Phil Keaggy/Randy Stonehill in Concert

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Maybe 15 years ago, a friend from High School mentioned that I should check out Phil Keaggy.  His interests in music were far from mine, but he knew I liked guitar and The Beatles.

Fast forward a bit and a friend invites me to a Phil Keaggy concert.  I’d lost track of Keaggy due to my general discontent with popular Christian music.  That’s no fault of Keaggy’s, then or now, but despite having a few of his CDs, I hadn’t listened to the best of them, Way Back Home, in many years.  So, I went without expectations, but hopeful for an enjoyable evening. 

The concert was held at Macedonia Baptist Church, in Newnan, GA.  It says something about the place that Google Maps more prominently displays Macedonia Cemetery.  Why?  It’s been there a long, long time.  Per the pastor, the church was founded in 1827 and was the first church in the area.  The church volunteers did a great job of welcoming and directing people, some of whom came from as far away as New York.  The Fellowship Hall seated an audience of 450, and the show was very close to a sell-out.

The show was actually a co-bill, featuring Keaggy and Randy Stonehill, who have shared many stages over the years.   I wasn’t familiar with him or his music, but as he played, I found him to be as much a humorist as a musician... and he’s very fine at both. 

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One might expect that at a concert at a church by Christian artists that the music would equate to Psalter readings with musical accompaniment.  Not so!  For example, here’s a bit of “Ramada Inn”:

north of the border
where the cacti is scarce and thin
there's a place without much taste
they call Ramada Inn
now Ramada, it is a Spanish name
they brought it with them when they came
and though the Spanish have gone away
Ramada Inn is here to stay

they're like a rash upon the nation
where the weary traveler gets trapped on vacation
no matter where you are going or where you have been
you won't escape Ramada Inn

mediocre
it's in there somewhere between good and bad
and once you leave
you won't quite believe
what an average time you've had

Of course, most of the songs were uplifting in the expected variety, most particularly Stonehill’s intro and lyrics to “Billy Frank,” about Billy Graham.

After about an hour of Stonehill, there was a 30 minute intermission.  First, being primarily Methodist these days, I found it refreshing that a collection plate was not passed around at a church gathering, despite the receipts being given strictly to the artists.  There was a bake sale to benefit the church instead.  And secondly, just before winners were being drawn for a raffle of Chik-Fil-A swag, there sat Keaggy at the front of the stage, chatting with people and signing autographs. 

Both artists played solo acoustic guitar.   Keaggy can play solo guitar, but he doesn’t have to due to the use of loop electronics.  Essentially, he plays a line which is recorded which then “loops,” and he builds on top of that with additional looped lines or solos over the top.  It’s a lot of sound from a one-man show, similar, actually, to Nils Lofgren’s solo shows.

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It should be said that Keaggy has more than a passing likeness to Paul McCartney, and whether bred by watching The Beatles as a youth or developed naturally, it’s kind of eerie.  More importantly, when Keaggy writes songs with a pop flavor, he’s a better student of what made McCartney’s more memorable Beatles tunes successful than McCartney is himself.   It makes for good listening.

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This particular evening, as with his album releases, much of the music was instrumental.  The highlights for me were “Salvation Army Band” and “Let Everything Else Go.”

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And, as good as he was, the finale included 6 songs played with Stonehill, very much unplanned as to which songs to play.  Their chemistry was great, and I think the two solo spots followed by their joint songs made for a perfect presentation.  “Sunday’s Child,” which they co-wrote, brought the pop flair, “Mystery Highway” brought a blues edge, and the McCartney-esque “What a Day” were each exceptional.

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There was much audience encouragement to play various favorites, to which Keaggy had the perfect reply: “This is better than playing at the fair!”

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The following video shows the skill, the looped sound method, and sufficient evidence that it doesn’t take 10 fingers to play the guitar extremely well.

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