BROKEN PEOPLE MAKE GOOD FRIENDS

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I arrived in San Francisco this past September exhausted. I had flown through the night from Alaska and my head was spinning from the culture shock of having spent the last few days in the back country of Alaska, only to arrive in a city where people ride bicycles naked.

Without doubt, 2012 had been the busiest year of my music career and this was the last gig before heading home. I just had to make it through this last set.

The church was in the heart of the city. Surrounded on all sides by vibrant color and a symphony of urban sounds. Rayna and I made our way to a gathering room in the basement. I set my guitar case on the the stage and turned around to take in the room. After a long exhale I realized I was pretty tired of myself. Tired of my guitar. Tired of my stories. Tired of the sound of my own voice. Just. . .tired.

I finished my sound check and went back to help Rayna set up the product table. Before I got there, a man stopped me. He had a scraggly beard and kind, intense eyes.

“Man, I am so excited about tonight! Music saved me. . .”

For the next 10 minutes, I stood and listened as my new friend wove a story of brokenness, of an addiction to meth, of losing his family, and finding himself alone. But, in music he had found a connection to God, a lifeline, something his heart could resonate with, a sword to keep the demons at bay, a way to find peace. After years of silence, his new faith had given him the courage to contact his sister and his mom. He was taking his first tenuous steps down the road that led home.

The room began to fill and soon half the crowd was made up of a group from a recovering addicts program. Loud, brash, and wonderful. Broken people make good friends.

Something happened that night. My songs were no longer songs, but stories of redemption, anthems of God’s intervention and grace. I wasn’t singing to these people, I was singing with these people. We’re all broken, some of us just hide it better.

At 8 pm on a Sunday night in September in the middle of San Francisco, God was weaving word, chords, and melody together in a language that is deep, old, and magical. Music.

And, in that moment, I felt God’s pleasure in the room.

This is why I do what I do. Thank you for believing in this ministry.

SOMETHING HAPPENED IN IOWA. . .

Something happened in Iowa last weekend.

I was playing a Promise Keepers event for 5000 men in an arena.  As my solo set got closer, I could feel my hands getting a little cold and my heart rate accelerating.  I was nervous.  Usually, I like being nervous, it means that whatever I’m facing matters.  But, this was different.

Arenas can be tough for musicians to hear because the sound echoes off the walls and can often distract with delays and echoes.  In-ear monitors go a long way in fighting this battle, but this arena was tough.  Really tough.

So, as I climbed the stage to perform my song “Fight For Me”, I knew it would be a challenge.  For years now, I’ve been performing this song which incorporates recording multiple guitar parts live, stacked on top of each other, on the fly, where keeping time is imperative!  I plugged in, thumped my guitar with the palm of my right hand, and immediately my fears were confirmed.

The sounds coming back at me were a muddy mess of beats and echoes.

Instead of hearing the usual boom, crack, boom, crack, I heard boom, boom, boom, crack, crack, crack, boom, crack, you’re dead, boom, crack, give it up, boom, crack, you can’t do this, boom, crack, this will be a youtube fail sensation, boom, boom.

I simply couldn’t hear the beat I needed to.  The downbeat, boom, was a jumbled mess.

I took mental stock of the situation.  Should I keep going?  Should I stop now and cut my losses?  There are 5000 men out there, this will be a train wreck and I’ll be laughed at if I keep going.  But, if I stop I’ll look like an idiot too!  Man, what do I do!

I decided to keep going.  If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging!

I closed my eyes and listened as hard as I could for the true downbeat, not the echoes.  Seconds went by.  More seconds went by.  I could feel a cold sweat going down my back.  I wanted to quit, everything would be much easier.  Then, ever so slowly, I began to hear it, the true rhythm of the song, the beat that would carry me past the counterfeits.  It wasn’t loud, but it was true.

By God’s grace, I found it.  I battled my way through the song and somehow finished to applause.

It’s funny, I wonder how much of my life I spend listening to counterfeit beats, to the rhythms of a life that I wasn’t made for.

God- help me to hear what is true, what will last, what will carry me home.

Click here to see a video of Fight For Me

The Question

Last month I did a gig with Toby Mac.  A pretty cool honor to share the stage with Toby- he’s written so many great songs and has survived in a very tough business for a couple decades now.

Before the show, I was sitting in the auditorium checking emails on my phone.  I looked up to see a young guy approaching me.  His volunteer backstage pass was swinging from his neck and his eyes were alive with anticipation of the show.  He had been hanging out with Toby’s band all day and was pretty pumped up.  He made a beeline to me and in an excited voice said, “Hey are you Danny Oertli?”

“Yep, that’s me.”

“Oh, sorry, but I’ve never heard of you before.”

“Hey, no big deal.  I like to fly under the radar.”

“So, how long have you been doing this?”

“Over 20 years now I guess.  A long time and a lot of miles!”

“Wow!  So, let me ask you a question:  in 20 years, have you been able to find any level of success at all?”

The question caught me off guard and my mind reeled as I thought of possible answers.  Sadly, my first reaction was pride- well, I’ve played on this stage and that, I’ve made some records, etc. . .But, before that answer made it’s way from my brain to my lips, that silliness faded and I became somewhat reflective.

After what must have seemed like a very dramatic pregnant pause, the words fell out of my mouth.

“Well, I guess for 20 years I’ve paid my mortgage and provided food for my family.  I’ve also been able to spend a lot of time with my wife and kids and we’ve been able to travel quite a bit together.  Most of all, I think I’m doing what God made me to do and I love it.  I guess that’s how I would define success.”

The young man looked at me for a few seconds, most likely waiting for another answer that would include record sales, recognition, maybe a few artist names he would know.  But, I had taken his innocent question and turned it into a spiritual line of demarkation, an appraisal of my years in ministry.

And, in that moment, I was reminded. . .

I really, really love what I do.

THANKS EDDIE! (THE GUITAR/LOOPY/BANGY THING)

In the late 1980′s, Eddie Van Halen was asked how he became such an innovator on guitar. He replied, “Man, that’s crazy. You can drop a guitar and it makes a cool noise. Just have fun with it. Bang it, hit it, whatever.”

As a high schooler learning to play, something in me resonated with those words. So, I began to experiment, hitting my guitar, cupping my hands in different ways to get different sounds, and basically putting unsightly dings in once nice looking guitars.

As the years went by, my curiosity with the percussive nature of the guitar grew. Then, I discovered loop pedals, and my life was never the same!

Thanks Eddie.

THE FIGHT YOU’LL NEVER LOSE

I remember the first time I was in a chemotherapy room. I was 22 years old and Cyndi, my wife of 6 months, was beginning treatment for Hodgkin’s’ Disease. We were young, confused, and finding it hard to breathe as fear tightened its hold.

The room was clean and strangely bright, as if trying to warm our mood. We made our way to a reclining chair and the nurses began getting to know Cyndi and explaining the process.

Unable to find an anchor for my emotions, I detached and began to take in the room. Scattered around were patients and family members all with the same unmistakable emotion etched upon their face. Fear.

Fear and hope had come to battle and the gravity of this war rendered the room silent. Only whispers and the muted beep of machines broke the solemnity. Something deep was planted in me that day. Now, years later, I’m beginning to understand what God was teaching me.

Cyndi shortly after chemotherapy

Cyndi shortly after chemotherapy

My wife Cyndi (as many of you know), passed away of a heart attack after a long battle with cancer. I’ve remarried and through Rayna, God has brought tremendous joy and peace into our family. Rayna is the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

But, ever since those days in the chemo room, I’ve always cringed when I hear the phrase someone has “lost their battle with cancer.” To begin, this statement adds great pressure to those facing treatment, as if they can fight harder, be tougher emotionally, beat this wicked disease by sheer force of will.

More importantly, I believe that as believers in Jesus, we can’t lose a battle to cancer. Jesus has given hope to those suffering, He has conquered death, He has risen from the grave, there is no battle He cannot win. As His children, we are given the promise of redemption, of eternal life, of healing and restoration. Because of Jesus, this is a fight you can never lose!

We’ve all found ourselves broken by the ravages of cancer. This past winter, I spent a considerable amount of time writing a song for my new album Just Beyond the Door. It’s a song of hope for those who are hurting. The response to this song has been absolutely amazing and encouraging.

If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with cancer, I pray you find hope and strength in the song The Fight You’ll Never Lose. You can find it here:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/just-beyond-the-door/id441782343

Whispers

The oppressive heat of California’s San Joaquin Valley made everyone feel like muffins in an oven and the air conditioning didn’t quite make it all the way to the far back of the family station wagon. There, in the rumble seat facing the opposite direction, sat a dark haired little girl, entranced by the car radio. It was always the same, one of two choices: Dodgers baseball or Focus On the Family. Rayna like both, but something about Focus On the Family drew her in. It was 1980’s, and tiny Rayna Clark was just beginning to hear a distant call.

Years went by, the little black haired girl went away to college in Fresno. While there, she began traveling and singing with a music group. Their travels led them to a city in the shadow of Pike’s Peak, Colorado Springs. The once distant voice that called her as a young girl was now whispering loudly.

In the winter of 2000, Rayna packed her things and moved to Colorado Springs to work for the ministry she had grown to love as a girl, Focus On the Family. It was easy. Rayna loved Focus, Focus loved Rayna. She began giving tours of the facility, always stopping in front of the broadcast booth to listen in on broadcasts and point out people of note on the other side of the glass. Little did she know.

The whispering became a song in the summer of 2003. Rayna and I met at a giant youth event, and even though I didn’t own a station wagon, my minivan was enough to convince her to marry me (that, and I told her she didn’t have to face the other way while we were driving). We had both followed the echo of Heaven’s song, and it brought us together.

Our paths to each other were long, difficult, full of wonder and pain. But, also beautiful. This past week, the little girl who grew up entranced by the car radio, found herself on the other side of the glass in the broadcast booth, sharing her journey with 3 million people. The distant voice that had called her, was now using her voice to speak to others, to call them, to remind them that our journeys are not in vain, that God is beside us every step. Amazing, how life comes full circle. Amazing how God directs our paths so gently, yet so fully. Amazing the grace that is so abundant in our stories.

Below: John Fuller (FOTF radio host), Rayna, Danny, Jim Daly (Pres. FOTF). Broadcast scheduled to air Aug. 18/19th.

THE COW THAT FLEW OUT THE WINDOW AND THE SONG THAT ALMOST DIDN’T MAKE IT. . .

One night last fall, I was lying awake discouraged with my parenting. Earlier in the day, all three of our wonderfully angelic children were. . .driving me crazy. We were on our way to school, late and stressed. Noise, fighting, selfishness, we had it all (and I’m not just talking about the kids). It was as if our mini-van was a rolling MMA cage. But, there was one noise that was more obnoxious and stress-inducing than the others- the cow. Maggie had procured (I won’t say “bought” because I can’t believe anyone would buy one of these!) a tiny key-chain cow, that mooed when squeezed. But wait, his nostrils also lit up. What joy. In the midst of the bickering, Maggie continued to put the cow next to my ear and to shine the light in my eyes while I was driving. After a while, I lost it. I grabbed the cow, opened the passenger window, and threw the cow out to the greener pasture of the Best Buy parking lot as we sped buy.

Silence. A stunned count of 10. Then, as if a tear grenade had gone off, crying ensued from all three kids. Apparently my big show of parental power backfired. I dropped the kids off and looked for a rock to crawl under.

As I lay thinking about the cow and my udder impatience, I began praying, asking God to fill in the holes of my parenting. The sincerity and dependence of my prayer solidified something in my soul, all I really want is for my kids to love Jesus. If I had only one prayer (other than salvation), that would be it, that my kids would learn to love the truth of God’s word.

So, I went to the piano and pounded out a confessional of a song in the key of C (because that’s the only key I can play piano in). A song was born. A few months later, while in Nashville to record, I was down to picking the last song that would make it on the record. Rayna mentioned in passing that I couldn’t come home if I didn’t record One Prayer so that helped the decision making process along. If I Had Only One Prayer was the last song to make it on the record, and I’m glad it did.

PS- Maggie and I went back to the scene of the crime after school. I asked her forgiveness and we did a cow search. I saw a crushed cow against the curb, she didn’t, and I gently led her away, to Michaels Craft Store, where more cows were waiting to be adopted.

You can check out If I Had Only One Prayer here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/just-beyond-the-door/id441782343

JUST BEYOND THE DOOR CD RELEASE CONCERT

Sunday night, June 5th, was pretty special for me. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

It all began last May, sitting in my room, computer on my lap, guitar leaning against the chair, looking out the window with a deep breath, beginning work on new songs. It may sound romantic, but writing songs is a lot of work, at least for me. Over the next 6 months or so, I wrote, re-wrote, asked trusted friends advice, re-wrote, and prayed that somehow God would use these offerings to encourage people.

This past winter, I packed up my guitars and headed to Nashville for three weeks (home on the weekends). There, I had the unbelievable privilege of working with Ben Shive, an incredible musician and producer. He took my songs and made them better, considerably better. He then brought in incredibly gifted musicians to lend their talent to the recording as well. For me, it was magic. I felt like a little boy in a candy shop with a grin that couldn’t be wiped away. A record was born.

Which brings me to this last Sunday night. Mission Hills Church (who graciously hosted the evening) was packed with friends, family, and a few strangers. The stage was full of lights, props, and instruments. Backstage, I wasn’t nervous as much as emotional. A year of work. A ton of people who helped shaped this project. Some of my best friends in the world helping me pull this whole thing off.

The concert was was a blast! No train-wrecks musically, lots of good energy, and God was honored.

To be honest, I’m really sick of myself right now. Tired of talking about my writing, tired of cajoling everyone into coming to the show, tired of seeing my picture on posters and CD covers.

But, I’m thankful. Thankful that with help of talented friends, what began in my room last May blossomed into a new project and a fun night.

 

Clara

Recently, I heard a very cool story about Clara. Clara was a gifted piano player. As a little girl, she took lessons from a few different teachers in town. But eventually, her musical intuition and improvisational ability led her down her own musical path. And so it was as a teenager, Clara found her way into the movies.

It was the roaring 20′s, and Hamilton was a sleepy town nestled in the mountains of Montana. Clara had seen the Roxy Theater built just a block off main street. Before long, she applied as a musician to play piano with the silent movies that made their way to the early silver screen.

Being a theater musician was a dream come true for Clara. Occasionally, studios would send specific movie scores and she would studio the pages until she was able to perform them in perfect time with the movie. But, more often than not, Clara was left to her own imagination and ability to accompany the film. Glancing between the screen and audience, Clara could feel herself riding the dramatic wave of art, light, and sound. She was made for this.

In 1927, the Jazz Singer made it’s way to theaters, and with it, voices. Talkies had become all the rage and silent films were quickly becoming a thing of the past. Unfortunately, the great stock market crash hit the nation around the same time and musicians were hit doubly hard- most of them devastated to be leaving a job they loved so much. Clara was no exception.

Years went by. Clara grew older and met a local saxophone player named Ben. Ben was happenin’. Ben was cool. The two created a formidable musical union and played for dances all over the Bitterroot Valley. They were soon married. Their 2nd son, was born Casper Jay Oertli in 1939. My dad.

Clara was my grandmother. Unfortunately, she died in 1960, eleven years before I was born. So, I never had the chance to meet her. I never had the chance to hear her play apart from some old reel to reel tapes. But, I’m sure there is still some of her musical DNA running through my veins. There have been nights when everything is going right and I look out at an engaged crowd and smile, thinking. . . I wonder if Grandpa and Grandma had nights like this. I bet they loved it.

My grandpa’s saxophone hangs on the wall in my study. Both Ben and Clara trusted Jesus as their savior. One day, I’ll see them in heaven and maybe we’ll get to play a tune or two.

*You can find the song Clara, on my new record Just Beyond the Door: