The first time I heard Josh Garrels’ music was by accident. Oh happy accident.
The summer before my senior year of high school a group of my closest friends went down to Cornerstone Music Festival in the middle of a cornfield in Nowhere, Illinois. There was this band, The Psalters, playing on the beach of this disgusting lake, more like a large pond, that everybody wanted to see the first night. The show was called “Worship on the Beach” and my high school mind was like: “How am I going to worship?! I won’t know any of the songs. Do you think they’ll play How Great is Our God?” But after we set up camp the group headed down to the beach to hear some no-name with a guitar and a loop pedal.
That opening set was so powerful I didn’t stay for The Psalters. I was too overcome with emotion. “The Children’s Song” wrecked me and I went back to camp to pray. The group reaaranged our festival schedule to make sure we caught any times Josh was playing.
Later at the festival I bought the two CDs (what are those?) Garrels had available and I’ve been following his career since. With each progressive album he’s released I’ve felt that a kinship to the music he’s writing. Maybe I’m reading my experience into his, but good art (which he makes) allows for that.
When he released “Jarcanda” I was in college and and the Spirit had been prompting me to recognize justice issues, and showing me in my own life where I was falling short in the area. The satirical tone of “Zion & Babylon” was an encouragement to realize that Christ’s generosity flies in the face of my greed.
Generosity has been a hallmark of Garrels’ career. What seems like his magnus opus, “Love & War & The Sea in Between” was released for free and it spread like wildfire.
Earlier this year Garrels released his newest album “Home” and it’s way different than anything else he’s released so far. And, of course, it’s amazing.
My wife, and our good friend’s the DeGraffs went to see Garrels perform in Santa Ana the night before we flew back to visit my hometown and the show was surreal for me.
Before he played one of my favorite songs of his (“Fire by Night”) Josh talked about the writing process for it and the road trip he was on when he wrote. There’s something mythic about moving west.
I’m the kind of guy who lives life through metaphor and was incredibly intentional about starting my quest to San Diego on Easter. New life and all that. When I moved to California I expected my life to be radically different, but it’s felt more like I’ve now lived two distinct and separate lives, with a weird intermission between the two where I crawled into a cacoon of wearing ties and people calling me “Tom.” Not very often, but enough that I notice, an emotional dissonance between the two lives will weigh me down. Dwelling on one or the other feels as a betrayal of the other’s many blessings.
But Josh’s music has felt like a totem to me. It’s been a soundtrack to both lives. As I sat stage left leaning on the subwoofer in Santa Ana thinking about visiting Chicago and being a guest in my hometome, Josh’s music was a strange comfort. There’s his early works of new conversion, a life lived by faith. And now there’s his newest album: “Home”.
When Josh sang “Farther Along” I was taken back to sitting in The Barn with the Lang brothers (who were with me that first night I heard Garrels’ music at Cornerstone) as college was finishing and looking forward to what God had in store. As he sang “Fire by Night” I remember driving up to the mountains in Colorado as the sun was chasing my car. When singing “Heaven’s Knife” I thought of lovely Alyssa, holding my hand at the show, and our life together where the Holy Spirit works between us binding us to each other and the Son.
Cloud by day and fire by night God led me through the lush, verdant, plains of homeland to this promised land of ocean, desert, and mountains. There is comfort in that, comfort being where God would have me. But there’s also comfort that I can always, as Josh sings on the new album, “come on home…” Josh Garrels music has acted as a means of grace to remind me of God’s constant faithfulness, pointing me to his future faithfulness.
Reminding me that all of this earthly sojourning ultimately leads home to the table set before our enemies, a banquet feast prepared for us by God’s nail-scarred hands.