Music and Healing

Shalom Wishes for Christmas

For the past several weeks, the TS10 has maintained a common strain. They all spoke to the ambivalence many of us experience this time of year. I would hope that we all can at least heed the “tidings of great joy” to an extent. However, joy is only one of the myriad of emotions people feel during the Christmas season. I am certainly not immune from this Noel-driven ambivalence.

I love Christmas so much. This holiday season, in particular, has been sweet. I, along with my beautiful family, have watched plenty of movies, listened to a plethora of carols, and viewed my share of lights. And yet I have found myself feeling so many emotions, several of which are dramatically divergent from the joy the season is supposed to purvey.

I’ve been prone to despair on occasion… hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men. That reality, that truth from one of my favorite Christmas songs, has swirled in my thoughts in recent weeks. I’ve felt frustrated with myself at times, as well as with how little and poorly we love each other. I’ve been grieved as I’ve remembered relationships which once meant the world to me but have either faded away or were severed for one reason or another. The music featured in this month’s TS10s have captured some of these emotions, as well as the incumbent joy of the season.

However, for this moment in time, on this Christmas Eve, I choose to set aside all that ambivalence. Now, it’s time to meditate on the idea of everything being made right somehow. Peace. Shalom. As you engage with this playlist, I wish you shalom. Certainly, I wish you a Merry Christmas. But, more than anything, I wish you shalom.

God is not dead nor does he sleep

The wrong shall fail

The right prevail

With peace on earth, goodwill to men…




TS10: Tree Skirts and Pine Needles

It’s Christmastime, folks. The last few TS10 playlists have flirted with Christmas music, but this week’s TS10 is in a committed relationship with holiday-themed songs. There is a mix of yuletide emotions, to be sure, but it’s all-Christmas, all the time for the next two weeks. Enjoy!

Artist Focus

The U2 Factor: Justice, Creativity, and an Integrated Faith

Above image from

1987… not a golden year for me personally when it comes to music. A year or two earlier, I had fallen in love with Jesus. In my youthful enthusiasm and stupidity, I really had no idea how to follow his lead and, in that moment, I implemented a few immediate changes, one of which was curtailing/eliminating cuss words from my personal lexicon. That lasted a few years. Another short-lived change was my determination to only listen to music I could purchase from my local Christian bookstore. By the time 1987 came around, my ears, mind, and heart were being filled with Petra, Michael W. Smith, Stryper, and the like… exclusively.

Sometime that year, one of my church friends tried to tell me U2 was a Christian band. Of course, if that were so, it would be okay for me to listen to them. But I doubted. To try to convince me, my friend made me a cassette copy of some of U2’s music. Side A was War and Side B was The Unforgettable Fire. That tape sat in my room for months before I ever listened to it. I just wasn’t convinced their lyrics would bring me closer to Jesus (and I couldn’t buy their music from the Christian bookstore), so I wouldn’t give them a chance.

During the summer of that year (I believe), on a road trip somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina, I happened to hear With Or Without You for the first time. Good thing that radio station didn’t have the same bias against U2 I had. I was intrigued by what I heard. I couldn’t have put it into words then, but I’m sure it had to do with the desperate, passionate, emotional tone of the song. Sometime later, one of our local radio stations in Virginia played The Joshua True from beginning to end. When I listened to it, I was hooked.

I could write about the emotive or nostalgic connections I have with virtually every song on that album. I could also write much about how the lyrics challenged me and made me think. Where the Streets Have No Name made me think of a time when God’s shalom will reign. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For made me explore the shallowness of my faith. Bullet the Blue Sky not only made me move and got my heart pounding, but it led me to start thinking about social and political issues I’d never considered before. I could go on and on, but I won’t, at least not now.

Of course, once I was captivated by The Joshua Tree, I finally listened to that tape my friend made me. It wasn’t long before I was hearing about the revolution in Ireland, refugees, and other heavy subjects U2 covers in War. Eventually, The Unforgettable Fire would become one of my favorite albums of all time. As time went on, Boy, October, and Under a Blood Red Sky all joined the fray as well. Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen were soon depicted on a poster on my wall. I was all in.

Those early albums impacted me deeply, in some ways I’m only beginning to see. However, the two most significant ways this music influenced me have to do with social justice and the nature of creative expression. Truly, without U2’s influence on me as a teenager and young man, I’m not sure I would care about music and justice like I do now. To a significant extent, God used U2’s music to mold me into the man I have become.

When it comes to issues of social justice… well, that’s kind of their thing. I think one would have to be completely unaware of U2 for that person to not recognize how deeply justice and activism runs in them. It is truly one of their defining characteristics. They call out the folly of war and the grief it brings. They cry out on behalf of the poor. They confront racism and bigotry. And for me, they challenged the gap between my experience of Christianity and efforts toward social justice.

You see, in my spiritual context, issues of war, race, and justice were divorced from faith. Choosing to become a Christian, evangelism (to an extent), and being baptized in the Holy Spirit were the virtual endgame of Christianity in my experience as a teenager. So, when I heard Bono, a professed Christian, sing about things like social injustice, I was provoked to consider how such things related to my faith.

Growing up in Chesapeake, Virginia, I was only a short drive from the Norfolk Naval Base. The people around me were almost always pro-military, to the point of not questioning the nature of war itself and whether or not Christians should be engaged in such things. U2 challenged me to think about this. And when I began making connections between their lyrics and what I read in the New Testament, I began asking some fairly uncomfortable questions of myself, my parents, and others. It made me question whether or not God was always on America’s side. It made me wonder if our military activities were, dare I say, sinful. I began to see contradiction in being pro-war or pro-military and Jesus’ call to love my enemies and turn the other cheek.

Being from Chesapeake also landed me only a few miles from Pat Robertson’s home-base at CBN in Virginia Beach. Some close to me considered Mr. Robertson a “prophet.” As I grew up, however, he became an emblem of the sick marriage between evangelical Christianity and the GOP. In my church, there wasn’t room for being a Democrat. I don’t even recall there being much room to question such things. U2’s lyrics and very persona led me to question these biases and challenge that sick marriage (I’m still praying for a divorce). And again, what they introduced to my mind and heart resonated with what I understood from the New Testament.

U2 didn’t teach me how to think… they opened my eyes to parts of the New Testament I’d neglected or simply didn’t know yet. I could no longer be satisfied with what I’d been spoon-fed regarding politics, race, economics, or any number of other social issues. Jesus was using U2 to take me deeper.

The other significant impact of U2’s music has to do with creative expression. When I stumbled onto The Joshua Tree, my thoughts about music, what was “good,” and what I should let enter my ears were so, so limited. I had the self-imposed limitations of listening only to contemporary Christian music, but I had a very influential family member who told me I shouldn’t listen to any songs that weren’t love songs (?!) and who thought John Denver was the standard by which all musicians should be measured. And then there are the influential folks in my life who taught me that if they didn’t like something, it wasn’t any good.

All in all, those factors led me to a very small pool of music to choose from, all of which resided at Heaven & Earth Bookstore at Greenbrier Mall. My categories for what I would listen to at that time were so limited… pop rock, some rap, hard rock… that was about it. And they had to be singing about God explicitly or I wasn’t giving them much of a chance. Not only were my categories limited, but my entire view of music and art were severely limited as well. U2 pushed those limits and eventually helped to shatter them.

U2 led me far away from the synthy pop of Michael W. Smith, the driving metal guitar of Bloodgood, and the glossy sound of Stryper (none of which were bad… I just needed to expand my horizons). I had never, personally, heard anything like them. They opened my mind to new sounds, new rhythms, new variables. They led me to listen to less predictable music. Chances are I would never have fallen in love with Bon Iver, Sylvan Esso, Adelyn Rose, JE Sunde, and so many others had it not been for this mental expansion. I would have never cared about attending Eaux Claires in 2016, much less be impacted as deeply by it as I was, had it not been for U2’s influence.

And then there are those lyrics. So, not only did U2 provoke me to think about social justice issues, but, dang it, I rarely heard them mention God or Jesus in their songs, aside from the closing moments of Sunday Bloody Sunday (As a related side note, I still vividly recall listening to King’s X’s then new self-titled album in 1992,doing my best discern whether or not they mentioned God or Jesus in their lyrics. Ugh.). The irony for me, however, was that I actually did hear Jesus in U2’s words. I heard Jesus tell me to love my enemies. I heard the apostle Paul’s words about how, in Jesus, all racial, social, and economic barriers between us are demolished. I heard Paul’s reminder that followers of Jesus are “citizens of heaven.” I heard Jesus’ definition of the kingdom of God… captives going free, the sick being healed, valleys being raised up and mountains being humbled… U2 taught me to go beneath the surface, to let myself be challenged by new ways of expressing important things, to weave my intellect and my emotions together, to go deeper. And I am the better for it.

I will be forever grateful for Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen. God has used those four guys to grow me and challenge me in profound ways. It is no overstatement for me to say that he used their music and what they are about to make me more like Jesus.

Photo by Colm Henry





Artist Focus

Kat Meoz: Still Gritty Without the GRIT

Photo above by Angela So

Every once in a while, everyone needs to push the “Reset” button. Maybe things got a little stale… maybe the current course isn’t really working… maybe you’re feeling more a part of the crowd than you really are, or want to be. Recently, L.A.-based rocker Kat Meoz decided it was time for such a reset. She didn’t want to be lost in the crowd.

I first discovered Kat’s music before this “reset,” when she made music under the name GRIT. Admittedly, that’s a pretty commonly used word/name in the music world. However, it was a fitting name, because her music is FULL of grit. In fact, it’s pretty dang BA. Under her former moniker, Kat released an EP on Noisetrade some time ago, which included a couple of songs that would make their way onto TS10 weekly playlists (New Car and Look Away). There’s no way this music should be lost in the midst of multiple “grits”, so Kat recently decided to make a change.

Recently, I caught up with Kat to ask her about this change, as well as discuss other aspects of her musical journey.



You recently changed your “brand” from GRIT to Kat Meoz. Why did you make that change?


I made the change because “grit” was unsearchable, there are countless projects entitled “grit” or some variation of the word. I trademarked the name for the US but it could still be challenged, and I didn’t really want to spend money or energy on taking people to court over it once it became clear how many there actually were. After years of pushing the band name and even after getting some recognition… if you typed GRIT into itunes/Spotify/Soundcloud or wherever, I’d be the 45th person to come up and that just wasn’t cool. In early 2017 a Grit in France got written up in a French Rolling Stone blog at the same time that a Grit in Scotland was dominating Hype Machine. I wasn’t about to file for an international trademark so it was time. Countless conversations were had and I was admittedly over-thinking it, but by the time the decision was processed it felt right. I’ll always have grit and be tenacious; nothing’s changed there. If anything, going by my name has given me freedom as far as playing with different band members goes.


Who are your musical/artistic inspirations?


I’ve always been inspired by songwriting in general, so I am a lover of all types of music. A hit song is a hit song to me no matter what the genre. From Radiohead to Raffy, if a song is undeniably catchy I will listen to it on repeat until I’ve dissected it. I (was) influenced initially at a young age by what my father listened to: Nat King Cole, Willie Nelson, Gloria Estefan, Harry Belafonte, Steve Lawrence, Tom Jones, The Bee Gees, The Beatles. Later in life he introduced me to The Rolling Stones and I have vivid memories of my mom singing along with all her heart to Jim Croce or Billy Joel on rides home from school. I watched Yellow Submarine and A Very Chipmunk Adventure a thousand times as a kid.  I didn’t love every single song in those movies, but I did love the anticipation of “oh here comes the part with the song I don’t like,”  watching the scene again and picking apart why that specific piece didn’t work for me. The songs I’ve put out are a mix of influences from blues, classic rock, grunge, alternative, punk and pop writers.  I’m probably the most inspired by John Lee Hooker, CCR, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis,  Johnny Cash, Yes, Metric, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Joan Jett, The Sex Pistols, The Strokes, Oasis, Jack White’s various projects, Neil Young, Radiohead, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Eddie Money, early Kings of Leon, early Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, Sheryl Crow, The Young Rascals, The Stooges, John Denver, Don McLean, Cream, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix.  I could keep going on that list, truly, but all those artists have at least one hit song that heavily influenced my songwriting and desire for quality recordings.



There is a fair portion of angst in your music. Where does that angst come from? Also, how important is it for you to express this angst musically?


I’ve been angsty since childhood, I’m super sensitive and a sponge for negative energy. I axe people out of my life the moment I feel I can’t trust or count on them, and the uncontrollable reflex to do that year after year is something that brings me a lot of pain and spins me into self doubt. I live life by the intuitive directions I receive, and though I question them endlessly, the butterfly effect of my losses and gains up to this point have led me down a path that ultimately I feel lucky to be living. In the past and sometimes still, looking forward without certainty is daunting. The intense feelings that accompany unfulfilled desires play the biggest role in my music. As far as how important it is to express myself, making loud music with a band is my medicine. Banging a guitar while screaming and losing myself in the moment for an audience is a prescription I am constantly looking to refill. I’d be lost if I didn’t have a musical outlet, every time something paralyzing in my life has happened it’s been music or a musical opportunity that coaxed me back on my feet. 

Photo by Erik Jensen


Do you have any tours planned that would take you away from L.A. any time soon? Upper Midwest?


I just added a second guitar player to the mix, and I’m happy because the new band I play with is open to touring which hasn’t been a real possibility until now. We will probably do a Texas run first but when we make it to the Upper Midwest, Tomme Suab will be the first to know. 


Of course, that last response made me smile. Come on up here, Ms. Meoz! However, her response to the “angst” question warmed my heart. I’m not a musician, but I have personally experienced the healing power of music. And, it was a privilege to hear a musician pull back the curtain on how music is her medication. There is power in music, artistry, and creativity.

You can check out Kat’s music in the following spaces:

Official Website


Connect with Kat on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


General Thoughts

Let’s Make America Great… for Once

Charlottesville, Virginia is one of my favorite places on earth. I have such fond memories and associations with that place. As a long-time Virginia Cavaliers fan, I think of the few times I’ve partaken in UVa football games at Scott Stadium and shot hoops in UVa’s basketball arena alongside one of their players at that time (Jeff Daniel, a 6’9” forward… it’s not often I feel small). The mountains, the trees in the fall, the historic roots… it’s such a cool place.

However, in recent days and weeks, the thought of Charlottesville has become a not-so-pleasant stimulus. Instead of drawing my heart toward the blue and orange, the Rotunda, or Mincer’s, it has begun to take me to much darker places. It has become a battleground on which the so-called “white nationalists” have taken their stand against, you know, basically anyone who doesn’t look like them. The “Alt Right”/KKK element among us has chosen this beautiful city as the place to demonstrate their ugly, evil hatred.

Why Charlottesville? Well, it has to do with a statue/monument of Robert E. Lee. A short while back, city officials decided to take the monument down, because of the connotations it carried for many of its citizens. The pulling down of this monument became the rallying cry for those who want America to be as white as possible and who treat non-whites as less than human.

I was recently reading a Facebook conversation about all this. During this conversation, one person blamed the conflict in Charlottesville on the city officials who removed the monument, stating the ever-present argument that it’s a part of American history and we can’t ignore it. Now, that’s true, of course. We should never disregard or ignore history. However, I would argue, remembering history and learning its lessons are entirely different from facilitating a monument to the Confederate general who led the charge, practically, against the freedom of black people in America. Whatever other factors may have played into General Lee’s allegiance to the Confederacy, this fact remains: his leadership, if successful, would have led to the continued enslavement of blacks in the American south.

So, when someone says, “It’s a part of our history and we cannot ignore that,” I want them to recognize that such a monument is not about remembering history. It is a monument such as would be erected for a war hero or great political leader. It’s not just a statue commemorating something that happened in the distant past. It is a memorial, honoring the man whose efforts would have kept black people in chains.

I can’t help but think that the people who get caught up in the whole “history” of such monuments must be all or mostly white. In fact, I can remember how much my mother revered General Lee. She talked about him being a good Southern gentleman, “God-fearing” even. I can only imagine that sentiment coming from white folks. And, I can’t imagine a statue of General Lee having any kind of positive association for black folks. As the father of a black child, it certainly makes me uncomfortable. How do I explain to my son why, here in 21st century America, we have a monument built to the guy who would have kept black people in slavery?

The statue had to come down, just like all such statues. We should not honor people or organizations who seek to oppress others. Its why Confederate flags should never be flown on public buildings (what people fly at their own house is up to them… although it’s a pretty sure sign of racism living in that house). To over 30% of our population, such things represent oppression and their ancestors being treated as less than human. General Lee had to come down.

To the folks who say such monuments are important and should be left where they are, I ask you to consider who is using this event as their rallying point. The KKK… the Alt-Right… Neo-Nazis… white nationalists… you know, the fine upstanding individuals who think America is for whites only. Doesn’t that demonstrate what that statue really means? The razing of General Lee’s monument became the occasion for the evil, racist element in that area/region to raise its ugly head.

But this isn’t just about General Lee and Charlottesville. No, not by a long shot. For those of us who think we are reaching some kind of new low point or are incredulous that such racism still exists in America, the black community has been trying to tell us for decades that the sentiment of white supremacy is alive and well. And, by and large, white America has remained silent, perhaps even choosing ignorance rather than engaging in what our black brothers and sisters are seeing and experiencing. No, racism is in full effect in America. It expresses itself in the young boy who wouldn’t play with my son because of his brown skin and it expresses itself in a white supremacist driving his car into a bunch of anti-racism protesters.

Honestly, we are not used to seeing such brazen displays of organized racism these days. On July 4th, as usual, my family and I visited the Chippewa Valley Museum. And, as usual, we paused at the corner of the museum in which historical KKK activity in the Valley is mentioned. The only thing that makes that conversation manageable with my boy is to tell him that activity was short-lived (although the KKK is likely still active in western Wisconsin). However, here we are, with white hoods, swastikas, and tiki torches on our television screens and Facebook feeds…today… in 2017.

So, why are we seeing this now? What has emboldened such brazen displays of organized racism? What has empowered the American cockroach of white supremacy to come into the light instead of scurrying into the dark corners of our society? There is a reason the cockroach stays in the shadows. It’s because it’s afraid. So, what is behind this explicit racism in Charlottesville? Why have these racist groups, the KKK, Neo-Nazis, the Alt-Right, etc. become so visible? They are no longer afraid of the light. Suddenly, they feel safe to come out of hiding and flex their muscles. Why?

Make America Great Again… Yep. I think that phrase and its connotations are the fuel for the burning crosses’ (or tiki torches’) flames. There were so many voices who tried to bring attention to President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric during his campaign. His blanket statements about Muslims and Mexicans horrified many, but not enough of us to keep him from gaining the most powerful position in the world, other than God’s. But it’s not really those blatant statements I find so problematic in this moment. No, it’s this one: Make America Great Again.

On the surface, Mr. Trump seemed to leverage that statement to talk about things like bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States. But it’s not that connotation that’s the real problem. It’s the whole idea that America has been great in the first place. In regard to that concept, my guess is one’s perspective on America’s so-called greatness is dependent upon their experience of America. When I look back on American history, the only people group for which America has truly been great, from the beginning, are white men of European heritage, and especially those with some significant measure of wealth.

I know this will ruffle some feathers, but I need to say this right now: America is not, nor has it ever been, great from any kind of holistic perspective. Let’s be honest. Europeans may have founded colonies that would eventually become the United States, but the “New World” did not belong to them. There were peoples already here, native to the land. The early Euro-Americans drove the Natives from their land, virtually killed their cultures, and devastated their populations. And before we were even an official sovereign state, we were brutally enslaving Africans, buying and selling people as if they were livestock.

It is clear that when “our” Founding Fathers bought into the idea of “all men are created equal,” they didn’t actually mean all men. What they meant was all men born of European heritage are created equal (not women, not Africans, not Native Americans…). However, they didn’t sweat the details with that statement. They must have understood that all of their colleagues and fellow land-owning white men would have understood what they really meant by all men.

And our history falls in line with this understanding. All people are, in fact, created equal. We are all made in God’s image. We have inherent value as human beings. But, that’s different than how the Founding Fathers interpreted humanity. And because this is the case, minority groups in America have not experienced the reality of all humans being created equal, which is their birthright. And if someone thinks this is only the past, that things have changed and this is no longer reality… I beg to differ. Research wage inequalities between genders and between white men and everyone else. Take a look into how many unarmed blacks are shot by the police (especially as compared to unarmed whites). See the events in Charlottesville.

Now, don’t get me wrong… there are great things about America. I am incredibly grateful that I even get to write this without fear of reprisal from the government. I get to meet with my church and worship freely. I have opportunities for advancement in life that many, many people around the world could only dream of. I do not take these things for granted. But, NONE of these things can overshadow how people of color have been treated throughout American history. For most people of color, I would surmise, America has never been great.

So, when President Trump talks about making America great again, what is he actually saying? All I can tell you is what I hear from my perspective: “We are going to go back to a time when white supremacy was understood and celebrated among the American people.” That’s how that phrase sounds to me. And, I’m pretty sure there’s a fair share of white Americans, whether consciously or subconsciously, who hear the same thing… and want that.

Most certainly, I believe these Klansmen, Nazis, etc. have received that message through those words. They see President Trump as their comrade in arms. Don’t believe me? Ask David Duke. They see him as being in the fight with them. And him not calling out the acts of these people in Charlottesville as racially driven terrorism only exacerbates that dynamic. They continue to feel empowered and emboldened to make their presence known and to intimidate those who would oppose them.

However, frankly, I am glad they feel so empowered. Why? Because we are seeing the truth. There are white people living in this country who have been oblivious to that heart of bigotry still living in America. And some of these are good people who, for whatever reason, have not seen it. I think in the past I was one of them. Acts such of those seen in Charlottesville this weekend are helping us to see the truth. The reality of what lives in us, and I mean Americans when I say us, is coming to light. The truth is being shouted from the rooftops, if you will.

For the overt white supremacists, they have crawled out of the shadows and we can see they are still around, still active, and still dangerous. For many of us other white folks, this is a wake-up call to the realities of what is not only around us but what is living in us as well. If we have ignored the voices of our black brothers and sisters as they have cried out about injustices, why have we chosen that ignorance? What is it in us that makes us think the victims are the bad guys? What is it in us that chooses to believe racism is something from the past when the black American community has been consistently telling us otherwise?

And, as for President Trump, I believe he bears personal responsibility for what happened in Charlottesville. While he didn’t don a hood, tote his assault rifle, or bear the dreaded tiki torch, he has done literally nothing to condemn the organized racism which caused the event nor the blatant act of terrorism perpetrated by the white supremacist driver of that car. If the Alt-Right folks, including the driver of that car, had been Muslims, all hell would have broken loose. But no, what we get from our President is how responsibility for the events fell on all sides. No, Mr. President. The violence was perpetrated by one side, which seem to comprise some of your voting base. It was a white supremacist who killed a protester and injured others. And you, Mr. President, are the one who gave him the “courage” to do so.

So, what now? I don’t know. Let’s love on each other. Let’s make friends with people across whatever lines divide us. More than anything, let’s repent of our roles in facilitating and perpetuating institutional racism in America. Let’s ask God  to show us the dark crevices of our hearts where racism lives. Let’s humble ourselves and learn how love self-sacrificially. And, let’s see the truth for what it is. America is far from great… but it can be great. The story is not finished yet. We can, by the grace of God, actually make America great… for all Americans.





Artist Focus, Live Shows

Ben’s Back: Ben Shaw Gracing the Valley Once Again

I really didn’t know who Ben Shaw was. I came across his 2016 release, Feet to the Fire, last year and dug it from the very beginning. I thought to myself, “Who is this new guy in the Eau Claire music scene?!” As I listened more, I could tell this was no beginner, no young buck just starting to do this music thing. There is grit in his voice and experience in his lyrics.

Well, apparently, I missed it when Ben was helping shape Eau Claire music as a part of The Embellishment, among his other projects, to my chagrin. Thankfully, I’ve finally experienced Ben Shaw’s music for myself. I listened to Feet to the Fire quite a bit over the last year and was privileged to hear Ben play as a part of last year’s Sounds Like Summer event at Phoenix Park. That experience cemented my fandom.

This summer, Ben’s back for a more extended visit back home. I was able to catch up with him recently and gather some of his thoughts about his career and his tour in the upper Midwest.

What drives/inspires your songwriting?

As to inspiration, probably a bit of healthy narcissism in that when I look back, once a song is complete, it is almost always written about some sort of personal experience, spiritual longing, emotional catharsis, or a lovely muse whose attention I am seeking.

As to what drives my songwriting I would have to say the song drives me. It is an organic process, which begins with me noodling on the guitar or a piano. At some point I make a mistake that catches my ear or I discover a new lick that resonates internally. At that point the song dictates, usually a melody comes up first in my head, then I hear vowels in the melody, and lastly words that correspond with those vowels begin to form. Sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes 20 years. The one thing that is always certain is my heart knows when the song is complete.


Describe the relationship between your previous musical “life” and/or following in Eau Claire with your newer musical pursuits/following?

I haven’t noticed too much of a disconnect. My new stuff is a more mature, possibly mellower version of my old stuff – vocal/emotion-centered with multi-layered metaphorical lyrics but with fewer jamout sections. I definitely (became) a better songwriter once I discovered the art of using a bridge in songs (hahaha). There are fewer people singing along to the new stuff but that is more from lack of exposure. Fortunately, they can hear the old favorites when I reunite with The Embellishment at Grenfest this year. In all honesty, the Eau Claire music scene faithful have always been supportive of whatever I’ve done starting with solo gigs at the Cabin to my various bands: Lawnmower, Ala Balik, the Tree Huggers, and the Embellishment.


Do you have any new releases in the works?

I have over an album’s worth of songs written but am not sure if I will record them as an album or release single by single. It depends if the album is a cohesive statement. I’m not a fan of albums that are a non-flowing collection of singles. I have 1 track in the can and another in progress. I also have been collaborating on 3 separate projects with some excellent songwriters (Bonnie Piesse, Evan Brau, and Jeff Lipinski, respectively) that should release early next year.


Who are your most significant musical/artistic influences?

For recording production influences my tops are the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Grandaddy, and Bon Iver. Musically, I’d say the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band, Radiohead, and again, the Beatles. As far as songwriting goes, the list is numerous, but my tops are Procul Harum, Roger Waters, Dylan, Beethoven, Tom Waits, Handel, and most of the classic Outlaw Country writers (Willie, Waylon, Merle, Kris, and Hanks I & II).


What are you looking forward to the most this time around in Wisconsin?

A cup of coffee at Racy’s, sipping a “Slit Spritzer” in the barber chair at the Joynt, seeing my first Packers practice, and, most importantly, playing more shows in the EC area with my sidekicks Eric Thompson, Adam Nussbaum, and Paul Brandt, all of whom are phenomenal musicians and great people. Last year was a whirlwind of a week of rehearsals yet we only played 2 shows. We were just hitting our stride and having so much fun playing together. Everyone in the band, myself included, wanted to play more. So this year, I made sure to have more gigs for us. We will play 7 shows this year (4 in various Eau Claire locations, 1 in Menomonie, and two in the Twin Cities).

Ben Shaw and band are playing the following dates over the course of the next week or so here in the Valley:

Thursday, August 10, 8pm at The Mousetrap (21+; with The Rattlenecks)
Thursday, August 17, 6:30pm at Phoenix Park as a part of Volume One’s Sound Like Summer
Thursday, August 17, 10:00pm at The Firehouse (21+)
Saturday, August 19, 2pm as a part of Grenfest 2 (email for more information)

If you’re not familiar with Ben’s sound, take a listen…

Live Shows, Music and Healing

Cracked Foundations: My Eaux Claires Troix Story

Integrity is powerful thing. While, in many cases, we have reduced it to a measure of consistency in thought, behavior, speech, etc., it means more than that. It has to do with wholeness, with the pieces of a whole being held together securely. The foundation of a building begins to lose its integrity (or, practically, disintegrate) when it cracks, its constituency (brick and mortar) begins to disintegrate, and it can no longer support the weight of the building resting on it. At the start, brick and mortar were securely connected to one another. There were no cracks and no giving way. But, as the foundation begins to compromise… one crack leads to another and another and another until eventually the walls of the foundation begin to bow. Before long, the building as a whole begins to fall apart and is headed toward demolition.

My first Eaux Claires experience, in a true and deep sense, shook my soul, my very foundation. If I’ve had a conversation with you about it, you know how deeply it impacted me. Quite literally, I took weeks to recover emotionally. Beach House’s Space Song haunted me on a regular basis and Bon Iver’s 22 (Over Soon) was a continual invitation into not only the rest of 22, A Million, but right back into the emotion I felt during those two days. I was overwhelmed with an awe of the God-given creativity I experienced that weekend and I felt as though I was a part of something very special.

Last Christmas, my beautiful and generous wife bought me a ticket for the third edition of the festival, and I couldn’t wait to hear about the lineup and start dreaming about what this year’s experience would be. When the lineup was announced, I was very excited to say the least. I mean, Paul Simon with yMusic! Sylvan Esso! Music for the Long Emergency! Now, while I was very much looking forward to the event, I was also trying very hard to temper my expectations. After all, Eaux Claires Deux was an emotional and spiritual event for me. I shouldn’t expect that to happen every year, right?

Well, I was wrong about that. Troix was emotionally and spiritually moving, just as Deux had been. However, the emotional and spiritual dynamics were quite different this time around for me. For this attendee, this year’s festival was a combination of joy and sorrow. I didn’t expect the sorrow, and it was the reason I actually  left the festival early on Day Two. It was a sorrow borne out of what I saw as extreme inconsistency, or compromised integrity, in several aspects of the festival.

Before I dive too deeply into that subject, let me reaffirm, there certainly was joy. Sylvan Esso. Sylvan freaking Esso. The Durham duo was incredible and they created such vibrant energy in the crowd… it was impossible to stand still during their set. It didn’t hurt that Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn looked like they were genuinely feeling it that night as well. I thought Perfume Genius was pretty incredible as well. Mike Hadreas and band came across as this eclectic blend of provocation, expression, and straight out fun as well. I also really enjoyed Collections of Colonies of Bees and Zebulon Pike. Collections was one of the first acts to play on Day Two and they were tight. Incredible creativity and craftsmanship. I need more. And Zebulon Pike… let me tell you, it did this old heart good to witness four guys about his age rocking like those guys rocked. The Minneapolis instrumental metal outfit were able to blend passion and precision in their performance in ways I don’t often see.

While these performances were great, the most poignant moment of the festival for me occurred early on Day Two, when s*t*a*r*g*a*z*e welcomed Minneapolis rapper Astronautalis to the stage. The day before, we learned of the acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castille. I hadn’t heard of the verdict until it was announced by Broder as he began his set on Friday afternoon (more on that in a bit). When Astronautalis took the mic, he was flowing on about how blessed he was to be a part of the day, to experience the beautiful sunshine, and on and on. But then his words told the story of his mixed emotions. Yeah, he was grateful and should feel happy about the moment, but he kept “thinking ’bout Philando.” It was a beautiful, soul-bearing moment in which he could not help but feel the weight of injustice. And my heart resonated with his. It was broken as well.

My recollection of that incredibly emotive, connecting moment leads me right into parts of the Troix experience with which I struggled terribly. As noted, the Philando Castille situation colored the festival. I first heard the verdict just as Broder was starting his set. Before the music began, the he mentioned what happened and encouraged the audience toward love and peace, which was beautiful. But then he said (this is verbatim to the best of my recollection), “Rest in peace, Philando. And rest in piss to the motherf*cker who (killed him).” This statement struck me as wildly inconsistent with his previous words about “peace” and “love.” For me, I found this kind of inconsistency to be a virtual theme running throughout the festival, and it ate at me throughout the weekend.

Another example of this inconsistency (or compromised integrity) was the festival being presented as an “All Ages” event. The Eaux Claires website states, “All ages are welcome, children ten and under are free.” “All ages” is also printed on the ticket. This would lead me, and likely others, to think the event is family-friendly. Now, I remember, during last year’s festival, seeing kids there and wondering if it was a good thing for them to be exposed to some of the lyrical content flowing from the artists. This year, that tension was palpable for me, and it began from the very onset. The first set on Friday saw Justin Vernon, Aaron Dessner, and friends playing what they called “People Mixtape” on a small stage. Now, creatively, it was a fun set and I really enjoyed it. However, one of the very first songs had Vernon repeating “I don’t want to f*ck it up” over and over again. As I stood there listening, just in front of me was a young girl, maybe 7-8 years old. As the father of an 8 year old, I would not want my son listening to that. This little girl stood there trying hard to protect herself from what she was hearing, hands clasped tightly over her ears. My heart sank a little bit in that moment.

And then there was the Spank Rock set on Day Two. In the months preceding the festival, I spent time trying to get to know the artists’ music so I would know whose shows I wanted to make sure I did not miss. Spank Rock and Danny Brown were two I quickly determined I wanted to miss. It wasn’t because of the music. I thought the few songs I listened to were funky, fun, and creative, musically speaking. But the lyrical content was just gross. The songs I previewed were sexually explicit, graphic, and unfortunately vivid, and some degraded women. So, I determined that I would be glad to miss those two sets.

However, when the time for Spank Rock’s set arrived, I decided to give it a chance. I thought maybe he would show some restraint in what had been billed as an “All Ages” context. Such was not the case. What made it worse was seeing children mixed in with the crowd while Spank Rock’s sexually explicit lyrics poured over their little ears, minds, and hearts. Now, we can debate on whether or not such lyrics should even be shared at all in a public forum, but I would suggest what is not debatable is that kids should not be exposed to such things. In fact, according to psychologist Dan Allender (in his book, The Wounded Heart), such exposure is tantamount to sexual abuse. My heart was broken for these kids. I walked away from the stage and tried unsuccessfully (more on that later) to escape the barrage of graphic language and content, and process what I was feeling about the whole Spank Rock experience. Again, the divide between the “All Ages” concept and the inundation of vivid sexual content for children’s ears screamed of the aforementioned compromised integrity.

Spank Rock’s lyrics are not only sexually explicit, but they are also blatantly misogynistic. He consistently refers to women as “b*tches.” Now, I don’t know if some folks are numb to this or if they simply choose ignorance, but this is wrong. Women are not dogs. Women are beautiful, powerful beings created in the very image of God and they are not to be demeaned in such ways. And several of the artists featured at this year’s Eaux Claires use that term when referring to women. It’s not okay. It wasn’t okay with Donald Trump referred to a woman as a “b*tch” in that infamous Billy Bush video, and it’s not okay for a rapper to do it either.

For me, this was perhaps the most glaring inconsistency I experienced at this year’s Eaux Claires. The vibe last year, for me, was one of connection, celebration, and respect. Empowering people to be who they are seemed to be part of that vibe. Women being seen as equals to men and being celebrated for who they are… this felt like an inherent part of the Eaux Claires ethos. But then we have artists take the stage and refer to women as dogs… There is no respect there. There is only misogyny (which was being funneled into the ears of little girls and little boys).

I mentioned earlier about not being able to escape the Spank Rock experience. There was a reason for that. When I was previewing music for the 2016 edition of Eaux Claires, I had similar concerns about Vince Staples’ lyrics as I did about Spank Rock (and Danny Brown) for this year. So, when Staples’ set was to begin, I simply walked up the hill and was able to escape, while enjoying other music (last year, the grounds were basically set up into two sections, a lower section housing the two big stages and a couple of smaller ones and an upper section with three other stages, separated by a walking path through the woods). This year, the planners reconfigured the grounds so that everything was on one level.

Now, I understand the idea was for the festival to be more of a shared experience. Admittedly, there were times in which the two separate sections felt fairly disconnected from one another. And I understand there were complaints about two popular acts playing in the same time slot (i.e. Beach House and Nathaniel Rateliff on Day Two last year). So, I understand why they made the adjustments and was optimistic about it going into the weekend. The organizers were explicit about wanting attendees to experience more of the festival “together,” and having all sets originate from the “lower” section was an effort to facilitate that togetherness.

However, for me, that change greatly hindered the overall experience. Yes, more of us attendees experienced the festival “together,” so that goal was achieved. However, the main grounds were significantly more crowded, obviously. I found the more densely populated main section a little overwhelming and at times I felt little claustrophobic. I know this was probably great from the perspective of the artists. After all, they had more people at their sets than they would have had in years past. But, for me, it made the whole weekend much less enjoyable. I felt as though, in an effort to bring people together, I was being forced into a shared experience, which is always going to hinder said experience.

In fact, this forced togetherness along with all of these perceived inconsistencies in mind, led me to feeling very alone amid the 20,000 or so people who were there. Whereas in 2016, I felt deep connection with what was happening, the music, and my fellow attendees, this year I felt isolated and as if I didn’t belong there. In fact, by Saturday evening, I was even feeling a bit depressed. Halfway through Feist’s performance, I walked over to stage known as The Creek, sat down in one of the plastic chairs, and found myself longing for home.

This was a far cry from what I had experienced on the Saturday evening of last year’s Eaux Claires. I still remember vividly how incredible Lucius was that night, how I was captivated by that performance, and how I couldn’t keep myself from moving. I was floating on the proverbial Cloud Nine. I can still feel how deeply I was stirred as I walked away from the festival to the tune of Beach House’s Space Song. But Saturday night felt much different for me this time around.

As I sat there with my head in my hands, I seriously contemplated going home early. Paul Simon and yMusic was one of the sets I was most excited about and they had not played yet, so I really wanted to hang on and be there for that. However, I was also aware that to get to Paul Simon I had to wait through Danny Brown’s set, and I had similar concerns about his lyrical content as I’d had about Spank Rock. And I couldn’t escape the things he would say. There was no upper section for me to retreat to. Eventually, after a moment of prayer, I decided to go home.

To say I was disappointed in my 2017 Eaux Claires experience would obviously be a major understatement. I would never have dreamt that I would actually leave early, especially after the way last year’s festival rocked me. But I did. And as I walked away, I wondered if this would be my last Eaux Claires, a thought which saddened me deeply.

After several days of reflection, my heart and mind settled a bit, and I decided not to make any rash decisions about next year. I still think Eaux Claires is not only special, but it has the potential to be deeply and positively impactful for attendees. For that to happen, in my unsolicited opinion, there has to be more consistency, more integrity. If we are about love, peace, and creativity, then the content coming from the artists ought to line up with those ideals.

Eaux Claires Troix lacked integrity, from my perspective, just as a cracked foundation has lost its integrity. The desire was to connect people in shared experience, but that connection felt forced to me. Crack. Women are to be respected and valued, but our artists call them “b*tches” from the stage. Crack. Our tickets state the event is “All Ages,” but there is profanity, the degradation of women, and sexually explicit lyrics flowing through the speakers. Crack. Unless these cracks are filled and the foundation restored, I don’t know how long Eaux Claires will retain its uniqueness and its potential to create significant positive change both for its attendees and for the Chippewa Valley.

Music and Healing

Your Body Is Safe: Powerful Testimony from Bri Murphy

I recently joined locally-rooted artist Bri Murphy’s email list, and I’m already glad I did. I received this from her this morning. It is poignant, beautiful, and powerful. Maybe there’s healing for you in Bri’s story.

Note from Bri: The following contains a very personal story about my experiences in the music industry, with some mild (quoted) language and some hard times. If this content notice makes you uncomfortable, I wouldn’t blame you at all for not reading any further. Just know that I’m sharing my story not as an act of exposition, but as an act of wholeheartedness and radical self-love that lets me, in turn, express love more fully to others. To quote Brene Brown: “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”

your body is safe.

I moved to Nashville in 2011 out of an underlying, unshakeable love for music. I worked hard for four years and landed a touring gig with a country-rock band. I did what every musician who moves to Nashville dreams of accomplishing: I paid my bills completely from my music career. But there was a dark side to the dream. I was constantly told to use my body and my looks to my advantage. I was sexualized on stage night after night, for the audience’s consumption and entertainment. The lead singer told people I was the “band slut” and that I could be theirs “for the right price”. On more than one occasion, I had men come up to me after shows, thinking I was a prostitute. Despite the fact that I had “made it” in Nashville and was a full-time musician and songwriter, I was at the lowest place I have ever been in my entire night.

your body is safe.

That same summer, I was raped by someone in my extended friend group. Somebody high up in the industry. Somebody who I thought I could trust. It happened and then it was over and I was left shaken, stunned, and disoriented. The low place I was in sunk to new levels of darkness. Anxiety and depression settled on top of me like a second skin. I gained weight, my mind was shattered. My spiritual practice was nonexistent.

your body is safe.

This story is ultimately a story of love and grace, but at this point, we’re going to take a detour so that we can come full circle in the end.

In the global West, we are constantly bombarded with photoshopped ads and people more “perfect” than us. It’s no wonder we struggle with self-image, diets, and maintaining any holistic concept of health. It’s hard to keep track of the number of quick-fixes on the market for everything from unnoticeable bumps, to the marks of bringing new life into this world, to the lines we gain from years of laughing with loved ones. A quick search on Amazon for “self-improvement books” leads to 131,460 titles to sift through. That’s over one hundred thousand people trying to make money by telling you how to “do you” better.

your body is safe.

The split between the Self and Other hearkens back to the 19th century, which sought to name, number, and otherwise categorize everything in the world around us into neat little boxes. Thinkers from Hegel to Jung represent this desperate need to find the Self in what was becoming an overwhelming expansion of the world as we knew it. In the midst of unease and tension, it’s always easier to detach from our surroundings rather than do the difficult work of confronting, processing, and synthesizing the troublesome parts of our Selves. Rather than recognize the Self in the Other – which is, at times, deeply buried, but is always present – we put the Other in glass boxes in museums, hide them in our shadow selves (as Jung would say), and project them onto the monsters that hide under our bed, while we remain a beautiful soul (as Hegel would say).

your body is safe.

This Self-splitting breeds undeniable feelings of isolation. Our physical self is suddenly an abstract concept that’s entirely separated from our emotional and spiritual selves. We think of emotion and spirit as messy and complicated because they are, but the last few centuries have complicated the individual – as well as collective – body politic to a point where it may be even messier, simply because we’re not even aware of our bodies as a vital constituent of our overall Being and connection to God. 21st century technology has further complicated the split between body, soul, and spirit; between Self and Other. As more and more screens enter our daily lives and the way we “connect” to each other involves more and more layers, veils, and filters, we drift away from serious spiritual life or contemplative practice and are increasingly unmoored from any sense of what it means to be a Spirit-filled human with an ephemeral body.

your body is safe.

It was a two-year journey back into my body. It’s one I didn’t make alone. I firmly believe it takes a village not only to raise a child but to lift each other up over and over again throughout our lifetimes. From my friends who practiced next to me while I literally clawed and sobbed my way through yoga classes; to my parents, who stood by my decision to take a break from music and held space for me; to a fantastic therapist who helped me validate and process my experiences; to a God who gave me grace through it all; I have an endless amount of gratitude for my “village”. Ultimately, I found that when I sat down with the monsters under my proverbial bed and opened my heart to learning from them rather than forsaking them, I discovered an even more beautiful soul and returned to God in a way that would have been impossible without the monsters.

your body is safe.

I like to envision my self-discoveries as pieces of light that I had lost in the journey, but recovered in the restoration. Here are the four that became cornerstones for me moving forward, and stay with me to this day:

“My body is safe.” I recovered the concept of security in my physical being.

“My body is sacred.” I restored a deep faith in a God who was, and is, always with me.

“My body is whole.” I reintegrated my soul and my spirit with my physicality.

“My body is mine.” I reclaimed my agency to move, think, and act from deeper faith.

your body is safe.

All of us experience some form of trauma over the course of our lives. I share my story as a further act of ownership over my being, and as an introduction to this series of meditations/mantras that I’ll be writing and sending your way once a month. They are meant to inspire, to invoke contemplation, and to encourage moments of unplugged silence in life and connection with higher, whole Self, whether or not you believe in God or any higher power. In yoga, this journey is called svadhyaya. In the Christian tradition, it’s represented by the Trinity, and the perichoresis, or “divine dance” that we choose to enter with God. Some dances will be longer; some will be short and sweet. For me, some will be infused with art or song or movement; all will be deeply rooted in my belief that my fragile and human heart was born in original blessing, and beats to seek light in even the darkest of times.


my body is safe.
my body is sacred.
my body is whole.
my body is mine.

Peace and blessings,



Every Son Is My Son

My head was pounding this afternoon. Learning a new work process can have that effect sometimes. So, I stepped away for a few minutes, put on my headphones, and took a walk around the block. I was listening to a TS10 from a few weeks ago, one that carried a mood of numbness, or maybe even despair. As I turned the corner, listening to these somber sounds, I was struck with a bit or irony.

My head was pounding, but it wasn’t due only to learning this new skill at work. No, my mind was troubled by something far more painful. This morning, I read about the senseless and shameful murder of a 15-year-old boy named Jordan Edwards. A black boy… just like my black boy. Shot by a police officer as the boy sat in the back seat of a car. Shot in the head with a rifle. A smart, athletic, sweet kid… snuffed out like a candle. No reason. No rationale.

My head was pounding… as I thought of the irony of me walking around the block with my hoodie and headphones on. Wondering… if my skin was black, would I be deemed suspicious by my white neighbors, by the police? Thinking about Trayvon Martin wearing his hoodie when he was targeted, armed with a bag of Skittles. And then thinking about the fact that I am (white) privileged enough to not have to worry about that.

My head was pounding as I thought about young Jordan’s family… when I thought about his grieving parents. Their beautiful and brilliant child was destroyed. I considered Nicholas Wolterstorff’s sorrowful Lament for a Son, in which the author lays his heart bare as he grieves the loss of his own son. I thought about my own precious Joshua. That he is not only precious, but he is also black. I thought about the fact that it could have been Joshua Hudgins named in that article instead of Jordan Edwards.

My heart was then pounding.

I am angry. I am grieved. If this was just some isolated event, it would still be sad, but maybe it wouldn’t have ravaged my soul this way. But it’s not an isolated incident. The list of such tragic, horrific stories seems to never end. Parents needlessly grieved. Children needlessly slaughtered. But it’s not just about racially-charged murder. Just this last weekend, a dear friend’s son was subjected to an ignorant, racist slur: “Run back to your slave master.” When my Joshua was three years old, a kid at the playground told him that he doesn’t like “brown people.” Racism is everywhere. It is pervasive.

I can’t say for certain that Jordan Edwards’ murder was racially motivated. But seeing this event in the context of the racism I constantly see around me and the long, never ending list of unarmed, unthreatening black people who have been shot by police over the years, it’s hard to imagine race didn’t have something to do with this.

I want to offer solutions right now. I want to offer hope. But, I feel devoid of solutions and low on hope. I have plenty of sorrow and a fair amount of rage. But more than anything, I am determined to grieve with Jordan’s family and friends. And, I am determined to fight. I will pray like I have never prayed. I will confront the dark heart of racism when I see its ugly head surface. And I will ask God to show me what remnants of racism still live in my fickle heart.

And now my heart is pounding again, because I know there will be another Jordan Edwards, innocently snuffed out like a candle. I pray my son is not the next son to be slaughtered. #everysonismyson

General Thoughts, Music and Healing

It Might Be Over Soon (But It’s Not Likely)

It doesn’t matter that the album was released seven months ago. Nor, does it matter that I first heard these songs eight months ago at a concert. No matter how many weeks and months pass, all I have to do is start listening to the opening few seconds of 22 (Over Soon), from Bon Iver’s 22, A Million and I’m pulled right back in. I am virtually powerless against its tractor beam. It’s like an invitation back onto a musical and emotional rollercoaster. I have a feeling this dynamic isn’t going away.