California: House Concerts, Mega Churches and Sore Muscles

SteveAs I write this, I’m heading south on Hwy 99 from Sacramento en route  to Los Angeles where I’ll be performing and teaching for the next few days.  If it weren’t for the loved ones left behind in Winnipeg  it would be easier to celebrate this sun and the warmth here compared to the sub-zero freeze back home.

Nance and Luca
Nance and Luca

My daughter Sarah, her husband Steve and our two grandsons Luca and Pax were in Winnipeg for the last several days on unexpected visit. By the time I return home they will be gone, and Nance and I will settle back into the tender sadness that marks the life of long-distance grand-parenting. Love is such a profound ache. A “sorrow for connoisseurs” one might say.

But that’s ok. I’d rather live with the ache than not. And for the moment I have a smooth highway ahead, a glorious sky above and California vineyards to my right and to my left – there are worse jobs than this.



My manager, Dave Z, and I arrived here for a house concert in Sacramento on Saturday night. The concert was in the home of a wonderful acquaintance of mine Jud Riggs and his wife Kim.  I’m always fascinated by architectural space and how it acts on us. This home had a restful elegance about it reminiscent of the feel one gets from the  architectural genius of Frank Lloyd Wright.   About thirty of their friends came over for magnificent hors-d’ouevres lovely wines and some folksy tunes from yours truly.  I really enjoy house concerts; the immediacy, the celebration of friendship and neighborhood –  music in the home.

This work is so richly varied; from concerts in private homes to small rural churches,  theatres, concert halls, big city churches  – solo, with band, with orchestras. I can’t say which of these I prefer as they all do such different things. The language of song has as many dialects as the language of speech and takes on unique nuances according to the colours each framing environment highlights.  It’s fascinating really.

Megatron SteveSaturday night I sang in a private home. And then Sunday morning I sang  three services at a church that seats more people than the Winnipeg Concert Hall  back home.  Mega church!  Megatrons!  Mega celebration with choir, full band (including horn section), outstanding soloists  – all under  a canopy of high-tech lights and orchestrated by a masterful music director. The opening song was an electrifying gospel R&B blast that made you want to jump and shout.  And although my modest Canadian sensibilities tend to be shy of such mega-ness, these folks were about as down-to-earth, friendly, hospitable and welcoming as any I’ve met.  The pastor, Rick Cole, had more the demeanor of a wise and goodly neighbor than the suited power-pastor one would expect in such a place. In short… I had a riot.

Lonely SteveIn the evening I sang a concert for the 3-400 folks who had nothing better to do on a Sunday night. It was a strange concert for me. I went into it well rested and energized, but almost the minute I got on stage I had trouble getting it together. It felt like I was whisked away, bound and caged in the wings,  helpless to come to aid of the poor bloke left floundering on stage.  Weird. At the end of the concert the response was surprisingly enthusiastic which meant that what-ever was going on for me internally, happily didn’t translate out front. Perhaps God chose to bless his people despite the miserable efforts of his humbled servant.  I’m not sure if I should be depressed about me or awed by a good God.   Hmmm….. I choose awed.

Not my real arm :)
Not my real arm 🙂

I woke up this morning quite sore. I’ve not made a lot of mention of this up to now, but am becoming rather alarmed at the growing pain in my left arm resulting from repetitive stress injury after 40 years of guitar.  My massage therapist is confident my condition is fixable  – but not quickly. I was hoping the month off at Christmas would be enough for the muscles to heal but  now, as  I head into a full season of concerts, it is almost worse than before the break; searing hot pain from shoulder to wrist with particular hot spots in the triceps, elbow and top forearm.  I mention this because I know some of you are praying-types and it would be irresponsible for me not to take advantage of that resource.  I’ll do my rehabilitative work and keep you posted, but I would sure appreciate a few crumbs from the table of your prayers.

In n OutThe coming days are rather pleasant. Tomorrow and the next day, I sing and teach at Biola University with a house concert at the president’s home (of the University, not the country). Tuesday night will be a dinner with my songwriting hero Bob Bennett and guitar maker Kevin Ryan and their sweethearts Elena and Barb respectively.  Somewhere in there will likely be a visit or two to IN-N-OUT  BURGER, the only bright light in Schlosser’s otherwise apocalyptic Fast Food Nation. Thursday I have a concert with Bob Bennett in Mission Viejo and then I drive back north to San Francisco for an evening concert Saturday in Foster City  with  morning services at Menlo Park Presbyterian on Sunday. As it turns out, there is no gig Sunday night and so I’ll spend it with dear friends watching the Superbowl!

Micah and his momma
Micah and his momma

On Monday I will return home to my son Micah and my most excellent wife Nanci whose teary voice on the phone yesterday indicates she feels about the same way as I do about saying bye once again to our grandsons – which brings us full circle. So I’ll leave you with a song I wrote several years ago that borrows from the narrative of Jesus’ mother, whose grief was prophesied by the elder Simeon, but who embraced the sorrow for connoisseurs none-the less.

click song title to listen:

[wpaudio url=”″ text=”A Sorrow for Connoisseurs” dl=”0″]

Music by Steve Bell / Lyric by Steve Bell and Jamie Howison

Maria I’ll tell you right now
My old heart is finished and full
This child that you bring
That my eyes have seen
He’s the glory of Israel
He’s gonna tear your heart out
After you’ve loved so well

Love is like a fine wine that you take by the fire
It rolls on the tongue and it gladdens the heart
But what we’ve learned from the reckless
Who can’t get enough
It’s gonna break your heart
You know there’s such a fine line of comfort and pain
Love criss-crosses over it again and again
But your options are loveless so don’t be afraid
Just know before you start
Lady that’s how it works
Love is a sorrow for connoisseurs

You may not believe it right now
I don’t understand it myself
But an old man can make
Mysterious claims
Some things we just know
So we tell
He’s gonna tear your heart out
Even after you’ve loved so well

Oh don’t you get it
I’m trying to explain
Sorrow is not the saddest thing
Don’t be offended
Let it sink in
Sometimes the best is hidden in
This strange, strange cross
Love is gain and love is loss

Album: Waiting for Aidan
Album: Waiting for Aidan

The song A Sorrow For Connoisseurs appears on Steve’s album Waiting For Aidan. To view, sample songs or purchase, click HERE.

For details on any of the concerts mentioned above, click HERE