By Matt Chandler
News Contributing Reviewer
DARIEN – It was overcast and rainy all day, but moments before Michael W. Smith took the stage Tuesday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, the clouds parted and the sun peeked out. Coincidence? Not if you ask the thousands of fans on hand to worship with the three-time Grammy-Award-winning Christian rocker.
Smith was in town, co-headlining with Steven Curtis Chapman, as part of the annual Kingdom Bound Christian festival.
Those not familiar with the Christian music scene may remember Smith from two chart-topping mainstream songs he recorded during the 90’s: “Place in This World” (No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990) and “I Will Be Here for You” (No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary Charts, 1992). Though he played both songs, in a medley buried in the middle of his set, it was clear he was here to play to his Christian fan base and he did so with a blend of songs spanning his three-decade career.
Opening with the lead track from Sovereign, “You Won’t Let Go,” Smith had the crowd on its feet, arms raised heavenward, a position they held as he followed with another of his new songs, “You Are the Fire.” If his fans were clamoring for the classics, they didn’t show it as both songs brought down the house.
Though Smith didn’t stray often from his seat behind the keyboard, when he did, it was to unleash a goosebump-inducing rendition of “My God Is Mighty to Save,” complete with several thousand strong joining in to sing the chorus.
The music was as billed – high-energy, biblical rock, but it was Smith’s spoken words of inspiration as much as his music that elicited the biggest reactions from the audience. From his heart-warming stories of his relationship with his father, to his brief but powerful message of spreading, love, forgiveness, and the word of God, Smith left it all on the stage before passing the torch to Chapman.
Three songs into his set, as Chapman rocked the crowd with “Glorious Unfolding,” the title track from his latest album, it would have been easy to forget you were at a Christian rock show – not that anyone wanted to.
While banter with the crowd often feels obligatory at a mainstream concert, for Chapman, like Smith, his set was equal parts music and ministry, inviting his fans into his heart and into his life, at one point holding the crowd in rapt silence as he talked about the pain of losing his daughter, Maria Sue, who was killed in 2008.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to keep going,” he told the hushed audience. “ I wanted to see my little girl.”
Chapman then broke into, “Long Way Home,” a song he said spoke to the painful journey he and his family have endured in the years following the death of Maria.