Jerry Earl Johnston: A musician who plays on the heartstrings of boomers

Published: Saturday, Feb. 1 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

Michael Kelly Blanchard performed for a pastors convention group in this photo from 1997.

Kristan Jacobsen

One thing about spiritual people, they have a knack for outreach.

In recent months, I’ve seen outreach ministries mounted for the homeless, for prisoners and for the hungry.

But I was caught off guard by an outreach ministry aimed right at me — at me and baby boomers like me.

Songwriter Michael Kelly Blanchard is a man on a mission to my generation.

His two-hour show is filled with songs and stories meant to touch the hearts of boomers then send us out to touch the hearts of others.

“A lot of churches, in trying to reach out to the youth, have disenfranchised older parishioners,” says Jim Cismowski, the minister of music and worship at the First Presbyterian Church of Concord, Calif., one of Blanchard’s stops on his current tour. “And as religious leaders we need to reach out to those who helped build our churches. They are the foundation. So Michael’s whole baby boomer focus is striking a chord with a lot of people.”

Blanchard’s belief is that people, like birds, have songs of the heart they sing to each other. And his tunes and lyrics are aimed at softening the hearts of his audience and calling out the songs they have to sing.

He sings about fathers giving haircuts to their sons in the 1950s, then those sons giving haircuts to their disabled fathers years later.

He sings about families popping their own corn and heading to a drive-in movie, with the kids losing interest, then pretending to be asleep so their fathers will carry them into the house.

Blanchard grew up in Connecticut, but his talent for finding common experience in the lives of people his age is uncanny. Even before the Internet and cellphones, American families from coast to coast were somehow on the same page. They were connected. And Blanchard uses those connections to bring a tear to the eye and soften the soul.

And once he has us boomers softened up, he lets us know what we need to do.

Don’t fret about past wrongs, Blanchard sings, forgive and cherish.

Don’t fret about the future, live in the moment, connect with others.

Graying boomers, he sings, still have a lot to offer. He asks us to become ministers ourselves — to become open-hearted souls who minister to children, to the aged and to the less fortunate.

Suffering is universal, he sings.

But so is love and caring.

We need to be alive and aware, to our spouses, our grandkids and our neighbors.

We need to let down our guard, open up and reach out.

It’s a powerful proscription from a powerful performer. And it’s a message that won’t soon be forgotten.

I’m guessing about 70 people were at the concert I attended.

And I’m guessing about 70 people left the hall that night, thinking of their parents and the experiences in life that made them who they are. And wondering about ways to connect with others who are like them.

In other words, wondering about ways to connect with everyone.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com

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