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Jerry Earl Johnston: The best of traveling companions

Published: Saturday, Nov. 23 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

A good road trip is like reading a good book.

You get in at the beginning and push ahead, pause along the way for food and sleep and, with luck, you finish a wiser soul.

And road trips, like books, are even better when memorable characters come along for the ride.

My last trip, I traveled with a CD by Jenni Rivera, the Mexican nightingale, and a CD by Peter Mayer, one of my favorite wandering minstrels. Two good companions.

Then, near Fort Collins, Colo., one of those miracle-coincidence things happened. Peter Mayer himself was performing that night in Fort Collins.

I quickly pulled into town.

The show was sold out, but promoter Steve Brockway found me a place to stand.

And it turned out to be quite a night.

Mayer’s carbon-fiber guitar kept slipping out of tune, his tendonitis flared up, he bobbled the words to a few songs and the break between sets went on forever.

But it was one of the most inspiring shows I’ve seen in years.

I’ve written about Mayer before. He began as a fresh prince of the “new spiritual music," music that touches our spiritual nature without getting bogged down in doctrinal details. Mayer writes about holiness and wholeness, transcendence and tenderness. Call it “untethered spirituality.”

I’m sure many hardcore believers see his music as “unanchored” and free-floating, like the sound of wind chimes with words. But I think Mayer would own that description. It harkens back to the Bible and the notion of the spirit moving where and how it will.

For the Fort Collins show, he unpacked his bag of well-regarded songs — “God Is a River” and “Holy Now.” He also trotted out tunes from a CD he hopes to record after he and his wife get their two young kids in school.

Each song tended to enhance the listener’s own religious convictions without challenging them. And I like that. I respond to it.

Mayer writes about Buddha and Walt Whitman; Annie Dillard and Jesus — all folks I’ve taken along with me on other road trips. But I think I enjoy Mayer’s music most because I like having other people “share” things with me, not “teach” me. When somebody starts to lecture, their words bounce off the side of my head.

And Mayer chooses to share.

“Look what I’ve discovered,” his songs say. “Look what I found. Look what fell into my lap.”

In the end, to bring this column full circle, let me say a road trip with a Peter Mayer CD on board is great. It could only be topped by having the man himself along.

And thanks to a “traveling mercy” that came my way in Fort Collins, on my latest journey, I got to have both.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com

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