August 1, 2019 is a day I'll never forget. It's the day my friends and I got the opportunity of a lifetime, and with the risk of sounding ridiculous and cliché, it's the day that music forged another monument in my heart.
When a local promoter asked if You The Few would put together a short acoustic set to open for Stephen Christian and Christian McAlhaney of Anberlin, we jumped at the opportunity. We aren't acoustic by any means, and in any other situation, we would have passed on the show. Metal just doesn't tend to translate acoustically. But, we decided it was totally worth reworking a few of our songs for this one.
The arrangements exceeded our expectations, and I believe a lot of that has to do with the friends we brought in to help. By showtime, we were feeling pretty good about what we brought to the stage, even if it was more "stripped down" than it was acoustic. It felt understated, expressive, and hopefully, a nod to our headliners.
As expected, Stephen and Christian blew us away. Between their undeniable natural talent and years of music under their belts, they created a space of nostalgia, reverence, and authenticity. The "acoustic" status of this show was not in any way a reflection of the sonic space they filled in that small room. Once they each played their own material, and about halfway through their Anberlin set, Christian asked us if we'd like to play a song with them. Um, yes. Yes we would.
Friends...we got to play "The Unwinding Cable Car" with them, full band, and it was unreal.
(I have to admit that I risked annoying my bandmates to add this song to our practice agenda, you know, just in case.)
It's impossible to soak in everything about a moment like that - not only the chance to play with a band we've all fan-girled over, but also, just the chance to play another band's music, together. The inherent act of creating music with others is more than I can say in this post. In short, it is one of the greatest anchors of my belief in life, beauty, God, and humanity. In that moment, we were all just people who loved to play; we were all just people thirsty for creative expression, for unity through rhythm and melody. And that is what I crave more than anything. It's the thing I catch my breath on - the raw power of musicianship, and the experiences it creates in your soul.
By the end of the night, we offered our sincerest thanks to Stephen and Christian for making a local band's dream come true, and wished them luck on the rest of their tour.
Since then, I've been thinking all week, why have I not been able to shake that night from the very front of my mind? It was a unique experience, but even at that, there's something else.
There was an overwhelming sense of connection in the room that night. Not only was the crowd connected with the music we all grew up with, but we were able to connect our music to theirs. We were able to connect two genres. We connected as people - as musicians - and not only that, but the song we played with them connected that time in life to this one, it connected "then" to "now."
I honestly forgot how big of a role Anberlin has played in my life. It was one of my first concerts in Chicago. I've seen them about five or six times now. "Fin*" was one of my most prominent performance pieces in college. "Inevitable" was our first dance at our wedding. Anberlin was a pivotal part of my friendship with my cousin. We saw their farewell tour together, eyes closed and taking it all in. We mourned the end of a chapter that night - a band that was so much more than a band; they were a mark in our story. And now, here we are, cousin in the crowd, and me on stage, harmonizing with a voice that brought me to tears and playing a song that brought me so much hope and vindicated so much loneliness in my faith.
So when I think about why this experience was so emotional for me (other than me just being who I am), I remember all of the different contexts in which I've gotten to know their music, and it makes perfect sense.
Time is a funny thing. It's the thing that can make a band, or a song, or an album, a critical totem in your life. If I had heard Anberlin during a different piece of time, would their music have the impact that it has on me now? I can't be sure. But that's why I'm thankful. I'm thankful that music's power transcends time. On August 1, 2019, I was re-connected with the music that, by no mistake or coincidence, meant so much to my journey, and I was connected to the ones who made it for the first time. It brought me full-circle, and I know how rare that is in life. So, thank you Stephen and Christian, from the bottom of my heart...
Video credit: Jameson Patz; Josh and Sarah Gross
YTF photo credit: Ross Shackelford