This weekend, I set off on a Pilgrimage to Mecca. Granted, my “pilgrimage” was a two hour road trip to Jamestown, NC, and my Mecca was the Derek Webb concert at Friendly Hills Church, but the basic idea was the same. Derek Webb’s music has always served to restore my soul, and Derek himself restores my faith in Christianity.
I’m not trying to lay all of that at Derek’s door – he is a good man, but a man all the same. But God has worked through his music to teach me many things in the last decade, and I do not take that for granted. So, whenever Derek plays within a few hours of home, I make it a point to go.
My usual cohort bailed with some lame excuse about a vacation with her husband (heh), so I thought I’d be making this trip solo. At the last minute, though, my friend Katie came through in the clutch and agreed to come along.
I introduced her to Derek’s music on the way down, and much to my delight, before we even crossed the state line, she was excited about seeing the show. She even recognized some of the old Caedmon’s Call catalog, either from radio years ago, or from the fact that we’ve been friends for almost as long as I’ve been listening to Derek’s music, so I’m sure she’s heard it before through me.
We made great time on our trip and scoped out the church before heading to Fuddruckers for dinner. We still made it back to the church nearly an hour and a half before showtime. Derek was there, so I got a chance to talk with him a little bit before the show. He was setting up merch, and two awesome gray-haired church secretaries were preparing to sell tickets. With the opening band and sound guys and various folks milling around, I guess they were trying to account for the people in the foyer, and they turned to me and said, “Are you with the entourage?” Ha! I’m pretty sure Derek has never had an entourage, and will never have an entourage, but I guess if he did, I may as well be with it. Derek explained that we were friends and were just catching up, but still every time one of them saw me through the evening, they would say, “And who are you again?”
We talked a bit about Noisetrade.com, Twitter, his two adorable children, and my hopes for an arranged marriage between his two-month-old daughter and Levi’s one-month-old son. (Because, seriously! Can you imagine the musical genius that would come out of that?)
I also took Derek a gift – a copy of The Unlikely Disciple, which Kevin Roose personally autographed to him. I figured it was only fair that after introducing Derek’s music to Kevin, I should introduce Kevin’s book to Derek. Before I gave it to him, though, another guy walked up and asked me what book I was holding. I flipped it over to show him, and he said, “You’re not gonna believe this.” He proceeded to whip out his iPhone and show me that a mere two hours earlier one of his friends had texted him to say, “Next time you’re in B&N, pick up a copy of The Unlikely Disciple.” I just said, “Well, there you go. I guess you better get a copy now!”
Derek had not heard of the book, so I gave him the brief rundown, and I have a feeling he will enjoy reading it. I snapped a photo of him with the book, mainly for Kevin’s benefit:
Derek headed backstage before the crowd rolled in, and I headed back to my spot on the front row that Katie was saving for me. Before the show, I made it a point to go and make friends with the guy who said he was going to make a bootleg of the show. He was a fan from way back, too, so we had something in common. Devoted, too! He told me that he has driven 14 hours on occasion to hear Derek play! I would do that, too, but thankfully I’ve never had to, because he usually has a show within a few hours of me three or four times a year. (Oh, and just for the record, Derek is 100% in support of bootlegs. So it’s not like I’m outing this guy or anything.)
There was an opening act, whose name escapes me at the moment (isn’t that awful?) – I think it was something Pete. I really liked his voice and some of his song concepts showed great potential. He was a young guy, so I am sure he will continue to grow and get better over time, and then perhaps I will hear his name again and remember it next time!
Derek sent a tweet from backstage saying he was trying to decide what to play. (I had already submitted my request, or I would have responded.) I like that he shoots from the cuff, and I love that he actually asks for requests. As he says, “I can’t promise I’ll play any of the songs you want, but I’d like to hear what they are.”
I lost track long ago of how many Derek Webb shows I’ve seen, but I think Saturday’s was one of the best. The atmosphere at the church was great, and the crowd was smaller, but obviously devoted. Most of all, Derek seemed to be in rare form, and while he sports a wry sense of humor that always gets a chuckle out of me, I found myself actually cracking up laughing several times, along with the rest of the audience. He joked about “the closest thing to a hit that I’ve ever had” that was on Grey’s Anatomy, and about why he and Sandra got married so soon after they started dating. (“I did not want her to get to know me any better until we were on the other side of an irrevocable lifelong commitment.”)
When he called out for requests, the old songs started popping up, as they often do. He agreed to play some of them even though he hadn’t played them in years, and as he stood on stage strumming through chords trying to remember the right key, he quipped, “I don’t want to hear any complaining. This is what you paid good money to see.” One request in particular gave him trouble. He even got about a verse into it and suddenly stopped and said, “Oh! I know what the problem is!”
Thus began a long and thoroughly entertaining story about the song, “Dance,” after which Derek looked at the requester and said, “This is all your fault, sir.” He noted that his diatribe might have made a good blog entry, and said he needed a proxy blogger, and I agreed to the job. But first, a few points of reference:
“Dance” is a song Derek wrote about his grandmother. It appeared on the Caedmon’s Call album, “Long Line of Leavers,” and then after Derek went solo, it popped up on “The House Show” (a live album) in a different style. So, for this sub-blog entry, pretend I’m Derek Webb, and I’ll try to do justice to his story:
I know what’s wrong with this song. There are two versions and I’m trying to mix them together. I wrote this song about my grandmother when I was in Caedmon’s Call for the album “Long Line of Leavers.” Our producer at the time – and he was a really great producer – came to me and said he liked the song, but there were already too many songs on the album with that sound. So, he sat down and played this jazzy, smooth version of my song, and I absolutely hated it. I hated everything about it. But, even though it was my song, a band is a democratic system, and I only got 1 out of 7 votes. So, it went on the album and then I just pretty much refused to play it for the next 5 years.
That’s why, when I went solo, my first album, “She Must and Shall Go Free,” was all Americana. I had to get it out of my system after it had been suppressed for all those years! Then, I found a copy of “Dance,” the way I originally wrote it. It feels strange to hate a song about your grandmother, you know? I don’t hate my grandmother. So, I gave the song another chance and realized it was a pretty good song. So, I went back to playing it how it was meant to be.
So, do me this favor, if you have that Caedmon’s record, skip that song. Or, if you have it on your hard drive or whatever, just delete it. Do it for me.
Derek then proceeded to play the song as it was intended, and he’s right – it’s better that way. I didn’t take note of the full setlist, but from what I remember several days later, he also played “I Want a Broken Heart,” “Awake My Soul” (by request), “Wedding Dress,” “A King and a Kingdom,” “A New Law,” “Name,” “This Too Shall Be Made Right,” and “A Savior on Capitol Hill.”
When he talked about marriage (“I have been to the other side of the mountain and have come back to tell you that it is good.”), he played two Sandra-inspired songs, “I Wanna Marry You All Over Again,” and “I Hate Everything (But You).” For the single folk, he played “Table for Two,” which has long been a favorite of mine. I flipped my camera to video for that one:
As time was running low, he said he was going to play two more songs, and I added, “And one of them is ‘Somewhere North,’ right?” “Oh! Right!”
“Somewhere North” is in my top 5 favorite songs EVER, in any genre and from any artist, so I request it often. When he plays it live, it has two extra lines that were not on the album (40 Acres). I guess that was probably another one of those scenarios where he lost on a vote. I recorded that one, too:
I had told Derek before the show that I probably wouldn’t be around afterwards, since we were driving back to VA that night. But, seriously, who am I kidding? We hung around after to chat. Plus, by the end of the show, Katie was a full-fledged Derek Webb fan (Derek quipped, “I should put you on the payroll”), so we waited around for Katie to get her CD signed.
We started talking about music along the lines of Midlake, St. Vincent (Derek has already heard the demos from the new album and said it is fantastic), Patty Griffin (who reminds me very much of Derek’s wife, Sandra McCracken), and of course, Ryan Adams.
Here is a picture of Derek and Katie. (Yes, I cropped myself out. So sue me.)
The drive back to VA wasn’t nearly as tedious as I had anticipated. We stopped for some snacks along the way and jammed to my Dance playlist for something to keep us wide awake. We got home about 1:00, which I thought was not bad at all. Of course, I promised to take Katie along on the next Derek Webb road trip.
Prior to Saturday’s concert, Derek had been in Texas for a week working on his upcoming album, “Stockholm Syndrome.” He said we should hear something official on that within the next month or so, and I, for one, cannot wait. He said it’s different than anything he’s done before, which I have no trouble believing, since every solo album he’s released has been quite a bit different from the one before. But I’ve learned over the years that there really is no such thing as a bad Derek Webb song. Not even “Bus Driver,” no matter what Derek says.
Tags: Derek Webb