And then, finally, the Ragamuffin album. It was no trivial thing for Peterson to decide to gather musicians and play this extraordinary, intricate, challenging album start-to-finish. There are over a dozen instruments listed in the liner notes, and as many players and singers, and few of the parts were charted. The Ryman’s stage was cluttered with instruments. Gabe Scott had two hammered dulcimers at the ready, since two tunings were used at different parts of the album. Infinitely gifted band leader Ben Shive’s keyboard stand doubled as leaning post for an accordion and a lap dulcimer. Peterson observed of his capable cast of players: “I heard several of them say that they’ve never worked so hard on a concert before.”
Andrew Osenga delivered the quiet “disclaimer” that precedes “Here In America,” and Peterson counted the band in with his best Mullins impression. The audience settled in, with a quiet reverence and smiles on their faces, and did not just listen to the songs but absorbed them. Most had never seen Mullins live, and this was their first chance to see these songs played, to see the pianist’s fingers make the waters fall or the dulcimer hammers declare belief. The delivery was remarkably faithful to the original. And for one song, the delivery was the original, as longtime Mullins producer and song-shaper Reed Arvin took to the grand piano for “Creed.”
Song after song, the album was delivered with a tender respect. Different vocalists took the lead, different instrumentalists were featured, but the stage was community. The players were enjoying themselves as much as the audience, even through the occasional missed notes and imperfections that were somehow just right.
There was Liturgy (and the passing of the peace), and then Legacy, and there was a raucous, ragamuffin Osenga-[Ashley] Cleveland electric guitar party on “Big And Strong.” And then, we knew it had to end. We paused, like you might pause before turning the last page of a treasured book because you want to read the end but you don’t want it to end. The page was turned, and “Land Of My Sojourn” closed the album in all its brilliance.
One final glorious celebration ensued, with the sing-alongs “Sometimes By Step” and “I See You,” and a gentle, heavenly Doxology. Skye Peterson took the stage, and a father covered his face to hide tears as his daughter sang, “O God, You are my God, and I will ever praise you.” The music of Rich Mullins, and the Scripture that inspired it, were so passed to a generation not our own. A legacy.
On the walk back from the Ryman to the parking deck at the Nashville Public Library, I heard songs in my head, and the voice I heard was not Peterson, Gullahorn, or Osenga, it was Mullins. We turned a corner and there, in the sky bridge connecting the Renaissance Hotel to the parking garage, hanging lights and a series of odd reflections made the shape of a cross. A garish, warped, incandescent cross, but a cross nonetheless: this city’s best answer to the last Sons of Thunder. It was a fitting symbol of a night so permeated by Rich Mullins, a man who found the Glory in our glitter, the Beauty in our brown bricks, and who longed for Home.
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