There are a few fleeting moments in life that linger with you and teach you lessons. I had one such with Brian Kennedy on a stage at the Greenbelt Festival. For a number of years I used to host the mainstage on the Friday of the festival and on this particular year Belfast’s Brian Kennedy was to do a short acoustic between acts.
I had been a big fan of Kennedy’s first album The Great War Of Words in 1990 but had been a little disappointed by where his career had gone from there; it had moved from singer songwriter promise to the edge of cabaret. Meeting him backstage increased my respect. Many hide in their dressing rooms in places like this but Brian was happy to stand outside his and converse with whoever. He and I chatted about Belfast, our mutual friend Juliet Turner and what it was like to be a Chaplain at Queens University, which was my job at the time.
When it came to Brian’s time to take to the stage there were problems. Technical hitches, even on opening night, were not common at Greenbelt but they were tonight. Everything was running late and Kennedy’s short set was getting shorter. The act on before him Kevin Max was just coming out of his DC Talk phase where he was the biggest Christian rock act in the world and when he should have exited the stage he broke into Jesus Freak their biggest hit. They rocked it out, the noise getting louder, the crowd getting more hyped by the second.
I am standing behind the curtain with Brian and his acoustic guitar and I remarked, “not easy to follow this with just a voice and guitar” and Brian looked at me and with a gentle humble defiance, in his tidied up Falls Road accent said, “Just watch me!”
No doubt in my introduction I attempting to bridge the gap between the rocked out and the gentle strum before sending Kennedy out like a Daniel in a den of lions. If this was a tough gig it very quickly got worse as within a couple of strums Kennedy’s guitar strap gave way and his guitar crashed to the floor.
Without flinching Kennedy simply kept on singing. It was at the time of his Get On With Your Short Life record which is full of great songs and I think the guitar gave way during So What if It Rains. I found myself in an amazing spot, on the stage a few feet away from Kennedy, watching him fight the circumstances and able to look out from the stage to the crowd.
In that moment of possible professional humiliation Brian Kennedy brought that audience to silence and grabbed their fully focused attention with the beauty of his voice. It was unbelievable and I couldn’t help but hear his words echoing in my ear, “Just watch me!”
Kennedy totally gripped that Greenbelt audience for his fifteen minute set and left the stage having also played Christopher Street and maybe New York, I am not sure. He made no complaint about the timings or anything else. I looked at him and smiled, chuffed to be sharing a moment of sheer musical victory. I was in awe.
There are moments in my life when all the circumstances seem to be stacked against me. There are moments when what I am about to do seems to be bereft of a positive outcome; when people have sucked out my confidence or when life’s circumstances have given me no right to make my mark.
At moments like those when I am seeking God’s presence to calm me or his strength to rescue me, I am often drawn back to that moment at Greenbelt. When I am, I can hear a whisper that tells me to find confidence in the gifts God has given me and to remember when God has used those gifts in the past.
Then in humility, resisting the temptation to arrogance, I sense that defiance that Jesus showed so many times in his ministry and I hear Brian Kennedy’s words, “Just watch me.” Then I walk out, into whatever, with my head up and soul steeled, eyeballing the obstacles in the way of fulfilling my God given vocation!