Renowned Christian singer-songwriter Jason Gray stepped into the Lion’s Pause spotlight on Friday, Feb. 12 with his guitar and sense of humor in tow. The musician brought nearly 240 concert-goers to their feet in praise and to their knees in laughter with a moving performance for St. Olaf students and Northfield community members at the evening’s free show.
The Minnesota-born singer-songwriter, whose music is featured on local Christian radio stations like 98.5 KTIS and 102.5 K-LOVE, professed an interest in performing at St. Olaf for the past 15 years. His visit to campus on Friday was finally made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor.
According to Christian Activities Network (CAN) member Katie Sandness ’16, the donor approached CAN with the idea to bring Gray to campus as a way of giving back to St. Olaf while providing an experience for the entire Northfield community. In order to reach new audiences, CAN teamed up with the Music Entertainment Committee (MEC) to advertise and organize the event.
“We didn’t want it to just be an outreach to the Christian community at St. Olaf,” Sandess said. “Jason Gray is a Christian singer and songwriter, but his message is really one of encouragement in general. It was really more about reaching the broader campus. MEC hadn’t had a Christian artist in a couple years, so they were really excited to partner with us. I was also really excited about getting the community involved. There are not a lot of opportunities that I have been able to see that have the Northfield community and St. Olaf coming together.”
Before taking the stage, 40 students and community members gathered to hear Gray field questions about his songwriting practices, musical inspirations and faith testimony in a private Q&A session. Gray quickly revealed his personable nature and knack for storytelling with humorous lines, such as: “I first heard the voice of God through Paul Simon, and he was an agnostic, Jewish pop singer.”
Christopher Alexander ’16 said Gray’s message and ministry drew him to attend the Q&A session.
“He is inspiring in that his passion and his service are completely joined. He loves music and he loves what he does, and he also does it fully for other people,” Alexander said. “He lights up and enjoys himself, and he also shares that enjoyment with the audiences that he speaks to. I think that is really cool to have that combination.”
Although he usually performs with a band, Gray played a solo set using just his guitar, a loop recorder and sampler effects pedals to create self-generated background music. The acoustic minimalism of his set enhanced the intimate environment established by Gray’s frequent storytelling and dialogue with the audience.
“I love his albums, but it’s a totally different experience seeing him live,” Alexander said. “It almost feels like you’re hanging out with a friend. He makes jokes, he will pause a song halfway through if something funny happens, and he will bring you in almost like he’s having a conversation with you.”
Sandness said she believes this intimacy differentiated the event from other concerts.
“The people I talked to said they had never been to a concert like this because he was so honest and real,” Sandness said. “It didn’t necessarily feel like a performance; it didn’t seem rehearsed, it was just Jason being authentic and doing what he loves to do. In that way he was so likeable. I think people responded well to that because it wasn’t just a performance, it was like Jason was sharing a part of his life with us.”