Art Music Justice Tour

Bruce Springsteen once said “the best music is essentially there to provide you something to face the world with.”  Last Friday night, Sara Groves, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Charlie Peacock and Brandon Heath gave the northern suburbs of Chicago a very stark, honest picture of a fallen world. And they provided the songs, the knowledge, and the hope that people of faith can change what this picture looks like.

The very first night of the Art Music Justice Tour kicked off with an eight-musician jam session (Heath and McCracken on acoustic guitars, Webb strumming a 12-string, Groves and Peacock adding keys, plus a backing rhythm section that included Grove’s longtime bass player & drummer, as well as her husband Troy adding percussion) as five large screens played a collection of images from around the world, mixed with the words of great humanitarians and clips of Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech.  

After the opening moments passed, the spotlight was both figuratively and literally taken off of the performers, and the attention of the audience pushed towards the songs and stories.  After Groves sang two of her originals, Peacock followed up with one of only two songs he would sing on throughout the evening (at the end of the night, he lead the audience in singing the DC Talk Megahit “In the Light,” which he wrote).

Everyone exited the stage save the husband and wife duo of McCracken & Webb, as Sandra, perhaps the least known performer on the tour, performed three songs that, in both writing and delivery, easily put her in the same league as the brilliant Patty Griffin. She then introduced her mate as a “singer of protest songs” and Webb played stripped down versions of “Rich Young Ruler,” “A Love that’s Stronger than our Fear,” and closed with “A Savior on Capitol Hill.” 

Next up was a video telling the story of a man in Bangledesh (or somewhere in Southeast Asia…you’ll have to forgive me, I was running on 4 hours of sleep), who was living out a hopeless existence of slavery as a brickmaker, until International Justice Mission came in and purchased his freedom.  Today, the man owns a brickmaking company, employs six people, and spends a great deal of time working as an abolitionist.  

I.J.M. is a Christian organization that uses a countries existing laws to put legal pressure on local authorities to free the victims of slavery, child labor, and the sex industry in several countries around the world. Also featured on the tour is Food for the Hungry, an organization working with the world’s most destitute to bring food, clean water, and healthcare.  Concert attendees have the opportunity to sponsor a child from the village that Groves visited while filming her Nomad Films Documentary.  The tour hopes to sponsor all 1,000 children living in the village.

Heath stepped up next, giving the crowd three songs (“Don’t Get Comfortable,” “Give Me Your Eyes,” and “I’m Not Who I Was” all centered around his encounters with inustice and poverty, both globally as well as in his home town of Nashville, TN. (By the way, Heath spent the day of the show working with the homeless at Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. After working alongside him, his song “Give Me Your Eyes” carries that much more meaning). 

Groves returned to the stage to close out the evening by sharing stories of young girls freed from sexual slavery in the horrific brothels of Southeast Asia by IJM. A video, obscuring the girls identities, flashed words detailing the girls fears as they recovered from years of sexual abuse.  Groves then halted the evening to ask the crowd of roughly 1,000 people to pray specifically for the girls to be freed from their fears and scars left behind from their experiences, as she sang “Say a Prayer.” 

It’s hard to give Groves enough credit for a tour like this, since it was her vision that birthed it, and her songs that most directly tell the stories of the people IJM and F.H. are rescuing.  Hanging out with Brandon for a bit after the show, I learned that Sara hopes to turn Art Music Justice Tour into an annual traveling festival, much like the old Lollapalooza, that tours each year.

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Over the years, there have been many Christian festivals/events/tours, trying to promote some kind of cause/get people involved/push a message.  The vast majority of them are quickly forgotten, tossed into the large bin of failed trends within our own subculture.  This tour, however, is unique in that rather than pushing a certain action (“wear this purity ring!” “sign this petetion against [fill in the blank depending on the year]!”) the audience was encouraged to take what they’d learned, pray deeply about it, and discover their own role in ending injustice.  

All eight musicians closed out the evening with a churning cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” which came across more like a civil-rights-era anthem than a folk song.  

Of all the songs and stories that were shared, it was a line from the slavery video that best summarized the entire evening.  

“This isn’t a burden,” the narrator proclaimed. “This is an adventure.” 

tower, 25, can be heard on 89.7 Shine.FM in Chicago, and 101.7 FUSE FM in Saginaw, Michigan. 

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