Amy Grant has won six Grammy awards and has sold 30 million records, but she says that every time she performs, she tries to make “whatever room I am playing in feel like a living room.”
The 1,000-seat Mill Town Music Hall is slightly larger than most living rooms, but it is an unusually intimate venue for Grant. Those who attend her sold-out concert Thursday in Bremen may therefore get the ultimate fan’s treat: the equivalent of having a major artist perform just for them – and a few hundred friends.
Grant’s concert begins at 7 p.m. at Mill Town, located at 1031 Alabama Ave.
Her visit to Bremen is one of only three concerts she has scheduled for this month, following a crowded series of dates in December. It will take place only a day after she wraps up production on her 15th studio album, her first collection of all-new songs in more than a decade.
Will the folks in Bremen get a chance to hear some of those cuts? Speaking from her home in Nashville last week, Grant didn’t say “yes” – but she also didn’t exactly say “no.”
“We come out with a set list that covers songs, really, from the last three-and-a-half decades,” she said. “I play those songs that were from my early, early days all the way to some songs that I haven’t released yet. Sometimes, just depending on the audience, I take some requests.
“Really, music is just such a shared experience and I try to just let it be that.”
Grant has been performing ever since she was a teenager, beginning not long after a demo tape of a high school performance was accidently overheard by the owner of a recording studio. Her first album was released in the spring of 1978, one month before her high school graduation.
Since then, her life has been a steady succession of achievements. As a performer of Christian music, she has won 25 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards and was the first Christian artist ever to go Platinum. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and she has pushed her art in new directions, crossing over into mainstream pop and even doing a little acting.
Many of her fans have followed her life journey, no doubt finding parallels to their own. These common experiences of children and marriage, professional ups and downs, only link Grant closer to the legion of fans known as “Friends of Amy,” and other admirers besides.
Lately, they have followed her on her most personal journey to date: dealing with aging parents, including the death of her mother and her father’s long goodbye into dementia. She has spoken publicly about this latest chapter in her life, and, as she crosses into her 50s, finds perspective in all the public and private moments of her career.
“I have learned a deep appreciation for family and learned to see the value in every chapter,” she said.
“There aren’t any wasted experiences in life, and it most certainly keeps changing. You know, when you’re a kid, you think once you reach that adulthood plateau it just levels on out. I don’t have the heart to tell my children ‘strap in for the ride,’ because there’s no telling where it’s going to go.”
Although she has released anthologies and Christmas albums, it has been a decade since Grant has released an album of all-new material. But this week, at her in-home studio, she is wrapping up what promises to be a very special collection of songs and performances, including artists she has long admired and worked with.
While her last few albums have given her the opportunity to release new material, she recently decided that she should take a bolder step.
“(For) this new project, I just thought ‘I don’t know how many more opportunities I’m going to have, so I’m going to ask people whose music I’ve loved and admired to be involved in this project. So, Carole King – who I’ve been a fan of since I was a child – she’s singing background on one of the songs, and James Taylor is singing background on one of the songs.”
“I’ve got to tell you, I am so excited,” she said. But having those legendary performers part of the project is only half the story.
“My children are singing a background part – that was their birthday present. And my dad, who has really debilitating dementia, is also singing on that song. He’s just doing a ‘bom, bom, bom, bom,’ part. It’s just a base line that leads into the chorus and it just happens to be the same melody as ‘Frère Jacques’ … he can’t say the words to ‘Frère Jacques’ anymore, but he would just ‘bom bom bom’ and hum the whole song.”
Orchestrating two songs on the album is a legendary arranger, Ronn Huff, who came out of retirement to do the project for her. Huff, who is dealing with Parkinson’s, is at Grant’s house this week to complete the album.
“I’ve got to sing one more background part, and then we have one string session. But, oh, I’m so excited; I think I am going to be choked up the whole time.”
When asked whether she planned to debut any of these new songs in Bremen, Grant was non-committal.
“I’m a little cautious,” she said. “There’s only one first listening for a song, and we’ve worked hard on these recordings.”
But who knows? As Grant says, she prefers every performance to be intimate and relaxed, to let the songs flow with the mood of the room, and that of her fellow performers. She is known to kick off her shoes midway through her concerts, just to enhance the intimate feeling she enjoys with the fans who have followed her career.
“The whole thing has been such a joy, and that really is what music should be. It should make you go ‘I love that feeling,’ or ‘I remember that experience.’
I just love getting to still do this at age 52.”