Monday, July 9, 2012

Concert Review- Danny Gokey & Celebrate America- Rocklin, CA

Danny Gokey's life of drastic twists and turns suddenly became known to millions of people as he climbed the ranks on Season Eight of America’s most popular television show, American Idol a couple years back. One day, after hearing about upcoming American Idol auditions, his wife Sophia encouraged Danny to give American Idol a shot. Just a month before the audition, she died unexpectedly after what should have been a routine heart surgery. Danny was devastated. Reeling from this dramatic turn in life, Danny contemplated auditioning for Idol at a later time; however, the cut-off age to make the show was 28 years old. Remembering his promise to Sophia, he pushed through his grief in honor of her memory, and tried out. Gokey not only made the cut, he rose to the top 3 that season. It wasn’t just his powerful and emotional vocals that caught America’s attention; it was the story of Sophia’s recent death that gripped their hearts as well.

Fast forward three years later, Gokey was brought to the community of Rocklin for a two day church-sponsored event that is a small part religion and a large-part patriotic celebration so close to America's birthday. In its fourth year, the community festival has grown to attract tens of thousands of people who enjoy a wide selection of booths, music and family activities during the day. This year’s extravaganza, which paid specific tributes to both military personnel and emergency responders, was the first to feature a recording star.

From the moment Gokey finished his run on American Idol, there was discussion across the internet to where he would land genre-wise. Country might have seemed like a fit from a sales-goal perspective, but from the very beginning, it always seemed like Gokey was a square peg in a round hole. His production tended to lean more pop and his message leaned more Christian/inspirational. What resulted was one fairly underwhelming release... and and a resulting label release that has left Gokey as an independent artist until his next deal.

What I found interesting about this event and Gokey's short intermittent set was that he seemed to have found a home that made more sense in this church-sponsored event. Since Sophia's death, he has jumped head-first into the charity called Sophia's Heart "that exists to help mend and heal the hearts of children and families who have been touched by poverty, sickness, disease, broken hearts and broken dreams." Like Jimmy Wayne, he seems to have been called to a different purpose that supersedes his music career a bit. The ability to combine song, scripture and community goodwill isn't a Christian music exclusive exercise, but it does fit better than in the country genre. Gokey, singing songs of praise and promise, seemed more comfortable in this setting than in the country beer crowd.

His songs were surrounded in red, white and blue at every turn. In between songs- and even in the middle of songs- an Army Blackhawk helicopter took off and circled the crowd, Navy Seals dropped in from parachutes into the crowd and historic military and social scenes were created on stage such as raising the flag on Iwo Jima. It was a bit over the top at times, but around Independence Day, each act resulted in huge cheers from the patriotic crowd.

Danny Gokey's voice on American Idol was unique and memorable- and it certainly was on this night as well. It was strong, clear, on-key and tested his range well. His singing was over a recorded track, which took some of the personal touch out of the performance. Each song was woven into the overall performance and the Pasteur had an opportunity to lead into each song with a lesson or story. And for this country fan, Gokey's role in music became clearer on this July night.  Music with a message. It probably won't be on the country radio dial, but it will have a mission with a higher purpose. And on this Sunday night, it was actually pretty fun to be part of that purpose.

Event Song Listing:
God Bless The USA
Hero for a Day
I Will Not Say Goodbye
Faith, Hope and Love
My Best Days Are Ahead of Me


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