Over 700 people packed the Morris Hill Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. to witness an unforgettable performance of Rich Mullins and his Ragamuffin Band. The eclectic band, any of whom could have headlined their own concert, kicked off by treating the audience to a few of their own tunes. The versatile Ragamuffins included Jimmy Abegg on guitar and mandolin; Phil Madiera on accordion, keyboards, and guitar; Rick Elias on guitar and harmonica; Aaron Smith (77's) on the drums; Mark Robertson (Altar Boy's) on bass guitar and standing bass; and Michael Aukofer on bongos. Jimmy A did a few songs from his latest album including "Perfect World" and "Small Touch of Love." Rick donned his harmonica for the highlight of the Ragamuffin set "Man of No Reputation."
As usual, there was no big introduction or grand entrance as Mullins strolled onto the stage. Taking his place among the band, the crowd erupted with applause. His companion Beaker made the same almost unnoticed entrance, and sat down with lap dulcimer in hand. The shoeless Mullins wore a T-shirt and shorts as he changed his instruments with almost every song. From piano to dulcimer to guitar, Rich and band covered Mullins' classics as well as his latest hits from A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band: "Here in America," "The Color Green," and "Hold Me Jesus."
Rich's anecdotes between songs were warm, honest, profound, and hysterical, and his boyish charm won the crowd over immediately. Dividing the church in three sections for a fun round (one section sang "I'm Gonna Sing, Sing, Sing" another "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and the last "When the Saints Come Marching In"), Rich seemed as much entertained by the audience as they were by him. And when Rich led in the worshipful "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "It is Well," no one gave a second thought as to who was being entertained but only Who was being praised.
Beaker got a chance to show off his guitar talent on "Boy Like Me, Man Like You." Concluding the song, he and the band left Rich alone to speak about the driving forces behind their tour with Compassion International. He shared details about his recent trip to Colombia and spoke of the conditions there and the kids who live in them. Rich called what Compassion was doing there "nothing short of a miracle." (For information about sponsoring a Compassion child, call 800/336-7676.)
The band reappeared with Rich to perform "Land of My Sojourn" during which he left the stage while the band vamped and came back with a fresh Diet Coke in hand - a stunt true to his lifestyle and one no other Christian artist could execute so successfully.
Rich stood at his piano for "If I Stand" and his fellow virtuosos abandoned their instruments to sing back-up. "Awesome God" followed and the multitude cheered loudly with its familiar introduction. Rich then belted out a true concert fave "I See You," coaxing the audience to sing along. He stepped down from the platform still encouraging the onlookers to sing out. He walked to the back of the crowded church and disappeared from sight as the fans kept singing and the band kept playing. One member at a time, the band exited the stage leaving the audience to sing a capella. Rich didn't wait long to hit the stage again, moving his piano to lead the still singing audience in a chorus of "Sometimes by Step."
The singer/songwriter/poet/philosopher extraordinare took careful time to explain the inspiration behind his next song as he made his way over to the hammer dulcimer. He and writing companion/long time pal, Beaker, were discussing what it was they believed in when they came to the same basic conclusion reached by Christians thousands of years before them.
"Some things are absolutely true... these are the things we're sure of...," Mullins stated emphatically as he began hammering away the introduction to "Creed" on his dulcimer. The crowd's reaction testified to the songs' popularity and the shared faith of the fans. It was the best performed song of the night by the band whose performance was flawless throughout the show.
The concert was full of spontaneous revelations, profound thoughts, and incredible talent, seasoned by Rich's rare candor and honesty. Obviously intrigued by the man who says so much with so few words and seemingly with such little effort, the audience demanded more than one encore. Finally departing, the crowd left uplifted by the music, challenged by the lyrics, awestruck by the talent, and enriched by the artists.