Every Monday in Listening Closer, Jeffrey Overstreet opens up the art of songcraft, sharing his own musical experiences, interpretations, and epiphanies, while soliciting alternate interpretations and discussion.
On Saturday, October 9, singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson celebrated the release of his new album The Burning Edge of Dawn with a joyous live show at Nashville’s Grace Community Church that featured a crowded stage of special guests. This was my first experience of a live Peterson hubbub, and judging from the high spirits in the audience and the exuberance of the man in the spotlight, it may have been one of the high points of his performance history
Peterson was all over the stage throughout the course of the show—playing, singing, checking in with his bandmates, sometimes sitting down and meditating as if already composing new songs in his head while the band played on, sometimes grinning through his beard like a giddy fanboy for all who stood around him.
And those accompanists included his family and friends — such a sizable representation of his community that it seemed the whole audience might eventually end up on stage with him. If there’s one word that springs to mind when I think of Peterson’s music, it’s just that: Generosity.
Peterson’s songs and lyrics are full of sweeping metaphors, making his songs accessible enough for people of all ages and all experiences, even as they are specific enough to speak of his own specific pilgrimage as a musician; as a novelist (his fantasy series had the same editor and publisher as mine, and was released at the same time, which is how I was blessed to meet him); as a Nashville “community organizer” who, in partnership with is multi-talented brother Pete, has cultivated an enthusiastic network of imaginations called The Rabbit Room; as a sort of folk pastor; as a “book guy” (he can’t get through the day without mentioning Walter Wangerin, Cormac McCarthy, Tolkien, and others); and as the biggest fan of everyone he knows (he’s prone to introducing everybody as “my dear, dear friend who has shared deep wisdom with me”).
Among those dear, dear friends onstage with him that night were his son Asher (named, yes, after Chaim Potok’s Asher Lev) who was playing his first full-band show as a drummer, and his daughter Skye, who sang backup on several songs, including one that her dad had written to declare his love for her. Also: singer/songwriter Eric Peters, who shared several tracks from his own upcoming record, and whose songs of struggle and longing from darker places that provide a rewarding contrast to Peterson’s insistent light. (You won’t hear many minutes of Peterson’s music that fail to mention the sun, the stars, the skies, and “love—love, love, love”). His new album’s producer and his most faithful musical collaborator, Gabe Scott, was up there playing hammered dulcimer in a way that would persuade the audience to come back for a solo show. Jill Phillips, Andy Gullahorn, and Ellie Holcomb also sang backup and some of their own songs, which stood up as strong as anything throughout the evening.
And then there was the band itself : Claire Nunn drawing out deep resonant notes from a cello; Nathan Johnson adding some crystalline guitar effects a la Coldplay; Ben Shive wearing a most mysterious hat and setting each song afloat on currents of melodic piano; and Greg LaFolette giving each song a sturdy scaffold on bass. Like Skye, Andrew’s wife Jamie showed up to sing backup, and was also an icon of God’s grace in one of the new songs.
Typically, “Listening Closer” has been a column in which I’ve offered an interpretation of a song or two… or several. But in the company of Peterson for a weekend at the Rabbit Room’s annual arts conference called Hutchmoot, I seized an opportunity to invite Peterson himself to talk about the inspiration for some of the songs on The Burning Edge of Dawn. I expected stories about his attentiveness to the natural world — and sure enough, he provided them. What I didn’t expect was the early ’90s record he referenced. And I was delighted by his tribute to the poetry of Luci Shaw.
So put on your headphones and share a few moments in a dark parking lot just outside of Nashville’s Church of the Redeemer, where Hutchmoot was still buzzing about the show from the night before. Then pick up The Burning Edge of Dawn, which, on the day of the concert, became the #1 record on iTunes.
You can listen to two of the songs mentioned in the interview via the following links:
You can also view Andrew Peterson’s Saturday performance of “The Rain Keeps Falling” below: