Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

Bebo Norman returns to Louisville this month. He'll play at St. Matthews Baptist Church on Grandview Ave on the 24th. Bebo, who just released his third major label project Myself When I Am Real, opened for Third Day earlier this year at Broadbent Arena. Openers are new artists the David Crowder Band and Sarah Sadler. Tickets are available at area Christian bookstores.

Steven Curtis Chapman and Nichole Nordeman were in concert September 19 and 20 at the Palace. It was an amazing night, like no other concerts I'd seen-except for when I saw the tour earlier in the year. The "Live Out Loud" tour featured Steven playing many of his biggest hits ("Dive," "The Greatest Adventure," "The Change," etc.). But this tour involved much more that just the songs. The near-capacity crowd was going to hear a new song and an amazing story.

The half of the show featured Nordeman's elegant set, with the Dove Award winning vocalist playing various songs on keyboards. Her set was part of the reason the evening was so special.

Over the course of a scant two albums, barely enough to launch a career, the former Colorado Springs kid who played piano in her home church has found herself awash in recognition, even opening for Christian's music's top artist.

"It felt wonderful," says Nichole. "But that raised the bar in a big way, even if no one said it out loud, and even if I was the one raising it."

So, with a great big Dove Award, great big expectations and a highly anticipated third album, Nichole set about crafting songs for the new project. But, according to her record label, Sparrow Records, there were problems along the way.

"I sat down at the piano and I just couldn't write. I had a hundred things to say, a hundred song titles in my head. I just assumed that because what I really wanted to write about was God's goodness and how that goodness is woven into the everyday moments, that the writing would be easy. Instead, I would just sit and stare at the keys for months at a time."

At some point, inward thoughts worked their way into internal rhymes, line by line, word by word, came songs. It took time. "I wouldn't even call it `writer's block,' it was like `God-block.' I knew I just had to take that time and soak up the silence, instead of resenting it. I had to listen and wait."

Her music has been called "introspective and intelligent," and she refers to herself rather self-effacingly as a "wrestling poet."

"I don't generally write songs that are easy to sing along with. You're forced to do the hard work of listening, which is great, but there are many moments on the record where I thought, `I just want this music to be accessible enough for someone who's driving down the road or sitting by themselves to be able to detach from the lyrics for once, and to really worship, to sing along, to let go. We had a lot of discussions about that during the recording process..."

"We" in this case means producer Charlie Peacock, (his first time at the helm with Nichole) and returning producer Mark Hammond, who produced her first two records, Wide-Eyed (1998) and This Mystery (2000). This team no doubt believes the songs were worth the wait. You can tell she poured everything she had into every note. "I'm very attached to these songs for that reason, because it was a real labor of love."

Speaking of love...besides the Dove Award, the writing, and the tour, there was a wedding: hers and Errol's, her husband, the reason she left Nashville and moved to Dallas.

Nichole credits Errol with being "the voice of reason" in her life, gently challenging her to develop relationships at home, despite being gone so often.

"He said to me, `It can't be healthy that most people at our home church probably know your name and might buy your records, but don't really know you. Let's do something about that ...' And that's been so helpful to have his help in creating some boundaries and examining my priorities."

The struggle, the `God block', the months staring at the piano keys - so what has come of it all? The songs are still intelligent - but they're "lighter," she says, in tone, because she's happier than she's been in a long time. The crowd at the Palace those nights was obviously moved by her thoughtful tunes, giving her a standing ovation.

Another reason the night was special was the inclusion of a new song, written for a 9/11 event last month. Marking the one-year anniversary of last year's attacks, Steven performed at "A Tribute to Grace and Hope," an event held at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

Steven says, "The reason this was such a significant thing for me was because this was the first opportunity I've had to be back in New York since last year's events of September 11th. I've really been desiring an opportunity to come back and minister to the people here, to respond to the needs here, so this has been an incredible chance to finally do that and be a part of the healing."

Titled "Remember The Day," he finished writing the song two minutes before going on stage. It is moving song and a fitting tribute.

"I think much of what they [New York] had hoped tonight was not only remembering the day, but really remembering in such a way that recognizes this is a significant step in the direction of seeing the healing take place and really celebrating the hope that has risen out of this."

What made the evenings so unforgettable was the inclusion of two special guests - missionary Steve Saint and Waodani tribal member Mincaye. The show shared the story between Steve Saint and Mincaye through their own words and a 25-minute multi-media experience featuring footage from the upcoming film documentary, "Beyond The Gates Of Splendor."

Saint's father was a missionary to Mincaye's tribe in the late 1950's and was killed by the tribe. Saint has forgiven the tribe and his family even has a relationship with Mincaye, now calling him "grandfather." Mincaye, now a Christian, has been part of the tour each night along with Saint. The crowd was obviously surprised (there was a group gasp) when the two made their appearance. Both got standing ovations.

When the documentary comes out, I encourage you to check it out. It can explain the impact of the story much better than I can.

There are other concerts in the works for the Louisville area. More details to come. Until then, maybe I'll see you at the Bebo Norman concert. Either way, I'll give you my review next month in LMN.