Saturday, April 17, 2010
You Missed Out: Welcome Wagon
I was forced to say goodbye to my wife and leave the music mecca of Chicago this weekend so I could see a band play in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is special, because not just any college town can host a band before they ever play Chicago. For their annual Festival of Faith and [fill in the blank] ("Writing," this year), Calvin's Director of Student Programs brought the Welcome Wagon in for a rare concert event.
Vito and Monique Aiuto, the cutest husband and wife duo I've ever seen play music together, are a Christian band. But not in the way Tooth & Nail or Relevant Magazine would define it. They aren't so hip that they have to be a "band of Christians, not a Christian band." The lyrical content is as blatant as Danielson or MercyMe. But their music is definitely more aligned in style with the former. They even covered a Danielson song (Sold! To the Nice Rich Man). There isn't any evangelical subtext in Welcome Wagon songs, their faith unapologetically stands above the surface of the music.
Welcome Wagon's 2008 release for Asthmatic Kitty, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, was a collection of songs that Vito and Monique recorded over the span of a few years, almost as a sort of hobby. When their friend Sufjan Stevens decided to come along and produce their album, it provided the Aiutos with an immediate jolt into the indie rock spotlight.
The spotlight was still shining brightly last night at the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, where a packed house of college kids filled the venue to capacity. At the front of the stage, the husband and wife performed their soft folk tunes with their profiles to the audience. They looked directly at each other as they sang. The space between them was full of an invisible love field. As sappy as it sounds, it really made me miss my wife. Their show reminded me of how beautiful marriage is. And I don't mean the concept of marriage. I'm talking about the thing that actually happens between two married people who live their lives out of devotion to each other.
Vito and Monique sang lyrics about Jesus. While the songs may have been about a spiritual Savior, in a more emotional sense they were simply about the love that the Aiuto's share with each other. The reason they make music in the first place is because they love doing it as a family. If they were in their Brooklyn home instead of on a stage in Grand Rapids, the only difference would've been a three-year-old son banging on a tambourine.
My dad always told me, "your testimony starts at home." Currently, my home consists of me and my wife. If I have any sort of Christian testimony, it should be apparent in the way I love my wife. The kindness we show to each other, the fun games we play, the housework I do (without first being told)--this is the first sign of my faith. When I looked at the Aiuto family (minus child) up on stage, smiling at each other as they sang, I felt their joy. Their music was about God, but not just on a lyrical level.
As blatant as Danielson, but as delicate as Sufjan, the Welcome Wagon's obvious faith was too earnest to put anybody off. At the end of the show when Vito thanked the audience and said, "God loves you," it didn't come off cheesy. This was because we got to feel that sincere love between him and his wife for the hour-long show.
At a seminar the day after the concert, Vito told attendees at the Festival of Faith and Writing why he does the Welcome Wagon: "I want to sing with my family."
Throughout their concert, the Welcome Wagon gave away Polish bread (from their neighborhood Brooklyn bakery) to various members of the audience. They encouraged clapping and stomping from the crowd. And played with a choir from the local area. It was a community event, one that occurs quite often in the Aiuto's living room, but only a couple times a year with a watching audience.
Vito is a full-time pastor who tends to a church in Williamsburg, New York. Between his duties there and a family as his top priority, the Welcome Wagon is little more than a product of "family fun night." Their testimony extends to larger audiences only because it starts at home. If the Aiutos hadn't made music out of love for each other, it never would have been able to bless the students at Calvin College this weekend. I'm glad I left the mecca for a few days. When I return, I will kiss my wife.