A concert to remember!
Author: Esther Sarlo, BA, CEO | Founder | Myndful Spark of Mynd Myself
When was the last time you went to a live, in-person concert that nourished your soul?
The fact that you may have to think about that for a bit is an indicator of how much life has changed for us over the last few years…especially in North America.
A few weeks ago I had the immense privilege of being in the presence of Steve Bell—a musician I had been hearing about for decades but had never seen and heard. What a beautiful invitation to wonder, warmth, and curiosity!
From the opening notes flowing from his dexterous fingers on the guitar and his strong tenor voice, to the final tones of the tongue-in-cheek encore, I was drawn into the soul of each moment. A compelling story-teller by trade, Steve seamlessly wove his preambles to the lyrics with humour, heart, and a healthy dose of humanity. And, get this, he had no set list! He’d chosen his opening song or two…and then he proceeded to scroll on his tablet through his impressive body of work over the last thirty years or so to see “where the spirit lead next.”
As a Christian artist, Steve’s original works hearkened back to the best of recollections from my own upbringing—including themes of love, forgiveness, honour, respect, imagination, our collective humanity, and the importance of contributing to the flourishing of our world. It steeped me in the positive and healthy aspects of that tradition (despite its many residual difficulties and challenges that still constrict my cells on occasion.) This evening was all about the love…including being a fundraiser for A Rocha Canada—an environmental stewardship organization working in conservation, environmental education, and sustainable agriculture.
The Bruce Cockburn song, Lovers in a Dangerous Time, proffered near the beginning of this glorious offering of music, was a poignant and sober reflection that is perhaps even more relevant today than ever before. Along with his own originals, Steve also wove in other songs by Bruce Cockburn, James Taylor, and Paul Simon, adding a depth and familiarity to the whole experience.
The series of song collaborations with British poet, Malcolm Guite—who he’d met at a C.S. Lewis convention in Oxford, England about a dozen years prior—were filled with vivid metaphors and sensory grounding. I shared in Steve’s delight at the lush wordscapes and appreciated his reverent celebration of these gifts.
Steve’s accomplished musicianship and natural presence—both vocally and with his guitar—transported us gently through a range of emotions over the course of the evening. The story and song celebrating his father’s life and recent death, along with Steve’s still-raw grief, brought us all to tears. His lightly self-deprecating humour throughout the performance sparked particular admiration as he talked about one of his songs that was outside both his top and bottom registers! Apparently, the song dictated what it required and Steve obeyed the muse rather than trying to shape it to his own perceived limitations. It also became his “most expensive song ever” because he chose to hire a vocal coach for a number of months to help him expand his range to accommodate it. He stretched his fine, strong tenor voice to capacity and beyond in order to serve his creation.
How many of us would choose to put in that kind of effort and commitment to serve and expand our gifts?! I am inspired!
Oh, and this journey would not be complete without a shout-out to Dave, Steve’s friend, manager, sound technician, and ‘holder of memory.’ Several times throughout the evening, as Steve was trying to find a specific song from his extensive list, he’d ask Dave, “What is my newest song title?” or “What was the song about…called?” To which Dave always effortlessly replied—a competent and calm voice from the back of the darkened room—with the correct answer.
Tipping his hat to the average age of ticket-purchasers in the room—and our current state of technology—Steve dryly referred to his CDs as “beautiful and handy coasters!” The CDs can be purchased individually and are also included with the books he’d written, in case there are those of us out there who still chose those vehicles for listening to music. Of course, his music is also available for purchase in all the usual online music apps.
The vast majority of the audience members—unlike me—seemed to be intimately familiar with Steve’s discography over the last three decades. Toward the end of the evening, to the delight of the crowd, Steve invited requests for favourites—a number of which were joyfully accommodated.
This moving and heart-opening concert concluded with an encore, giving “the last word to St. Paul…Simon, that is!” After the first few lines of “The 59th Street Bridge Song” had everyone’s toes tapping, Steve interrupted himself to tell a quick aside about a father/daughter moment in one of his recent audiences. The father and daughter were sitting in the front row, bopping and singing along to “feelin’ groovy” when he saw the girl lean over to her father and say, “Dad, what’s ‘groovy’?”
Again…how times have changed.
Thank you for an awesome evening, Steve! You are a gift to the world.