Bob Bennett Interview
Can someone who has spent most of his career writing and performing folk music produce a renaissance in worship music that is both contemporary and provides roots to the historical church while creating a new liturgy? We may be about to find out as Bob Bennett, a renowned guitar virtuoso and songwriter from California, revealed in a recent interview. Bennett has authored both serious and lighter-hearted folk songs that often poke fun at our human frailties and the “games” we sometimes play within the church.
“It’s been interesting that as much as I’ve kind of run away from doing worship music in church, all of a sudden I find myself back in the middle of that at the moment and wondering if that may be a direction I wind up going in." Almost thinking out loud he observes, “A lot of times I hear music in church that I wish was a little less simplistic. The songs are underwritten a little bit. There should have been a little more thought going into them. So I’m fascinated by the notion that maybe I can be a part of creating some new songs or new liturgies, as it were.”
Much to the relief of those among his well-established fan base who must be wondering if he has become staid as he turns the big 50, he says, “I don’t see myself as jettisoning anything but maybe just broadening (my horizons).”
During the month of February, the Mariners Church in Irvine California paid homage to the “Jesus Movement” of the seventies that launched a multitude of bands and churches in California. Bob Bennett was front and center leading worship during the first service of the four-week series singing songs that as he says haven’t been heard by most people in almost twenty-five years. Randy Stonehill also participated in the series.
Bennet is taking even more new directions: “I’m contemplating doing a Christmas album this year and trying to research some lesser known carols and maybe do something a little more distinctive in that regard because it is a real challenge to take the same old songs that everybody else does and do them really well. “
Bob Bennett, much like his friend Steve Bell, has always been thought of as someone who marches to the beat of a different drummer; not for the sake of being controversial but for the sake of reforming what they see as real short-falls in the music industry. Neither of them adopts a negative perspective but they instead choose to push the envelope causing us to think and rethink what many of us have always accepted without questioning.
“We have a lot of people creating things that are very sincere. There’s certainly nothing wrong with their agenda. What would be wrong with somebody wanting to share the love of Christ? Yet the things they are creating are not ringing true with a large segment of people. So you have to ask yourself why?” He says to some degree, “People are modeling themselves after people who have come before. If you aren’t looking at the world more broadly and taking a little more creative risk, then you are going to wind up writing those kinds of songs. If you are studying architecture and you are only studying church buildings then you are only going to be able to build those pointy buildings with any degree of accuracy and you also aren’t going to know too much about it.”
Bennett feels that often Christians do not push the boundaries resulting in a stagnant pool of talent. He says, "I think it would behoove Christian artists to think about more latitude rather than less.” As if to emphasize his point he adds, “Sometimes our brethren get a little cranky with us because if they don’t get enough of the Jesus mentions or they don’t get enough of the content that they feel should be there then sometimes they feel as though we haven’t done a proper job. Some of it is just because there is a wide spectrum of belief within the church itself as to what people respond to. Christians should exercise freedom whenever possible.”
Bennett says, “My sense is the business side of Christian music seeks a particular type of communication and a particular type of artist. You’ve got to make sure the choir is happy in a business sense so that Christian bookstores will carry your records so when people listen to them they will identify them specifically as Christian items. I am much more interested in Christians who are laboring outside of the genre whose Christianity is infusing their work but they are not bound by the subcultures of contemporary Christian music. “
Bennett’s desire to see the Christian music industry push the boundaries isn’t born out of arrogance or because he thinks he has all the answers, but it comes from an inner desire to put forth his best effort as a servant of God and secondly from his genuine love for people. Perhaps Pastor Terry Kreutzkamp summed it up best after Bennett performed in concert at his church in Canada, “I think Bob's music has power to touch lives on a deeper level because people can easily identify with someone when they are willing (as Bob is) to open themselves up and share the struggles of living life on this side of eternity.”
Recently, Bennett played a return engagement at the legendary Cup O Joy in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He first performed there in the fall of 2004 with his friends Canada’s Carolyn Arends and Bruce Caroll of Memphis. The first date was an in the round setting in which the three artists appeared on stage at the same time and traded songs and stories back and forth. It was a huge success and Jan Oettinger, who books the acts for Cup O Joy, invited him back for his solo performance in February.
“Bob Bennett is one of a kind... a guy who can make you laugh or bring you to tears with his stories and wordy, thoughtful songs,” says Oettinger.
Bennett has always been one who responds well to more intimate settings for his concerts and describes the Cup O Joy as one of those experiences. He likes to be able to interact with his audience. It would appear his audience also warms up to him as Oettinger observes, “The audience leaves feeling inspired and as though they’ve made a new friend, that’s just how Bob relates to people.”
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague.