When songwriter Andrew Peterson had the initial idea of creating a concept record to tell the Christmas story through songs that sounded like Nashville-inspired folk music, he knew he wanted to capture listeners’ attention with more than another holiday concert.
The artist told American Songwriter he wanted to make songs that imitated the music he’d listen to the rest of the year. From this concept came Behold The Lamb of God and a 20 year-long tradition of live shows that act as both a writers-round like concert where the audience gets to know the songwriters, as well as a series of songs that tell the story of Christmas with power that demands full, analytical attention.
Peterson says the body of songs tell a story and are unified sonically. “It’s almost like pushing play on a movie, and we’re gonna start singing these songs and there’s no drama, there’s no speaking parts, it’s just a bunch of songwriters, but it’s letting the songs do the work of telling the story.”
“By the time we get to the end of the show,” Peterson continues, “the last song does the thing I love that concept albums do where you have motifs and melodies and lyrics that are from earlier in the record that all braid together in one thing that shows the shimmering knot at the center of it all.”
The show quickly became a tradition for Peterson and fellow songwriters, with the hometown night sounding off at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. With the impacts of COVID-19 lingering into the winter season, Peterson emphasized his team still wanted to find a safe way to hold the show – to see dear friends and mark the season. By separating the concert into three nights with very limited seating, and proper protocols in place, Peterson notes he still anticipates presenting the record this year, December 12, 2020.
In addition to songwriting Peterson also writes fantasy novels. The artist explained there are many similarities between the two pursuits, the way he approaches the creative space in general, as well as how his view on fantasy and the concept of storytelling bleeds into Behold The Lamb of God.
According to Peterson, writing a book is like running Cross country and crafting a song is like Track and field, but they hold many of the same fears and joys.
“There’s so much overlap. There’s the same fear of starting out, the fear of the blank page, the feeling that you’re incapable of doing the thing you’re trying to do,” Peterson notes. “There’s the sense of disillusionment once you’re knee deep in the project, you get halfway finished with a song and you feel like it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written and you want to give up. That’s when you dig in and say ‘no I have to keep fighting for this thing. I have to keep writing it because on the other side of this I’m gonna trust that there’s gonna be something that made it worth it,’.”
It’s the patterns of resistance, the diligence in learning and the joy in sharing one’s craft that unveils all the aspects of creativity that flow together and, according to Peterson, are all held close and joyful through healthy community.
“It’s having this close connection with a whole bunch of people who believe that art matters and that stories can change the world – that’s one of the biggest things for me,” Peterson says.
No matter what you’re working on, if you can do it in the confines of a health community, then although you may never sell millions of albums, you’ll have a rich life, according to Peterson.
This healthy community is a large part of what Peterson says kept him true to himself and his artistic vision, carried through projects such as Behold The Lamb of God. Emerging as a songwriter during the explosion of modern worship music, Peterson noted he had the choice between staying true to the style and attitude of music he wanted to create, and moving with what was trending.
Although Peterson says he knew the attitude of catering towards trends in order to make great financial moves is appealing and not inherently wrong, he wanted to make music, and art, he’d be proud of in the long run.
“I could either change the kind songs that I wrote and maybe be successful at that or I could stay true, and enter into the long struggle of trying to cling to my calling,” Peterson says, “and to write songs I wouldn’t have to apologize for later.”
“I’m much more interested in a life that is a long obedience in the same direction than one where I’m constantly chasing the void of fame or wealth,” Peterson continues. “That’s not to say I’m above the temptation—everybody who puts out a record wants it to be wildly successful and everybody would love to have something take off so you could take a break for a second.”
But Peterson explains the thing he has learned the most over the years is that he would rather his story be one that boldly “goes for broke” on trying to be obedient to the calling that he believes he got from Jesus, and in reality, the life path that he asked God if he could walk through, than move giant waves in a fickle direction.
It’s a tough road, Peterson says, but it’s worth it, especially if you are surrounded by a faithful community. It’s a good way to live, Peterson emphasizes, and has come full circle with a group of fellow musicians, artists and listeners who show up in unique ways for 20 years of Behold The Lamb of God – supporting, investing and staying true together.