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in concert: Will Butler + Hearing Things

  • Thursday, March 26, 2015
  • 8:30 PM–11:00 PM
  • Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium

A conversation with Will Butler to follow concert, conducted by Andrew Heffner - Part of The Festival of Faith & Music

Ticketing options 

Festival of Faith and Music Registration = various prices.  Includes all FFM concerts and lectures (including Tune-Yards & Lecrae).  Choose REGISTER/SIGN UP link above.

Concert only = $20.  Will Butler concert at 8:30PM in the  CFAC Auditorium.  All seats general admission.  Choose BUY TICKETS link above.

Artist narrative

Although Will Butler does not identify himself is a Christian artist, there is imagery and language throughout his music that points to the Bible, and especially the Old Testament. He uses scripture and Biblical references to make a point about the state of the world today and comment on social and cultural issues through the medium of rock music.

When talking about the subjects that he uses in his music, Will Butler told The Guardian, “On the one hand, the government is – in a country like America or Canada or the UK – the expression of the people. It’s not freedom from things but its freedom to govern, which is a beautiful concept. But there’s a sense that modern government almost takes the place of the Old Testament God. Things happen because governments cause them to, but people are like, ‘No. This is how the world is. It’s a world of pain.’ There’s something very Old Testament about that – yet we’re on our knees to them about policy as well.” In this sense, he uses the Old Testament as a way to talk about issues of justice and government and demonstrate the power they have been given.

This is especially apparent in a series of songs he wrote recently based on news he read in The Guardian. One specifically, “By The Waters of Babylon”, is an example of how he uses Biblical references to comment on modern issues- in this case about the ransacking of a museum in Mosul by Isis. He writes in the song,
But how can I sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget thee, O my city, let my right hand forget her cunning
If I forget thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth-
if I love anything as much as you
If this sounds familiar, it is because he is quoting Psalm 137, specifically verses 4-6 in this section. He uses the Psalm as a way to describe how the people who have suffered are lamenting the loss of a cultural artifact that has been the latest in a string of destructive acts by the group. He compares the suffering of the people in the Middle East to that of the Jewish exile after Babylonian conquest. This song is one of the most prominent places that Butler’s Old Testament references appears, but it is a theme through the rest of this series and his album Policy that appears often.

Butler’s use of scripture, especially in his songs based on The Guardian but also in Policy, could be an effort to bring light to social justice issues. He uses it as a way to translate what we know to what we sometimes fail to understand. In a way, it helps listeners connect with the stories being told and urges them toward action. He uses his art as a way to convey the depth of the injustice around us and to prompt listeners to react. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Butler says, “It’s trying to make art, make something real and have people talk about something instead of a poster.”

Will Butler is an artist who understands the power of the ideas addressed in the Old Testament and uses them to shed light on current issues. He sees that using the Bible to illustrate this gives listeners a unique context and insight into the events that have taken place. It helps listeners to understand on a deeper level the suffering that is still around us today.

- Avery Johnson

March 2015
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