Remembering the ’70’s Again

Back before there was Jay the fat preacher (the force behind the empire that is Only Wonder Understands) and even before there was Jay the Methodist technogeek of General Conference fame, there was Jay the fat geeky sound guy. That goes a long way back . . . to the late 1970’s (yes I AM that old, dang it!). It’s a time that was absolutely crucial to who I am today and a time that I remember fondly, but I really don’t have much connection to friends from those days, for the journey that God put me on has taken me far from that world. And yet, those folks loved me into the kingdom when I wasn’t particularly loveable, and instilled in me the passion for the things of Christ that continues to this day, albeit in different forms and with different language.

So I was excited when Kay called me last night with the information she heard on the Brian Mason Show about the Koinonia Bookstore Reunion this coming Thursday.

In the late 1970’s, Koinonia was the hub of what would eventually turn into a multimillion dollar business known as Contemporary Christian Music. In those days, twenty something’s had been caught up by the Jesus movement of the 1960’ and 70’s, and were beginning to write and perform music that moved away from the traditional music of the church — in those days hymns and what is now known as “Southern Gospel” — using the musical forms that were native to their culture, the guitar based singer/songwriter poet, and the driving rhythms of rock. Churches were not at all sure that this “contemporary” music was appropriate within the sacred halls of their institutions, and so these musicians were looking for outlets for this new form of music they were creating.

The Koinonia Bookstore and Coffeehouse (with more emphasis on the former than the latter) was located in the middle of Music Row in Nashville, and maintained an affiliation with the Belmont Church located next door. Because of it’s location and the fact that the managers of the store were likewise in that same age bracket, it became a place for these new types of Christians to hang out, especially in the booths in the back of the store. At some point in the history of the store, someone got the bright idea to build a stage and start hosting concerts every Friday and Saturday night.

In 1976 and 77, I was a sixteen year old kid who had somehow found his way into the sound booth at my church and being enamored with technology soon found myself setting up sound equipment and running sound for a variety of events and services at the church. One Friday, a group from my Young Life group decided to check out the scene at Koinonia, and we headed down to 16th Ave. and Grand. the store was decorated with some sort of 1970’s era carpet (I don’t remember if it was shag, but in my memory it might have been mismatched carpet squares) and there was a small stage with some flood lights aimed at it. Some bald headed preacher type (who I eventually learned was Don Finto) jumped on the stage and began to lead the crowd in some worship choruses that I had never heard in my Southern Baptist church. I can’t remember who was performing that night, for the next four or five years have become jumbled in the scars of age, but I know that I was hooked.

I don’t really remember how I started running sound there. I think I had developed a relationship with Henry, who was the sound guy, and he needed someone to fill in. After a short time the demands of work in family were so great that I found myself running sound every week, praying with the bands in the back prior to the show, and editing audio recordings of the concert on a full track Ampex reel to reel recorder in the back with grease pencil, razor blades, and tape. All of the up and coming artists came through — Brown Bannister and his group Homecoming, Marty McCall and his band Fireworks, and this girl that was my age and a student at Harpeth Hall named Amy. Many “national” acts came through, but their was a great emphasis on the local scene, featuring folks who were rising in the music business in Nashville.

There is no doubt that the scene was evangelical in nature, and certainly leaned toward the charismatic end of religious practice. Koinonia had close ties with Belmont Church next door, a congregation that had been formerly a standard bearer in the independent Churches of Christ until their pastor Don had a charismatic experience and allowed musical instruments to be brought into worship. Belmont was subsequently “disfellowshipped” from the Churches of Christ, and ended up becoming a mega church in its own right, with a high profile in the music industry. Belmont was charistmatic, but not Pentecostal (meaning that exercise of spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy were not discouraged, but not seen as a sign of one’s salvation or commitment to God), and Koinonia reflected that. Thus, I would find myself in moments of worship where we would “sing in the Spirit,” with everybody singing their own song to God in unison, starting out as cacophony and then blending to become an ethreal melody. It was at Koinonia that I would first encounter someone breaking into tongues in their prayers, eventually coming to see this as relatively normal, although never really having that experience myself. Life at Koinonia prepared me for my ministry to come, exposing me to a slice of Christianity that has allowed me to stand in the gap between differing worlds and languages along the way.

So, if you aren’t doing anything Thursday night, check out the Koinonia Family Reunion at the Factory in Franklin. It should be a great show. I know I will be there.

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