two shows on Joey’s birthday weekend that will benefit an organization that has helped us greatly.”
I’ve said before that I didn’t want to make or play music without Joey. That is still true. I don’t necessary want to. But I do believe that I am supposed to. I can feel it inside of me when I watch and listen to Craig and Bailey sing on our stage for cowboy church on Sunday mornings. And I can see it in the eyes of the people around me… even Indiana. She loves music so much. When music comes on, she either tries to sing along, or stands up and says “dance!” She has no real idea what her Mama and Papa used to do together with a guitar and our voices.
While we were in Indiana for the Gaither songwriting event (which by the way, I loved), I told Joey’s daddy about what I’ve been feeling and asked him how he would feel if I got onstage again without his daughter by my side. Honestly, his answer surprised me. I thought he might be protective (for lots of understandable reasons) and say, “please don’t,” or “are you sure you wanna do that?” Instead Jack just smiled at me and said, “son, you were holding a guitar, singing songs when Joey met you. That is who she first fell in love with. I think she would want you to perform.”
He’s probably right. No, I know he is. If Joey couldn’t be on stage with me, she would be in the front row cheering me on.
So on September 8 and 9th, the weekend of my sweet bride’s birthday, I’m going to play two shows in the concert hall in our barn here on our property. All the money made from ticket sales will go to Music Health Alliance—a wonderful organization that has helped Joey and me so much in the last three years. I was asked to speak at their “Heal The Music” press event a week or so back, and it was there that I made the decision to do the shows. You can see the talk I gave that day here and learn a little bit about how that organization has helped our family.
Since it’s the beginning of a new song and story in our lives, it’s going to be called “Once Upon A Farm,” which is sorta how I think all of our stories here have started in the first place. This farmhouse and piece of ground has been a wonderful, magical place where all of my wife and my dreams have come true and where our new dreams will take root and grow.
Tickets will be available starting this morning here on our web store and also at my wife and sister’s little cafe Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse. There is very limited seating and the money earned goes to a good cause.
PS, a wonderful guy named Bryson Leach designed the poster for us. He and his wife have a company called Needle & Grain here in our community where they create and sell lots of beautiful handmade items.