gene-schmidtBetween his home base in the Dairy State, having a hand in the Christian songwriting community in Tennessee's capital and working in Eastern Europe, he certainly gets around.

Gene Schmidt
Whispering Oaks Apartments Community Room
Waupun, WI
14 December 2013 

I confess. I attended for the food, too. What few handbills to be seen for Wisconsin-based Christian (market) singer-songwriter's performance at the commodious and finely-appointed community room at the newest artment building for residents aged 55 and older in my town announced there would not only be music, but grub as well. For my trip across town, it was worth the gratis supper of ham sandwiches, sloppy joes, baked beans, fresh celery (no fan of chlorine-soaked  baby carrots, I), cookies galore, lemon fluff with strawberry sauce and-ironically?-deviled eggs.

But, yes, there was also music, thanks to Gene Schmidt-apparently also known as Geno, I've been told by a couple of locals-with an acoustic guitar and connections both locally, as some of his family live nearby, and to the cCm hub of Nash Vegas. It may be the closest in  my experience the city has had to a Christian coffeehouse vibe since the late '70s Jesus hippie movement holdover hangout The Upper Room (yes, it was on a second floor, but no, I didn't understand the name's Acts 1 reference, newbie believer that I was).

Schmidt made his friendliness with renowned praise&worship singer Chris Tomlin known from the get-go, as he opened with a couple verses of Tomlin's reworking of John Newton's "Amazing Grace" with it's "My chains are gone..." bridge. He additionally assayed some of his "How Great Is Our God" and gave him commendation regarding the  man's talent and usefulness to the Church. 

What Schmidt's own work may lack in Tomlin's hooky immediacy, it possesses in abundant sincerity. He has a knack for equating the Lord with His creation, especially mountain vistas, as explicitly heard in "Smoky Mountain Time" and more implicitly in "Peace" and "Silence and Solitude."  In a song he co-authored with his wife, "Speak To Me," he sings poetically of the wind as God's majesty, though the title might connote a reliance on revelation beyond that found in the Bible (here's hoping that's not the case, of course).

Beyond his songs of personal testimony and alone time with the Almighty, Schmidt has a gift for the occasionally anthemic melody that could find congregational use. Even if its declaration of having no regrets since salvation doesn't necessarily comport with the Pauline struggle articulated in Romans 7, "I'm Blessed"  has the kind of sing-along chorus that could land Schmidt a genuine hit. If that and his subtler country/folk-sounding "As Long As I Have You" appear on either of his forthcoming albums, they should both receive sympathetic treatments from country-leaning former major label cCm'er Bruce Carroll, who is producing at least one of those upcoming long-players. It might also bear notation that Schmidt has his enlisted veteran guitarist/singer/songwriter Phil Keaggy for at least one of his CD's.

As might be expected for a mid-December Christianny concert, Schmidt engaged his unfortunately  small audience in some Christmas songs. As might be expected per the subject matter of other of his tunes, "Go Tell It On The Mountain," or at least its chorus thrice over, came first. This he followed with "Silent Night" (with a smidgen of confusion as to how to proceed after its best-know-known first verse)  and the first verse of "Joy To The World" a couple times through.

Though seemingly embracing a Pentecostal take on Christianity and presented this evening by one of the churches in the city  leaning that way, Schmidt showed respect for hymnody from other traditions. "Good Enough For Me," following the lead of similar soul gospel medleys performed by everyone from The Dixie Hummingbirds to Smokie Norful, strings together a few older songs from the public domain and Albert E, Brumley's catalog;a rendition of Lutheran standard "Holy Holy Holy" followed in the same vein as his Christmas repertoire, with the second verse same as the first. And for a bit of a Jesus hippie throwback beyond the ambiance of the venue, he sang some of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," one of the handful of early '70s general market pop hits to be recontextualized among the long-hair-and-hand-tooled-leather-Bible-cover crowd.

Not far from the end of his set, Schmidt spoke of his work with Hand Of Help Ministries, an organization aiding Romanian orphans founded by a Scripture smuggler who underwent an unreal amount of physical persecution for his faith and spreading it. Between his home base in the Dairy State, having a hand in the Christian songwriting community in Tennessee's capital and working in Eastern Europe, he certainly gets around.

Though Schmidt's date in this unique setting-a tween girl from the sponsoring church had to open the door of the secured apartment building to let in me and my friend-was  sparsely attended,  it's my hope that the lady living there who helped organize it takes to heart  the words of Zechariah 4:10 and not despise that night of a small beginning (not eisegeting there, I hope). In a town with numerous churches of varying denominational stripes, it would be heartening to see a more fecund faithful music and arts scene to abet  proclamation of the Gospel.

-Jamie Lee Rake  (site for Christian Songwriters & Musicians International, of which Schmidt is a member)

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