BEMIDJI – Generations of mothers, fathers and children have attended concerts by Michael W. Smith, three-time Grammy Award winner and recipient of 40 Dove Awards. Smith’s Christian songs and music have held sway over a multitude of people who look back and remember the title of a song that touched their hearts at a pivotal time in their lives.
“I was a freshman in college when I first noticed an interest in praise and worship music,” said the Fr. Craig Vasek of St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Bemidji. “Christian music was in the long process of its quality matching that of secular music. Every once in a while, it was great but most of the time it was sub-par.”
Vasek went on to talk about Smith as being one of the groundbreakers for the modern-day interest in Christian music. The words and music attracts listeners of all faiths because of the messages of hope, friendship and loyalty to God and country. Smith’s song “Friends” has played to almost two million viewers on YouTube.
Another of Smith’s fans from her school years is Kate Weinand, the former director of music and liturgy at St. Philip’s.
“I first heard Michael W. Smith when I was in elementary school,” Weinand said, “and our director of the religious-formation class would play the music video of his song, ‘Secret Ambition,’ which depicts scenes from Jesus’ life, passion and death on the cross.”
Weinand said he interest in Smith continued into her high school years and one song, in particular, “Let It Rain,” recorded live by Smith at a worship service.
Smith’s 1991 crossover (from Christian to secular music) hit “Place in this World” expanded his audience base to include those without a religious background. The songs were not “preachy” for the stories he told were universal to the human condition.
Smith is deeply rooted in his faith now, but there was a time when only the faith of his parents saved his life.
“It was in the late ’70s and I almost died,” Smith said in a recent phone interview. “I was deceived and made some bad choices in my life but my parents never stopped praying for me.”
Only those who have had those life experiences can pen the words of “Our God is an Awesome God” or “Breathe,” songs that can be heard at youth rallies and Sunday services around the world.
Smith went on to talk about his wife of 30 years, Debbie, and their five “amazing” children and six, (going on eight) grandchildren. He is grateful for his life on and off the stage and tries to give that same chance to up and coming artists.
When asked why he picked L’Angeles to join him on the Wonder, Worship and Glory Tour, an evening with Michael W. Smith, the answer was a surprise.
“A couple of years back, my manager just kept talking about this group and I get that a lot,” Smith said. “They just showed up in my great room and started to play and just blew me away.”
So Smith decided to let this group of young musicians, age 24 to 29 join this tour. L’Angeles got its early start with its members’ mother, Linda Rees, while their father, John, was a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota. The group toured the Midwest and southern states as “Linda Lou and the Lucky Four” starting in 2000. The move back to their father’s home state, Louisiana, sparked their interest in their Irish Catholic ancestors steeped in Cajun and New Orleans Irish culture and music. The siblings take their stage name from a Catholic prayer, The Angeles, traditionally said three times a day to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The siblings – Katie on the guitar; Paige on bass, Johnny on drums; and Stephen plays fiddle, saxophone, pennywhistle and harmonica – will share the stage with Smith.
Their 2008 Christmas CD, “Oh Night Divine” includes one of their original compositions, “A Child is Born,” and in 2009, two of their original songs were featured in the PBS documentary on Louisiana’s Wetlands, “Washing Away.” They have performed across the U.S. and Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Norway.
If You Go
What: Wonder, Worship and Glory: An evening with Michael W. Smith
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Bemidji High School Auditorium
Cost: $35 Artist Circle, $25 general admission. Tickets online at echoconcerts.com or by phone at 877-435-9849