Nearly two weeks ago, I left the chilly early autumn and traveled to Phoenix to see David perform at the suburb’s annual Constitution Week USA (formerly known as Gilbert Constitution Week).
Phoenix is always otherworldly to me. I have visited the neighboring suburb of Tempe multiple times, but because I did not grow up in Phoenix, its architecture all looks the same and the seemingly endless suburban landscape makes me feel miniscule. Although I am well-traveled in other countries, I remain rather poorly traveled in the Southwestern American states. I looked forward to again visiting Phoenix, even if only for a very short time.
My previous concert travel to Myrtle Beach in late May had a much different personal tenor from this Phoenix trip. Prior to Myrtle Beach, I anxiously anticipated hearing the new band’s sound and seeing David perform live for the first time since last September’s ArtPrize headlining concert in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Myrtle Beach concert also marked the end of another work year for me, so it was a vacation celebration for me, too.
Unlike Myrtle Beach, I had new questions as the Phoenix date approached: Will the winter tour have a stop near me? What are David’s overall, even if vague, plans after the winter tour and into next year? Will he ever go back to make industry connections and work in Nashville, a city that he has described as musically special to him?
When I made my Phoenix travel arrangements several months ago, I did not consider researching the event’s background. Only in late August did I learn that the Phoenix concert appearance was a highlight of Gilbert’s annual Constitution Week USA event. Gilbert’s event is the area’s local iteration of the nationwide Constitution Week celebrations. The origin of Constitution Week can be traced to several Congressional acts. Congress designated September 17 as “Citizenship Day” on February 29, 1952. On August 2, 1956, Congress asked the president to proclaim the week beginning September 17 through September 23 of every year as “Constitution Week.”
Gilbert’s Constitution Week was initially organized by the area’s LDS church. In 2002, Gilbert Mayor John Lewis, who was then president of the Gilbert stake, asked Bill Norton and
Barb Stowell to develop ways to celebrate the Constitution within the Gilbert stake. The group created a celebration that included a Constitution Week fair, Tribute to the Founders event, Family Lesson, and a September 11 memorial. Since then, the organizing committee has involved other local faith-based organizations and patriotic groups.
In more recent years, the Tea Party has played an important role in expanding the Constitution Week program around the country. According to a September 15, 2011 article in The Arizona Republic, the Tea Party hired Norton, Gilbert’s Constitution Week co-founder, to help develop Constitution awareness programs in schools.
David’s headlining concert on Sept. 17 marked Gilbert’s biggest-yet Constitution Week on its 10th anniversary. The festivities included information booths and the Saturday festival that included the headlining concert, sky drivers, a short air show, fireworks, and videos that focused on themes such as patriotism. Organizers expected 10,000 people, which surely came to pass as crowds swelled around the stage in anticipation of David’s set.
Saturday’s events reflected a hometown vibe. The three musical acts that performed prior to David’s set reminded me of the local entertainment at the Midwestern county fairs and church festivals I attended as a child. The show opened with a trio, “Firefly,” which included three young sisters who sang patriotic songs and self-written material while playing guitars and fiddle. The second act, the Jones Boys, was a quartet of brothers who sang barbershop-style songs. The evening’s main emcee doubled as the lead singer of the third act, a local rock band.
The local talent was not always in tune or polished, but they were endearing and gave the festival a personal and hometown presentation. At times, the event organizers and help looked overwhelmed as they tried to manage the big show. The planes for the air show did not show up on time, so the organizers just went with it and moved on to the next item on the schedule. They were clearly trying their best and I was touched that they had the courage to try some new ideas this year to draw younger people to the show. As an older friend of mine would graciously say, “Bless their hearts.”
As always, the anticipation was palpable as David’s set approached. I hoped that David would see the creative posters that fans lovingly prepared. Fans were delighted when Mark Nilan, Jr. came into the crowd and greeted fans right before David’s set began. Part of the concert excitement is seeing the band, and fans came bearing cards and signs for different band members.
I will not detail the entire set list because videos and commentary have already been posted on YouTube and other fan sites. Was it David’s best live performance? No. In comparison to the Asian tour and Myrtle Beach performances, David’s stage presence at Gilbert was more subdued and he seemed to be struggling with allergies or fatigue, or both. However, I often reflect on David’s work schedule during the past few years and marvel at his productivity. Just thinking about his work pace at such a young age is enough to exhaust me.
As always, David hit the right notes and delivered a professional performance. The concert length did not seem too short and David sang a variety of patriotic songs, the “Heaven” cover, and selections from the first two albums. As many fans have no doubt already read about, David came out to greet fans by the barricade after a little awhile.
I remain fascinated by the devotion of David’s fans. Many, like myself, had flown in from other states, and the Arizona Republic reporter who interviewed me earlier in the week was surprised to learn this information. I assured her that the fly-ins were nothing unusual, as David has devoted fans who seize chances to hear him live. The wonder of hearing David’s soaring and pliable voice live never fails to amaze me, and I look forward to hopefully having another opportunity to do so during the upcoming winter tour.