Playing real good for free

th-5I slept last night in a good hotel

I went shopping today for jewels

The wind rushed around in the dirty town

And the children let out from the schools

I was standing on a noisy corner

Waiting for the walking green

Across the street he stood

And he played real good

On his clarinet, for free

 

Now me I play for fortunes

And those velvet curtain calls

I’ve got a black limousine

And two gentlemen

Escorting me to the halls

And I play if you have the money

Or if you’re a friend to me

But the one man band

By the quick lunch stand

He was playing real good, for free

 

Nobody stopped to hear him

Though he played so sweet and high

They knew he had never

Been on their T.V.

So they passed his music by

I meant to go over and ask for a song

Maybe put on a harmony…

I heard his refrain

As the signal changed

He was playing real good, for free

From the song “For Free” by Joni Mitchell

These are the lyrics to one of my all-time favorite Joni Mitchell songs. It’s about a musician giving his talent to the world for free. It’s wistful — even somewhat painful — the way only Joni can do it. At first you hurt for this guy — unnoticed, unrecognized, unappreciated, and underpaid. But by the time the song is over, you start to look at him in a different light. Mainly because Joni is. She is the one who is looking wistfully at him and realizing he has found something that has evaded her limousines, her fortunes and her velvet curtain calls. He’s found something pure and sweet in his music regardless of whether it satisfies anyone else. You start out feeling sorry for the man on the corner; you end up feeling sorry for Joni.

This is also what happened to many of us who began our musical careers during the Jesus movement of the early 1970s. At first we played for free, too, because we were playing for Jesus and the gospel. We played on street corners and parks — wherever we could, wherever anyone would listen — because we wanted to create a crowd so we could tell everyone about Jesus. We may not have even realized it, but we were offering ourselves free to the world because we had a bigger mission.

Then something happened to change all that. Record contracts, touring, and writing hit songs for Christian radio overtook our simple, clear mission. We got lost in our careers. We had families to maintain and making money off our music was the obvious avenue, and the only paradigm anyone thought about.

Last night on the Catch on BlogTalkRadio, I interviewed someone who is working with an organization that is doing it a different way, and after almost forty years of struggling along, his vision has found a new, eager audience. That’s primarily because there is a new generation that has embraced a new paradigm for art and ministry.

In 1970, Byron Spradlin formed Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) with the following mission, “to disciple and mentor people out of music and the arts, working them into the fabric of Church, Missions & Marketplace ministry around the world.” For 30 years, his small organization struggled, took different forms, but grew, became international, and stayed true to its mission. Then in the new millennium, a growth spurt occurred until today, A.C.T. is supporting 250 acts and over 350 people worldwide with a 4 million dollar annual budget. What caused this growth? Rob Frazier, Staff Director for A.C.T. and our guest on Catch Radio says it’s a new generation with a different perspective.

The millennials are embracing this model because they are not seeking fame, fortune or success; they have a mission to offer their talents to the world, in large part to those in prisons, homeless shelters, inner city ghettos and underprivileged countries who cannot afford to pay for it. According to Rob, this is an altruistic and idealistic generation jumping at the opportunity to do their art for a greater cause than self-aggrandizement. So all of their 4 million dollar budget is donated, allowing artists to offer themselves and their talent where it might not normally have an opportunity to go.

It’s important to note that this is not mediocre talent, either — people who otherwise might not be good enough to have careers in the arts. (Actually some of them do have careers in the arts, and they use A.C.T. as their non-profit ministry.) Rob feels that many of these acts could garner big contracts, but they choose not to.

This says a lot for the millennials and why we are connecting with so many of them. They are doing what we did in the beginning, and they are not being sidetracked. Listen to our interview with Rob on BlogTalkRadio and find out why and how there are over 350 artists all over the world playing on street corners, in parks, in prisons, in third world countries, wherever they can — playing real good for free.

Maybe you know someone uniquely talented who might be interested in finding out more about this ministry. Have them listen to our interview and go to http://www.actinternational.org.

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