My first class of the morning was called "Writing From The Artist Perspective", and was led by a phenomenal singer-songwriter named Mark Harris. Christian music fans will recognize him as the lead singer of the band 4Him, and will recognize tunes he's written or co-written such as "Basics of Life", "For Future Generations", and "Strange Way To Save The World". He shared wonderful insights about the work of songwriting, and most significantly, the importance of collaboration. This was a good message for me - and one that was really emphasized by several artists throughout the week - because I have typically not done much collaborating in my songwriting.
But the FUNNIEST part of the whole session was when he was asked who some of his earliest influences were and what concerts he had seen growing up. He mentioned a number of names, and then said, "I'm a little embarassed to admit this, but I did see Olivia Newton-John in concert once."
WHAT? Embarassed to have seen ONJ in concert? I felt my blood boil a little. Then someone asked, "Were you the one person who actually saw the movie Xanadu?" And Mark said, "Well, no...by then I had come to realize that her music was cheesy." WHOA! Fightin' words! Then he said, "Wait, scratch that. That's not nice. I should say, I just wasn't into her music anymore."
But it was too late. The damage to the good name of ONJ had been done, and it was my job - nay, my moral obligation - to set the record straight. I approached Mark after the class, introduced myself, and offered him my sincere thanks for sharing his time and wisdom. But then I said, "However, Mark, I do have a bone to pick with you." He looked surprised at first, but I think he could tell by the smirk on my face that I was just going to rib him a little bit. About what, I'm sure he did not know.
He said, "Uh-oh, what did I do?" And I said, "Well, Mark, as a lifelong member of the Olivia Newton-John Fan Club..." and straight away, he started to laugh and said, "Oh boy I knew I'd get in trouble for that comment!" I then went on to explain to him that ONJ still has a very loyal fan base, has recorded several records as an independent artist, writes her own songs now, and does about 50 live shows a year. Poor guy! He listened patiently to my ramblings, but must have been thinking "why do I get all the geeks?" Ha, ha! Actually, he was real sweet about the whole thing, and we ended up having this good conversation about how artists grow with time and age and circumstance. Too funny...what were the chances of anyone saying anything about ONJ at this festival?
My next class was entitled "The Story Behind The Songs". It was led by a very successful Christian artist named Joy Williams and a songwriter named Ben Glover. I knew only little about Joy and nothing about Ben, but this class ended up being quite possibly one of the most meaningful that I attended all week.
I was not familiar with much of Joy's music, and quite frankly, she had been marketed in a way that, I felt, targeted pre-teen and teen audiences. On her album covers, she looked young and blonde and perky, and I felt like she was probably making simple pop music aimed at the tweenie crowd. Well, I could not have been more wrong. In the course of this class, I came to learn that Joy was a very gifted and prolific singer and songwriter. Additionally, she was an artist of incredible depth and wisdom. She had a wonderful earthy, artsy vibe to her, coupled with a clear devotion to her faith and her craft. Ben Glover, one of her co-writers (and a TOTAL punkin', by the way), was much the same way, and they freely shared stories from the songwriting trenches. Together and separately, they write dozens of songs a year, and they took us through the whole process of what is involved in trying to get those songs picked up. Truly inavluable stuff.
Following the session, I had a chance to meet Joy, and we had a nice little chat. Here we are below. Isn't her scarf the bomb?
By the way, about two hours later, as I was walking across the grounds, I saw Joy again, from a distance. I hollared out, "Hi Joy!" and she replied, "Hi Kristin!" And I was like, "I cannot believe you remembered my name." But that's the thing about many of these Christian artists, and I experienced it with every single one of them that I met during GMA. They are the real deal, and they really live out their faith in kindness and graciousness. The records don't lie. They are as good as they seem.
I attended one more Tom Jackson class and then we had a two-hour break for FREE TIME! Time to see God's country and hit the shops! I had been told that it was a mile walk to a lodge where I could pick up a shuttle that would take me into the shopping district. I'd get to walk through the mountains for a mile and then be driven to the shops. Brilliant! So off I went, onto Hwy 66, surrounded by the wondrous mountains, the Big Thompson River, and one of the bluest, sunniest skies that had ever smiled on me. (I am embarassed to tell you that I thought I was on the infamous Route 66, but later found out that the historic road does not even run through Colorado. Shame on me). Nonetheless, it was a GLORIOUS walk.
The shuttle delivered me smack dab into the middle of the shopping district and I hit as many shops as I could in the 90 minutes I had before having to pick up the shuttle back to the Y. There were lots of t-shirt and souvenir-type shops, but also lots of fun, unique gift shops, with names like "Blue Skies & Dragonflies". CUTE! That's what I love. I didn't really even buy much - just a couple of knick-knacks - but it was so stinkin' fun. Below are pictures of the mountains and rivers that surrounded me as I shopped. You simply can't beat this!
As I walked back to my room to turn in for the night, I stumbled upon a friend named Karen that I had met in the course of the week. Knowing I would probably not see her until next year's festival, we hugged good-bye, and she gave her standard adieu - as she had many times throughout the week - which was, "Enjoy God's blessings."
"Oh man," I thought, "You can count on it."