The first time I heard Andrew Peterson was on a Carolina shore in late July. My friends and I sat in the sand watching the traces of white foam float to our feet in the silver moonlight as we talked, laughed, and contemplated life’s mysteries as teenagers. Someone brought a CD player and began to play “After the Last Tear Falls.” We listened in silence, still watching the crests of the waves appear out of darkness. As his words fell on our young ears, we were reminded that we are part of a story that is bigger than we understand.
Such is the pattern of Peterson. His songs tell stories of love, loss, adventure, and wonder in such a way that we find a piece of ourselves within them. His most recent album, “Counting Stars,” released on July 27, expresses them beautifully.
On the night of his album debut, Andrew and the Captains Courageous hosted a free online concert. From the comfort of my best friend’s living room, my husband and I joined her on the futon with a bowl of popcorn and much anticipation. We weren’t surprised to find the musical trio playing in a living room as well.
After a brief salutation, they launched into their welcome song, “Many Roads.” Andrew took some time between each song to talk with us about how it came to be. His life in the hills of Nashville with his wife and children is the source of his inspiration. “Dancing in the Minefields” describes the journey of marriage that he and his wife have braved through the past 15 years. “World Traveler” acts as an extension, telling of adventures with their children. These songs, along with others on the album, made us dream of our own lives – the life we have, the life worth aspiring for. We were reminded of how our dreams change with age. The lofty (and often proud) ambitions of success in our youth lose their luster over time, and we begin to see the true treasures in life are stunningly simple: family, friends, and community. It is in relationships that we learn the most about ourselves and in community that we are able to discover our purpose. These themes resound throughout Peterson’s album and also in his demeanor during concerts.
Few musical artists in our culture are as inviting as Andrew Peterson and the collective of songwriters, storytellers, and musicians to which he is strongly connected. His approach to his work is one that welcomes his listeners to find themselves in the stories he shares while reminding us that they are mere reflections of a greater story being told.
Inspired by one of Wendell Berry’s poems, “The Peace of Wild Things,” Peterson wrote “Magic Hour,” a song that points to this meta-narrative. He explained to us that the title comes from a phrase that photographers use to describe the golden light of day as it draws to a close. In it, he tells of his family watching a sunset together and relating the wonder and beauty to homesickness for a place we’ve never been.
“Planting Trees” also captures this idea well. Peterson takes the use of a common metaphor and elegantly weaves it into a work of strings and words to encourage us to “lean into something lasting,” to be a part of something that will have an enduring effect. He gives credit to Frederick Law Olmstead, a landscape architect who designed the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and New York City’s Central Park, whose aim in his work was to make it last 70 years, long after his death.
“I don’t know if I have or will write songs like that, but I hope so,” Peterson said. “I want to be a part of something that’s going to matter ten to twenty years from now.”
As always, the works of his album reflect the heart of his faith: his struggles, his joys, his lessons still being learned. The honesty that spilled over the ripples of his guitar was enough to make us feel as if we had been old friends, as did his description of himself as “a touchy-feely crybaby songwriter.”
By the end of the concert, the three of us were both teary-eyed and refreshed, having heard the stories that so fully express the encompassing beauty and stunning truth in this life. The experience was not so different from hearing that first song years ago on the beach. Being surrounded by friends, each of us enjoying the company of community and the excitement of music was not just a means of entertainment. Peterson ushered us in to a sense of admiration for the life that is and how it points toward a perfect life that will be.