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Art Music Justice Tour
Charlie Peacock, Derek Webb, Sara Groves, Brandon Heath & Sandra McCracken
Gaillard Auditorium, Charleston, SC

by Susan Lloyd

Usually after a show I’m reviewing, I’ll start writing the review within a few hours. It’s preferable to write when I still remember what it felt like to experience the show rather than to wait until the sounds, sights and feelings have faded to nothing that helps flesh out the details I’ve managed to scrawl out in between songs. But trying to put the experience of the Art Music Justice Tour into words after just a few hours just wasn’t going to be a reality. It has taken me a full 24 hours to process what I was able to witness taking place on the stage at the Gaillard Auditorium in Charleston, SC. The music was excellent, the artists were sincere, the message was strong. But the minutes of music and testimony that occurred served to do more than entertain and inform. They were the vessel used to transport the voice of the One they were representing. And if the purpose of the Art Music Justice tour is to convict and inspire the believer, then it hit the mark, at least for this believer.

According to an interview that can be found on the Art Music Justice Tour myspace, it seems as if the tour was a divinely orchestrated event. I would have to concur. Musical artists Sandra McCracken, Derek Webb, Sara Groves, Brandon Heath, and Charlie Peacock all seemed to share a similar vision for a tour that would not only inform it’s audience of the plight of the modern day slaves and those who are starving to death but also encourage, motivate, rebuke, and speak directly to the Church. Through song, story telling, imagery, and the reading of the Word, these five talented artists shared their heart for the things and people that God loves, and they shed light on the work of International Justice Mission and Food for the Hungry.

All five artists performed together to open the show, no one standing out above the others. In fact, it would be hard to point out the “headliner” of this show, which served to allow the spotlight to rest squarely on the message rather than the messengers. However, each artist did get individual time to share their own songs, their own experiences, and their own burdens. Sandra McCracken began first with her solo time, accompanied by both her husband Derek Webb on acoustic and Charlie Peacock on keys. Sandra’s clear, folk-country voice was mesmerizing, and as a song writer Sandra McCracken & Derek Webbshe shines. After singing “Thy Mercy”, the reworked hymn by John Stocker, Sandra mentioned that her most recent CD focused on conversations about justice and noted that she was uncertain whether her abstract style of writing would work for such a concrete subject. As she sang “Lock and Key”, there was no doubt that she had succeeded in penning a song that fit her as an artist and made a clear and beautiful statement at the same time.

The flow of the evening was never interrupted as one artist had the honor of introducing the next. Sandra McCracken introduced her husband Derek Webb, and he began his set of what he called “protest songs of the holiest kind”. The bite of truth was woven throughout Webb’s four song set, and after he finished his song “A Savior on Capitol Hill” he stated it was a good thing he didn’t consider selling records part of his job. Webb didn’t mince words either in his song writing or his commentary, and his main message seemed to be that we need to do more than rely on our Brandon Heathgovernment to cure the ills of the world. He stated that there are so many other ways to fight for the oppressed and feed the hungry than to merely look to government programs. As Webb sang his last song, the story of Madesh, a native of Bangalore and a modern day slave, was flashed on three video screens than lined the back of the stage. Madesh was rescued out of his bitter circumstances by the efforts of International Justice Mission. Webb’s song was fitting background for the story itself, and the feeling in the auditorium was one of utter captivation.

After Webb’s set, all artists joined him on stage. It was the perfect time to invite the concert-goers (who at this point had been transformed into a congregation) to sing together. So, with Sandra McCracken singing lead and all others singing stunning background vocals, those present sang “Rescue the Perishing” followed by “We Shall be Released”. The message that we are both the one in need of rescue and the one who can be used to rescue was beginning to emerge more clearly, setting the stage for Brandon Heath to take over for his brief set.

Heath was introduced by Webb as being very “hot, right now…yes, he’s very very hot” Webb joked. Heath, taking it in stride, began his set with a song based entirely on Romans 8. His easy manner, engaging smile and rich laugh brought a feeling of living room intimacy to the large auditorium, and he had the crowd clapping along with his next song, the confessional “I’m Not Who I Was”. Heath finished the first part of his set with “Love Never Fails” and was supported by backing vocals supplied by Sara Groves. As Heath exited the stage, Groves introduced the backing band. Groves’ own husband Troy is part of that band, and he was given the task of speaking on behalf of Food for the Hungry. As Troy Groves took the mike, he Sara Grovesinvited his children on stage with him. Together, the Groves family spoke about their sponsored child Angeline and encouraged the audience to be engaged in Food for the Hungry by sponsoring a child through their organization.

After a brief intermission, Brandon Heath was again welcomed to the stage to sing his current hit “Give Me Your Eyes”, but soon after his song Charlie Peacock began his own set. Half preached, half sung, Peacock encouraged the body of believers present that night to love the things that God loves. He sang an old favorite “In the Light” once again inviting the audience to sing along as the words flashed across the screen. Peacock challenged us all with his transparency, his honest song writing, and his gentle interpretation of the Word. His skills at the keyboard and the ease with which he communicated were an indication that Peacock is a man confident of his place in the larger Story. He introduced Sara Groves, who began her set with the explanation of her pull towards International Justice Mission.

Groves has a lovely stage presence, and easy manner, but a backbone of steel. She told her story of her first real exposure to modern day slavery and made her passion for rescue obvious without over emoting. Groves sang “When the Saints” while the images of young girls bound in the sex slave trade were displayed behind her. The effect was arresting because in addition to these images were words each girl used to describe her greatest fear. Groves’s bright clear voice and thoughtful lyrics delivered with great honesty the dire need of real people suffering daily at the hands of unmerciful slave traders. As she ended her set, Charlie Peacockshe was joined once again by all members of the tour. We were invited to join in the music once more as “We Shall be Released” was our song to claim once more. The evening ended with an acapella rendition of the doxology, a stirring and authentic moment of praise.

To be sure, this was one of the most unique and thought provoking evenings I’ve been a part of for quite some time. As the evening concluded, I realized that I had been in the presence of musicians, artists, real people who have an immense concern for the eradication of slavery and hunger in this world. It was also obvious that the source of strength and hope these musicians hold is not in them, but in the one Rescuer we all need. Musical excellence honored the Creator and the humility of his servants on stage served to remind us all that regardless of the length of a resume, discography, awards, or nominations, we all have a place in the story of redemption.

Art Justic Mercy Tour

View more concert photos at Susan's Flickr page here

All photos copyright Susan Lloyd. All rights reserved. Do not duplicate without permission.

Susan Lloyd is a professional photographer in Charleston, South Carolina who specializes in shooting concerts. She holds a degree in Music Education and has worked as a worship leader and as a youth minister. She is passionate about all types of music and enjoys encouraging and supporting bands who seek to glorify God. She also loves movies, animals, traveling, and making new friends. She and her husband have three kids and have been married for nearly 17 years. More info about Susan's photography can be found at www.susanlloydphotography.com or www.susieq3c.wordpress.com