Amy Grant and Band

Amy Grant and Band

Amy Grant and Band, Live in N. Carolina - photos: Bert Saraco

Amy Grant and Band

In Concert at the Paul A Johnston Auditorium – Smithfield, North Carolina – 04/14/24

Confession: Yes, I’m a vintage rock and roller. My usual musical milieu would be classic rock, prog or blues with a smattering of old-school Gospel and other, more eclectic genres. So what am I doing at an Amy Grant concert?  Good question.

The evolution of Amy Grant has taken her from being a symbol of much that was wrong with sanitized CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) to her current status as an internationally recognized personality with a string of radio hits that has far eclipsed the world of CCM, impacting ‘secular’ radio and pop culture. The reason for this goes way beyond the music. I first saw Amy perform at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. I was really there to see the opening act, and even though I had no interest in her music at that early stage of her career, there was something compelling about Amy. It was that performance that made me realize that she had a particular relatability – a gift of communication – that went beyond the music itself. As Amy Grant the person grew, the music eventually caught up to her. The 15 year old girl that Word Records signed in 1976 became a woman with an independent voice, walking the tightrope of honest expression and the expectations of an industry. This, then, is what an Amy Grant concert is today – a musical time capsule of the evolution of a person, a performer and - at her best moments – an artist.

So, to paraphrase John 1:46, can anything good come out of Nashville? In this case, yes. The quality of songwriting and musicianship is undeniably strong and Amy’s comfortable vocal style makes for an approachable sing-along experience for an audience – and this audience showed an impressive amount of enthusiasm for every part of the concert. Though it’s still in her repertoire, the notoriously poppy “Baby Baby” shares space with more reflective songs that nestle more comfortably in the Adult Contemporary or Singer/Songwriter genres – and in this retrospective environment, it all works.

Smithfield, North Carolina’s Paul A. Johnston Auditorium boasts perfect lighting and sound for a concert experience. The show started at four in the afternoon and the age-diverse crowd (surprisingly leaning toward a more ‘seasoned’ demographic) filled in the theater to about three-quarters capacity by the time the lights went down. Amy was backed by seven of Nashville’s finest (guitarists Pat Buchanan and Gene Miller, keyboardist Jonathan Hardy, bassist Mike Brignardello, drummer John Hammond, and backup singers Tatiana Hazel and Kim Keys), frequently picking up her own  acoustic guitar as she sang her way through a massive 25 song set-list. The band was tight and played impeccably, benefitted by the fact that Brignardello and Hammond (who also acted as band leader) have had a long history backing up Grant. The exuberance of “Love Will Find a Way” (a solid song on every level) filled the house with energy. The vocal work (and minimal choreography) of Tatiana and Kim was on-point all night long. A particular treat (I wonder if it was lost on some of the younger attendees?) was the inclusion of the familiar melodic riff from The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” in the guitar solo in the delightful version of “Joyful Joyful” (apologies to Ludvig, y’all).

Of course it’s Amy’s show, and she gave the long-time fans what they wanted, like “I Have Decided,” “Angels,” “Sing Your Praise,” “El Shaddai.” She also served up the pop hits for the second-wavers - “Baby Baby,” “Every Heartbeat,” “That’s What Love is For,” and treated everyone to a mix of familiar as well as lesser-known songs. Her elevation into the category of artist is seen in songs like “Better Than a Hallelujah,” the darkly challenging “What About the Love” and the new single, “Trees.” These are songs that are socially aware without being preachy - songs that reveal a degree of inner pain that produces maturity. Unfortunately (and surprisingly), one of Grant’s best songs in terms of lyrical and musical integrity – “Lead Me On” – was missing from the performance.  The interesting choice of covers included “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” and, as usual, Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” The concert ended with a bombastic “Love of Another Kind,” which quite effectively brings the audience to their feet.

There’s an unmistakable warmth and openness about Amy Grant – and it comes across all through the show. She looked very happy and seemed obviously grateful for the place she’s in. Generously acknowledging everyone from the band to the guys at the lights and the soundboard, Amy obviously doesn’t take her success for granted (is there almost a pun in there somewhere?). Bottom line: it was a solid two hours of music with no drama, no pretentiousness, and no political agenda. Surviving some personal controversies, she’s been around a long time and shows no sign of slowing down, despite her self-depreciating jokes about getting older.  

When all is said and done she’s still singing songs about a Love of another kind. And that’s a good thing – even for this old rocker.

  • Bert Saraco

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