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WILLIAMSPORT — Matthew West is all about making connections.
But this one has had to wait a bit.
West will appear Thursday, Feb. 3, at Gateway Church near Williamsport. It's part of his "Brand New" tour — based on an album of music first released in 2020.
Yes, 2020. The first year of COVID in the United States. Previously scheduled tour dates were scuttled.
"You know, it's one of those things where we've had a lot more concerts canceled in the past two years than performed, and we're eager to kind of tip the scales back in the other direction. And this tour is the beginning of that happening," West told Herald-Mail Media recently.
He was speaking by phone from his home in Nashville, but he was excited to be heading out for the tour.
"You know, I released an album called 'Brand New' right at the beginning, right before the pandemic hit. And of course 2020 started to feel anything but brand new in a hurry," West said.
"So strangely, coming into 2022, it really felt like the words 'brand new' were maybe more fitting now than ever, you know, kind of hopefully getting a brand new lease on life and a brand new appreciation for the chance to go on tour and perform in front of a real audience."
And the songs, written pre-pandemic, are perhaps even more relevant now.
"What I find interesting is music can be inspired by one moment in time or one source of inspiration, but then the significance of the songs take on new meaning as more time passes. It's almost as if I don't even fully understand what some of the songs are about until after I've lived more life," he said.
"And so what's really been hitting me in a powerful way is that I wrote these songs before our world embarked upon one of its most challenging seasons that I can remember in my lifetime, and so a lot of these songs have taken on new significance and new importance in my life."
The album has produced three No. 1 recordings on the Christian music charts that were "all on the radio in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic," he notes. "So I think about those songs … I think about a song like 'The God Who Stays.' You know, that song meant one thing to me when I wrote the song, but now, in a season where so many of us have been separated from each other … there is one who is always with us.
"And I could go down the list of the songs and share with you, 'Oh, here's what inspired that song — let me tell you what that song means to me now.'"
Another song from the album, called "What If," is "about living your life with no regrets and no 'what ifs.' And I think these last two years have taught me not to take a single day of my life for granted, and to realize that life is precious," he said.
"I'm singing these songs with a whole new fire because I feel like for the first time maybe I understand what they're really about. And I think that's why I'm so excited to get on stage and sing these songs that have hopefully been an anthem for people as they've had to weather some storms in their own lives."
I can't do it alone
West has weathered storms of his own. An injury to his arm nearly ended his career as a musician just as he was getting started. About five years later, he had to have vocal surgery that could have ended his singing career.
West said those experience taught him "that it doesn't matter how perfect your life might look on the outside. No life is going to make it through from start to finish without being touched by pain, without being touched by trial or hardship or tragedy, obstacles.
"And my life's no different … I've had a lot of different obstacles in my life that I've had to overcome to get to where I am today," he said. "The one thing that I know beyond the shadow of a doubt is that I have not overcome the obstacles on my own. I've discovered instead the exact opposite, that it's impossible to make it through life on my strength alone, and I'm just not strong enough. I'm not good enough. I can't, I can't make myself get to a point where I'm able to figure out all of life's mysteries without some help.
"Most people say all the tough things in your life make you stronger. But I think the reality is the tough things in my life have made me more aware of how weak I am, and how much I need a strength greater than my own."
That's reflected in one of his favorite songs on the album, "Truth Be Told."
That song "is kind of me just being honest about the fact that some days you're less than fine, and somedays you try to pretend that you're OK and you put a smile on, but deep down you might be hurting, you might be going through a tough time," West said.
"And I think these days we need more honesty and transparency. I hope that song gave people the freedom to to be honest about their emotional health, their mental health and to get the help that they need.
"I think again, that song took on new significance for me just not realizing I was writing it, in a sense giving people permission to be honest about how this pandemic has affected them."
West was always drawn to music, although while growing up in Illinois he was "more focused on sports. And girls."
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But he started taking music more seriously later in high school, entering talent competitions and the like. "I think at first I was maybe drawn to the the attention factor, that people were surprised that I was a good singer. I liked that. I liked that attention."
And then he had to decide what to study in college, and someone mentioned that he might be good enough to get a music scholarship. And he did.
"In many respects, I feel like I was kind of off to the races after that," he said.
Make a connection
Since then he's been a musician, a singer, a songwriter (not only for himself, but for others, too), he's done a little acting and he's written some books.
But what gives Matthew West the most satisfaction?
"I think what gives me the most satisfaction is boing it down to one word, and that is connection," he said. "Years ago I came back to that word as being a cor component of what I feel like I'm on this earth to do. And in everything that I do, whether it's a book, or a song, or a record, or a concert, or a podcast episode, I seek to connect to the hearts of people.
"And then to make a deep connection — because I think that when you're sending a message of hope to people, there's a chance to make a connection with people because they're desperate for hope. So I think that's been the goal."
He makes it clear that his goal is not for them to connect with him.
"I hope that happens and that's all well and good, but that's not, to me, where the connection stops," he said.
"The ultimate connection that I could make is to connect somebody out there who is listening to the God who made them, the God who knows them, and to really connect them to the message of hope that I think can change somebody's life, when they know that there's an author of their story."
To that end, West founded a ministry called popwe.
"I began to realize that maybe for some people, the connection could go deeper than just a three-minute song. And there were a lot of people who come to my concerts or just who are out there listening who are struggling, maybe they feel alone. Maybe they don't have anybody to talk to you about what's going on in their life."
So he and others decided to start a nonprofit aimed at helping to walk with people.
"… It could be somebody who needs to get into a drug or alcohol recovery program and doesn't know where to start," he said. "It could be somebody who needs to get into a counselor, it could just be somebody who needs to be prayed for. And our organization is there for that. And so it's been a really neat journey. Again, everything we do is with the goal of connecting people."
West notes that everyone has been struggling — even churches. "I feel like what I do as a recording artist is hopefully an extension of what the Church's ministry is, and that is ultimately, we're sending out that message to say, 'Hey, you're free to come just as you are. There's a God who loves you just the way that you are. He made you and he has a purpose for you, and he can make you more like him.'
"And so I feel like whether it's somebody going to my concert or walking in the doors of a church, they're going to hear the same message, the message of hope, the message of grace, the message of a new beginning, and ultimately the message of the promise of eternity in heaven."
If you go
What: Matthew West — The Brand New Tour
Dove Award-winner Matthew West will be joined by contemporary Christian artists Anne Wilson and Hannah Kerr.
When: Thursday, Feb. 3 - 7 p.m.
Where: Gateway Church, 11017 Kemps Mill Road, Williamsport
Cost: Tickets are $25, $28, $70 and $100.
Contact: For information, call 855-484-1991 or go to www.platformtickets.com.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Christian artist Matthew West's 'Brand New' tour stops in Williamsport