Part two of the series, “I Will Sing for the Meek.” Find part 1 here.
By the time Chris and I got back to Cedarville College after the summer of 1997, we still hadn’t seen Caedmon’s Call live. A couple of months earlier, I’d driven nine hours from New Hampshire to the Kingdom Bound Festival near Buffalo, NY, only to find out they’d canceled their set. I knew they’d be playing that fall at Calvin College, about half a day’s drive from Cedarville. Neither Chris nor I had a car. On Tuesday, four days before showtime, Chris hit the jackpot. Few people had heard of a “listserv” in those days, and I was a Luddite who didn’t know how to reformat a mini-disk, so I was shocked to hear he’d been reading a daily email compilation and found a girl driving home to western Michigan for the weekend and looking for riders to help with gas money.
She dropped us off in the parking lot of Calvin Theological Seminary at the edge of campus around 7 p.m. on Friday night, 24 hours before the show. Where were we going to sleep that night? Chris, with his last name Pittenturf, had grown up north of Detroit and two years earlier had attended this Dutch Reformed school as a freshman. He had stories about the dormroom shrines built of candles and empty beer bottles that never would have got past us RAs at Cedarville. We wandered around the all-but deserted campus in search of a student directory, hoping we might find some of Chris’ old friends. After an hour, we got into a dorm with a desk-clerk on duty. She said we could stay in her room — if the rules would have allowed it. She dialed us up a pizza and tried to convince some guys passing through the lounge to take us in. Finally, she found a campus phone book. It was last year’s, but Chris called the number listed for his friend Conrad. No one answered. We ate our pizza and played cards with the girl at the desk. Chris tried again. Someone picked up. He asked for Conrad. He still lived there! He and his roomies were from Vancouver. They had a Canucks hockey game to watch that night at a bar – at a bar! We Cedarville kids weren’t allowed at businesses where “the main focus of the activity” was alcohol. Restaurants like Applebee’s were OK, but not the places where they sold only booze and you might go just to watch a game, shoot pool or hear a band.
Conrad couldn’t pick us up till 2 a.m., so Chris and I snuck into another dorm to play ping-pong. We sprawled out in the middle of a soccer field, talking about girls. We laughed at the couple making out in plain sight through a backlit dormitory window. We debated the ethics of swiping one of the soon-to-be outdated Caedmon’s Call posters that littered campus bulletin boards, and eventually I did it.
The next morning, Conrad took us to a dim tavern in an industrial park for a greasy breakfast. It felt good to eat at a place like that without worrying if anyone from Cedarville would see us. I wasn’t drinking; what did they care? I was my own man, and I was here to see my favorite band. Conrad drove us back to campus that night, with his and his roommate’s student IDs so we could get into the show for $2 instead of $10.
The band did not disappoint. I loved how intense Derek’s face looked, his eyebrows climbing toward his shaved head as he reached for the high notes, his upper cheeks rising and expanding to resonate his voice. Garret Buell, the percussionist, didn’t smile, not once; he was locked in. Cliff, the other guitar player, was barefoot on the old Persian rugs the band hauled on tour. Derek mumbled and stuttered through his song introductions. They broke into a blues jam on the praise chorus “I Waited”, with Derek bellowing out raspy vocals, his seldom-seen electric guitar screaming out improvised riffs. An embarrassed Danielle, the third singer, glared at her boyfriend, Cliff, when he announced they would soon wed.
The highlight was near the beginning, when they sang one of their favorite cover tunes, Rich Mullins’ “I Will Sing.” Mullins was a key mentor to Caedmon’s Call, and he had died in a car wreck only days before this concert at Calvin. The three vocalists soared in their a capella version of the song:
I will sing for the meek
For those who pray with their very lives for peace
Though they’re in chains for a higher call
Their mourning will change into laughter when the nations fall
In spirit poor, in mercy rich
They hunger for Your righteousness
Their hearts refined in the purity
Lord, let me shine for them
Lord, let me sing
Jesse James DeConto is a writer and musician in Durham, N.C. He’s releasing a series a music videos that go along with excerpts from his spiritual memoir, This Littler Light: Some Thoughts on NOT Changing the World. This is the second in a sub-series drawn from his chapter, “I Will Sing for the Meek,” which explores what he learned from Christian musicians Caedmon’s Call, Rich Mullins and Over the Rhine about how to live out faith in a public vocation. These excerpts will appear each Monday in August. Find the first at: http://thesaltcollective.org/said-roaring-lamb/.