The Square Peg Alliance

One of the downsides of Christian music becoming a big business is that artists are now bound to the all-powerful bottom line at music labels. Artists that don’t appeal to the majority (and the majority appears to be youth group friendly rock or easy listening praise and worship) are squeezed out at the edges. In a city like Nashville where it seems like everyone is an aspiring musician, a group of artists have banded together to support and promote each other, because apparently no one else will.

For a while now, Andrew Peterson and his friends have gathered together to play songs for each other, discuss their careers, and talk about life and family. Peterson has often described this gathering of friends as “The Weaklings” playing off of the group “The Inklings”, a gathering of writers including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein that would meet at a pub and critique each others writings. In the last few months these artists have decided to give themselves a name, a brand, an identity to increase their visibilty.

Introducing The Square Peg Alliance!

All of the artists may not be household names (in fact, none of them may be), but the talent is apparent. The group roster initially includes Katy Bowser, Jeremy Casella, Billy Cerveny, Randall Goodgame, Andy Gullahorn, Matthew Perryman Jones, Chris Mason, Sandra McCracken, Andrew Osenga, Eric Peters, Andrew Peterson, Jill Phillips, and Derek Webb There’s no telling if more artists will be added later, or if artists might “graduate” to mainstream success, but for now the group is what it is.

The name is an appropriate moniker because all of these artists have tried to “fit” into the round hole of the music business. At some point all of them have at individual times in their lives discovered that they were square pegs trying to fit into round holes and stopped trying to fit into what they were not. Some, like Webb, have left mainstream Christian music success to venture out on to their own. Some, like Webb’s replacement in Caedmon’s Call, Andrew Osenga, still have one foot in the mainstream Christian music business and one foot in independent songwriting and performing. Others prefer to write songs for artists who have more visibility. All of them have one thing in common. They love their music and love performing for people. The best part of this alliance is that there is no label behind it, no advertising push, no big budget pushing it on us, the listeners. This alliance is a chance to perform together and raise awareness about themselves and about each other. There’s no telling what will come out of the alliance. Maybe a tour of some of the artists? Maybe an album compilation (or a series of compilations?) Who knows? The most exciting part is that all of this is still in the nascent stage and the potential is boundless.

I’m excited to see some of the artists I love working together and eager to learn about some of the ones that I’ve never heard before. Look for an increased web presence for this alliance soon and who knows, yours truly might have a hand in some of it.

In the shadow of the Old Mountain

It seems lately that all I do is post concert reviews, but well, I’ve been very fortunate in that some great shows have all through town this March. This weekend was no different. Phil Keaggy played at Mount Carmel Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Adriene had a “girls night” with her friends, and I was already planning to drive out to see my parents that evening, so I figured I would go to the concert on the way out, because after all, I love Phil Keaggy.

But I’m gonna keep the review short and sweet. Phil was amazing as always. Not only that, but he’s such a goof in concert. Apparently, he was wearing a different pair of shoes that he is used to, so he kept stepping on the wrong pedals, surprising himself when his guitar loop played backwards and an unexpected moment. At one point, he got so fed up with his shoes that he ran off the stage while the loop was still playing to find his other pair of shoes. He returned to the stage after not being able to find them when a helpful stage hand brought them out to him. He then proceeded to change shoes on stage causing more laughter from the crowd. Of course, his songs were rambling and filled with jaw-dropping fills as always. That’s all the review I’m going to write, however, I’ve got other stuff to talk about.

I was really surprised and unprepared for the wave of memories and nostalgia that hit me when I returned to the Stone Mountain area. I hadn’t been around there in a couple years now. I spent the first twelve or so years living around this area and maybe double that time going to church near this area. I remember running around the playgrounds at the young age of five in the shadow of the mountain. I remember a lot of late, steamy summer nights watching the laser show on the lawn. I remember climbing to the top of the mountain to watch fireworks burst directly over my head and at eye-level from the bottom of the mountain. I remember driving around the mountain sometimes when I needed to get away and collect my thoughts. I wasn’t at all prepared for these memories to come flooding back while I was in the car alone, once again driving those same streets I used to drive when I first got a driver’s license.

The memories became even more intense when I got to Mount Carmel Church. I hadn’t been to the church to see a concert in seven years, but the memories came right back when I walked in. Almost ten years ago to the day, I saw Phil Keaggy there before. I saw Caedmon’s Call there too about a year after their self-titled album and remember absolutely freaking out when they broke out U2’s “In God’s Country” in concert (this was before I read setlists or had bootlegs and knew what they were probably going to play in concert.) However, the most poignant moment of this night came when Keaggy played Rich Mullins’ “Hold Me Jesus.” I was sitting almost directly below the spot where I saw Rich in that same church only months before his unfortunate death.

I wasn’t prepared for all those memories, but it felt good to almost tangibly touch some of them again. So much has changed since then. I’ve moved from living in the shadow of one mountain to living in the shadow of another mountain. And someday I expect (or at least hope) when I drive around the base of Kennesaw Mountain I’ll have a whole bunch of post-college, newlywed memories to recall.

The Choir in Athens, Georgia



Children of Time
O How the Mighty Have Fallen
Fine Fun Time
Mercy Will Prevail
Yellow Skies
Sad Face
A Sentimental Song
To Cover You
Tear for Tear/About Love
Circle Slide

To Rescue Me

The Choir said after 1996 they would never tour again. So, when the band announced they would be playing weekend shows during the year of 2006, there was no question I would be there to see them, even if I did have to drive to Athens and endure the maelstrom that is Friday afternoon traffic in Gwinnett County.

Steve Hindalong and Derri Daughtery may have more renown in Nashville for their production work and their success with City on a Hill and “God of Wonders”, but The Choir is still their first love and their creative outlet. Thanks to the success of City on a Hill, The Choir can still be allowed to operate, even though it never was a money-maker. It’s a shame, too, because their latest album O How The Mighty Have Fallen has earned critical acclaim both in the Christian market (CCM magazine) and the mainstream market (Paste Magazine), but without any label push, no one knows about it.

The lineup featured Hindalong, Daugherty, and saxaphone/lyricon player Dan Micheals along with the newest member Marc Byrd (Common Children, Hammock) and Matt Slocum (Sixpence None the Richer, Astronaut Pushers) on bass guitar. Normal bassist, Tim Chandler has been unable to tour due to work commitments (The Choir has really become secondary employment for each member), so Slocum ably filled in with his typical easy-going manner and smooth playing.

I’ve seen The Choir play a couple times and of all the times I’ve seen them, this was the tighest and most well rehearsed that I’ve heard them. Sometimes at Cornerstone festival, they would get lax and make mistakes, knowing that they were playing before an adoring audience that knew all their work, but tonight they played as if they were a new band debuting their first album. Hindalong was a crisp as always on drums and it’s really a treat to watch him on the trap kit. He often appears playing percussion with various artists, but rarely plays an actual kit anymore, so I really enjoyed watching all of his facial expressions and tight playing. Daugherty and Byrd created a wall of sound through their rows and rows of effects pedals while Micheals alternated between saxophone and the breathy, “swirly” sound of the lyricon.

The set list was a combination of mostly favorites from their most popular albums between 1988 and 1994 added with a couple songs from their new album. Humorously, it didn’t match up at all with the actual printed setlist which included all sorts of interesting song selections (including their own version of “God of Wonders!”) I guess they didn’t have the setlist totally down because they even left the stage one song too early, sheepishly returning to the stage to tell us they weren’t ready to do their encore yet.

After the show, we were able to thank each of them for all of their work over the years. The most adorable moment came when two ten-year old girls went up to Matt Slocum and sang “Kiss Me” to him, much to his delight. They all are humble and gracious. Perhaps one day they shall recognized for the pioneers and legends that they are, but for tonight, we were glad we had them all to us.

The Violet Burning at the Marietta Vineyard


There is still a place for heart-on-your-sleeve rock and roll and the Violet Burning has it abundantly. Even though Micheal Pritzl was at this very venue only a couple weeks earlier, he brought his band back last night to deliver a couple hours of rock for us. The band features a new album, titled Drop Dead, an album strongly influenced by U2, The Cure, Velvet Underground, and Smashing Pumpkins and I can’t recommend it enough. The four-piece band deliver many songs from the new CD and a couple of their old classics, such as “Ilaria”, “Goldmine”, “Fabulous Like You”, “Berlin Kitty” which probably got the loudest cheers of the evening, and “Low”, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard live before.

Love Takes Flight opened the show. The five-piece pop-punk bands played about five songs that were mildly reminiscent of The Moon is Down-era Further Seems Forever.

I really don’t get why the Violet Burning doesn’t draw bigger crowds (maybe it had to do with Copeland playing at the Masquerade on the same night) because the band is solid, rocks out, has a wealth of techical gadgetry and talent, and has a solid underpinning of faith holding every thing together. I guess Pritzl isn’t “magazine cover” material and so the band doesn’t get that much press coverage. That’s a shame because people don’t really realize what they are missing out on.