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Musicians unite for human trafficking benefit

St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, Cal., May 3, 2019

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Oftentimes, benefit concerts can be strong on cause-worthiness, but a little weak on artistic merit. This concert, in support of International Justice Mission, was as rewarding for both its music, and its social justice mission. Held at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, a beautiful Orange Country bayside sanctuary with a breathtaking skylight ceiling, this small but attentive audience left at the end the night informed, entertained and spiritually refreshed.

The evening's three primary performers were Sara Groves, Robbie Seay Band and Audrey Assad. The show was bookended by group performances from all three, with individual sets in between. Seay opened the show with a set of mostly worship songs. However, the highlight of his portion was a cover of Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain," a lyric inspired by Martin Luther King Jr's last speech in Memphis.

Groves, with her librarian-esque glasses and cute demeanor, may not at first appear to be a formidable performer. However, when she sang the metaphorical "Floodplain" over a meditative piano pattern, Groves lyrical prowess came across as both powerful and unforgettable. She may categorized by most as a contemporary Christian artist, but she's also one of today's best singer/songwriters.

Assad is blessed with the most naturally beautiful voice of the three headliners, and her brief set saved the best for last. She included a song about the garden of Eden, as well as a new song (one she sang from a written note on her cellphone) about the beautiful innocence of her young daughter. Assad has a unique ability to bring out the sacred beauty in everyday life, like few other songwriters can. Assad applied her worshipful "Wounded Healer" to a corporate prayer time, where suggested prayer topics were presented on the sanctuary's two big screens.

The evening ended with a time of worship, which included the hymns "The Doxology" and "Holy, Holy, Holy," as well as the singing of contemporary worship song, "No Longer Slaves," which took on a whole new meaning in this concert's context.

Interspersed along with the musical performances, there was the testimony of a human trafficking survivor, as well as that of a law officer fighting human trafficking in the Philippines. An appeal to support this organization, and its mission of ending slavery in our lifetime, was also presented. It felt like being at the right place, at the right time, for the right cause.

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