I’ve written a lot about the band during these past few years. So, some of this is a repeat. We’ve got another show tonight and, with any luck, we’ll surpass a total of $90,000 raised for missions, with a very good chance of standing at the cusp of $100, 000.
That’s just beyond imagining for me. If you’d told me, five years ago, that I was about to be a part of an insanely big band –sometimes more than 20 members on stage in our live shows– that would play more than 25 shows to thousands of people, and raise tens of thousands (now, almost hundreds) for charity, I would have laughed in your face.
But that’s exactly who Connections is. It’s who we continue to be. And, for this band, I am extremely grateful.
It all started by accident.
We were at a yearly clergy retreat at Lake Texoma…at a nice resort there called Tanglewood. I know it will be hard for those who know me well to believe (turn on your sarcasm detectors) but I had failed to pre-register, pay, or let anybody know I was actually coming. I just showed up, hoping they’d still have rooms.
The guest clerks told me they were, unfortunately, all sold out of the regular rooms…but would a Tower room be OK?
The Tower is a structure that looks, brick for brick, like the air traffic control tower of a small community airport. It’s not that tall (5…6 stories?), but on that hill, above the lake, it makes for *amazing* views. Each floor is a single room…a *huge* room with floor to ceiling windows looking out all four directions. An incredible view.
I immediately felt guilty for having been given such a gift by accident. So, I started spreading the word: “Party in my room.” (knowing that, since it was a conference of ministers, it wasn’t gonna get real crazy anyway…nobody was gonna trash the place…)
I especially encouraged my friends who played guitar to come by. There was plenty of room for a Kerrville-type song circle in the middle of the room, and still have folks set up games in other parts of the room.
I don’t remember anymore all the folks who came. I remember Andy Stoker in one part other room, playing some kind of board game with others on the floor.
I remember John Fleming came by. I had known John since high school. Paul Escamilla came by too. And so did some red-headed guy I had never met before, named Rusty King. As we went around the circle, he and I started doing Dan Fogelberg tunes. And each of us startled the other when we were able to jump in with almost perfect harmonies at precisely the right time.
My main take away from the night was ” Who IS this guy?! How does he know so many Fogelberg tunes?!”
We made it an annual tradition, although we were never again lucky enough to get “The Tower Room.” We’d gather in the closed-down bar, late at night, and sing songs until everybody got tired. Soon, Ann Willett and Frank Rahm (one of my oldest friends in the world…) would join us. And each time, Rusty and I would play copious amounts of Fogelberg.
Somewhere along the way, Rusty made a wild and crazy suggestion: why don’t do a Dan Fogelberg Tribute Show?
He said he had done it before, a few years back, and that it had gone very well. We could get a band together, of folks from different churches. But not just a regular band….a band that recreated, best we could, the note-for-note sounds of Fogelberg. Even down to having an entire orchestra section –horns, strings, etc– to provide the backing on the big production numbers.
I thought it was an absolutely crazy idea. Of course, personally, I was thrilled. You kidding me? Get to play/sing some of my favorite Fogelberg songs before a live audience? Recreate those sounds, not just with a keyboard synth, but with live musicians?
What DanFan *wouldn’t* jump at the chance?
I just didn’t think it would work. I didn’t see how we could pull it off. I could “get” the vision….I just didn’t comprehend the logistics.
Rusty did. Being a music minister himself, he already knew the players the moment he suggested it. So, we set a date, and began to gather with musicians for rehearsal.
Jeez, those early rehearsals were TOUGH. It takes some time for a band to “jell” together. And, given our size, we needed lots of time. Probably more than we had.
But, bit by bit, it came together passably, and we approached the night of our show. From my perspective, it was still a mostly selfish venture. The thrill of playing behind such talented musicians, and so many of them, and doing some of the my all time favorite songs, was rich.
But I kept thinking, “I love this….the BAND seems to love this…but who will come?!”
Turns out, almost 200 people did. We packed the hall at SVUMC for our first show. Even more incredible, we raised $2,000 for UMCOR.
Almost immediately our core members were talking about it being “a magical night.”
And it suddenly struck us….”maybe we’re on to something….”
Maybe there is a “win-win…win” synergy created by this kind of show; one that we hadn’t even considered when we’d started?
We, the band, could provide a quality evening of entertainment to a venue (usually, a local church…). They would provide desserts and coffees, and “host” us, and together we could all raise money for mission….mission to help the poor, the marginalized…the suffering around the world.
What if we could have a great time, playing great music, to great crowds, and “do good” at the same time?
So, we decided to do another crazy show: Chicago and the Eagles. Another huge logistical challenge….ie, rehearsing a huge horn section to go along with the already big band…finding some really quality horn players too.
That was an amazing show too, and we decided to take it on the road. we went to Coppell, to HPUMC, and to Custer Road, in early 2007. And probably by the end of the Custer Road show, we knew we had something really special.
Since then, we’ve added a “James Taylor/Carole King” show, a “Doobie Brothers/Elton John” show…and our current “new show” “SuperHits of the 70s.”
We just had a meeting around the holidays where it was decided that next Fall’s new show will be “Billy Joel/ Stevie Wonder.”
Yes, that’s a crazy pairing. That’s what we do.
Our “founding members” jointly make all of our major band decisions. We meet a couple of times a year to hash things out, talk about what works, what doesn’t…what to change…what to keep. We decided pretty early on to support one of two charities with every show we do.
We did that, partly because many venues have their “pet causes,” but sometimes they’re not *missional*…they’re not meeting real human need in the most needy parts of the world. So, UMCOR and “Nothing But Nets” became our two approved beneficiaries.
And you can see the breakdown of how much we raised for each (through year-end, 2009) here:
Tonight will be our 27th live show since March of 2006. We have literally played for thousands of people in that time period. More than 55 different musicians have played with us (on and off). And, as we said, we are approaching the $100,000 mark in funds raised.
Here’s a chart, showing our show-by-show results:
Here’s another chart, showing the year-by-year funds raised:
The truth is, there’s lots of things we *can* do, lots of venues we *could* play. Heck, offer-wise, we could probably play every weekend.
But these days, we’ve realized that, given the work these shows take (set up, tear down, for 20 musicians…), we need to be picky. So, we’ll be playing at increasingly larger venues to, hopefully, larger and larger crowds…with the ultimate goal of raising even *more* for missions.
It’s pretty clear to us that this will likely be our best fundraising year ever, given the quick start of our first show at Northaven. That show raised a whopping $15,000 for Haiti. (something that still brings me to my knees…both what’s happening in Haiti, and that fundraising result…) After tonight, we’ll be within striking distance of last year’s fundraising total…for the whole YEAR! Wow.
And the truth is, I never saw any of this coming. I never imagined the sense of “connection” we’d form with each other. I’d never played in a band before…always been a solo guy. All in all, we’ve had relatively few band arguments, and none of the “drama” you often hear about with bands.
Perhaps because we’re older, and we don’t have time to screw around? Perhaps because we *have* that sense of *purpose* as a band…a purpose not only to serve the music, but to serve people through serving the music?
The five founding members have all become some of my dearest friends. We now also have a basic “core band,” players who are with us for almost every show, and almost every rehearsal. Their dedication to what we do –volunteering hours and hours of their time– is inspiring to me, as are their friendships and talent too.
If you’re free tonight, we’d love to see you in Rockwall. If not, we’d love to see you at another show soon.
I’m grateful that we stumbled on this incredible group. I’m grateful for our shared vision, and for our founding members. I’m grateful for the thousands of people who have come to see us play. I’m grateful for our “core band,” the dedicated players who are with us almost every show. I’m grateful to be able to raise funds for those less fortunate, and to do it through the gift of music.
Today, I am so very very grateful for the blessing that is Connections. And I’m grateful for it most every other day too.
(During this year, my goal is to find something new to be thankful for every single day, and to add that thanksgiving as a blog entry, under the title “My Daily Gratitude.” I started this kick back around Thanksgiving, and it’s already resulted in a favorite new song of mine. The goal of this ongoing spiritual exercise is to see if doing such a thing might inspire even more gratitude within me, and to foster general awareness of life on a deeper level.)