A night with Michael W. Smith at the State Fair
On Monday night at the Wisconsin State Fair, Michael W. Smith (a.k.a. Smitty) went back to the basics. Clad in jeans, a long sleeved T-shirt and baseball cap, he and his unassuming six-piece band relied on nothing more than music, lyrics and a worship-like atmosphere to keep the large crowd entertained for almost 90 minutes as they rolled through a varied set list including songs from the past three decades.
Gone were the choreographed dance moves from his shows in the '90s and the throng of female back-up singers from the same era. Gone were the theatrics, dazzling light shows, special effects and video screens. Gone were the few pop hits from the early '90s that brought a flash of mainstream fame his way. In their place was a stripped-down show that focused on his songs and the enduring message of Christian faith, hope and love they contain.
Smith opened the show with worship favorite "Open the Eyes of my Heart" and he had the crowd singing along in no time, as many of them likely do in their respective churches every weekend. The crowd ranged from toddlers to senior citizens and most of them sang along during the familiar tunes played for them. Even when he introduced a new song he walked the crowd through the chorus so they could join him in lifting their voices.
As a tribute to his father-in-law who died last week after a lengthy battle with cancer, he played a new song which I believe is aptly titled "Never Die" and I also believe is from his forthcoming CD "Stand," scheduled for release this Nov. 7. He played three or four new songs, but this was the most touching and perhaps most enduring of the evening.
Early in the show, Smitty mentioned a revised set list modified especially for us at the fair and he lived up to that promise by pumping out more worship tunes like "Above All" and rewarding true fans with forgotten favorites like "Never Been Unloved" and "Secret Ambition," a song released two years before "Place in This World" which peaked at No. 5 on the pop charts in 1990, earning him the aforementioned crossover fame.
During the show he also talked about his prayer for us -- that we genuinely receive the unconditional love of God and know who we are in Him. He stopped the music a few other times to share his beliefs and to implore us to positively impact the culture around us by taking a stand for our beliefs and living our lives outside the walls of a church building.
He closed with an excellent rendition of "How Great is our God" which he morphed seamlessly into "How Great Thou Art," an emotional sing-a-long song and fitting end to the set.
When Smitty came back onto the stage, he talked about how we were delaying his return trip home to Nashville by our applause and hopes of an encore. Nevertheless he appeased us with a one-song encore then exited the stage as simply as he had entered it earlier in the evening.
One song noticeably missing from the show was his signature "Friends." Imagine seeing Billy Joel and not hearing him play "Piano Man" and you'll have an idea what I'm talking about. Considering how poignant and powerful the rest of the evening was, I'll let him slide just this once and my guess is the rest of his fans will as well.
Open the eyes of my heart
Cover me with your love*
Where's the love?*
Draw me close
Never been unloved
Here I am to worship
How great is our God/How great thou art
At the cross*
Mark, I saw Michael W. Smith in concert on August 19th, 2007 during his tour to Clarkston, Michigan. This concert seemed to be patterned after the one you saw in Milwaukee. It is refreshing to see an artist with a genuine faith in God and a belief that we can all make a "difference" in this world. I had to laugh...I think Michael W. Smith must have read your article, for his encore he played 'Friends".
Estaban said: I'm highly suspect of any artist whose activley stumped for the republican party & George W Bush. Mike W Smith has earned a rep for basically spouting off neo con right-wing talking points to hordes of young people, painting a picture that neo con 'values' equate to 'godlike' values. After reading this one sided puff piece, I felt the need to point this out.
mark said: shea, thanks for the feedback. i tried checking for the proper song titles, but missed a few. i knew i might be making an error or two which i why is used the words "i believe" to preface the first instance where i was unsure.
shea said: not trying to be picky, but "never die" was on the healing rain album, and isn't new. "where's the love" is actually called "open arms". and "at the cross" is "come to the cross", which will be the first single from the new album.
Tammi said: Thanks for sharing Mark. It was as if I was there myself. It's refreshing to get back to the basics. That's what God would want. The glam and all the 'extras' is just that...extra. It doesn't glorify Him anymore. In fact, I feel it glorifies Him less because it takes away from the main focus of praising our Savior through song and worship. I pray lives were touched and souls were saved that evening.
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