Christian music artist Matthew West strode on stage before his concert at the Southeast Expo Center and told those present the evening would be more like a living room gathering than a typical concert event.
West must have an interesting living room.
During a concert that extended to approximately three hours and 15 minutes, he and fellow members of his Into the Light tour, Sidewalk Prophets and Jason Castro, rocked the Expo Center, whipping up ecstatic cheers from audience members who roared their approval through the huge pavilion.
But first, the audience turned reverently quiet as West prepared to lead those present in prayer.
Before his performance, West said he always looks forward to returning to McAlester.
“We circled this date on our calendar for what would be a special night,” he said.
“I’ve done thousands of concerts in my life,” West said. “I’ve done four in McAlester, Oklahoma.”
It’s kind of like a homecoming, he said.
West brought his Into the Light tour to McAlester to benefit the Ryan McAfee Memorial Scholarship fund.
Before West’s performance, Jason Castro opened the show.
Well-known to many for his strong finish as third runner-up on season seven of “American Idol,” Castro took the stage alone, strumming a ukulele while he sang an updated arrangement of “Over the Rainbow.”
Following his solo turn, West’s band joined him on stage for a full-blown version of his hit song “Only a Mountain,” followed by several other numbers.
Sidewalk Prophets, the second act on the bill, delivered a rousing performance, earning them enthusiastic cheers and several standing ovations.
Lead singer David Frey gallivanted around the stage, obviously in the spirit of his performance, as lead guitarist Shaun Tomczak tore through a series of lightning rifts.
They gave heart-felt performances of their best-loved songs, including “The Words I Need to Say” and “You Love Me Anyway.”
During an earlier interview with the News-Capital, Frey said there would be something special in store at the concert — and the band brought it.
They laid down their regular instruments. With Frey and Tomczak joined by Ben McDonald, rhythm guitar; Cal Joslin, bass, and Justin Nace, drums, they invited Castro back on stage.
There, they gathered around a single microphone and sang a harmony-laden introduction to their huge hit “Help Me Find It,” accompanied by acoustic, slide guitar, and an accordion. Following the intro, they picked up their regular instruments and delivered a powerful rendition of the song that had been number two on the contemporary Christian music charts for an amazing 14 weeks.
It had been kept off the number one spot only because that spot had already been taken by West, whose song “Hello, My Name Is” topped the charts for a record-breaking 17 consecutive weeks.
West, who took the stage to cheers that seemed to welcome a longtime friend back to town, opened with a thundering new arrangement of “The Motions” — a song with a McAlester connection.
He reached back into his songbook to follow with fresh arrangements of “More” and “You Are Everything.”
Accompanied by his band, West alternated on electric and acoustic guitar, ripping through his hit songs, including “My Own Little World,” “Strong Enough,” “Forgiveness” and “Hello, My Name Is.”
He didn’t spend all his time singing, though. West also told stories and showed several videos about the genesis of some of his songs.
Staying true to his earlier statement to treat the evening like a living room experience, he invited his wife and their two young daughters on stage, as well as his father, the Rev. Joe West, from Tennessee.
Matthew West said he received more than 25,000 songs when writing his two albums “The Story of Your Life” and “Into the Light” after inviting his listeners to share their stories with him.
One of those stories came from McAlester resident Linda McAfee, who told a story already known to West, of her son, Ryan McAfee.
Ryan McAfee is the former Canadian Cougars basketball standout who died on his way to college in 2009 after a piece of heavy equipment fell from a truck into the path of his vehicle. His family later found the lyrics to West’s song “The motions,” on McAfee’s computer site, which led the family to have a recording of “The Motions” played at his funeral.
When West learned what had happened, he reached out to the McAfee family, opening his “The Story of Your Life” tour in McAlester in 2009. He returned in 2010 and 2011, with his Thursday night performance marking his fourth McAlester concert in five years.
“We’re excited to be part of honoring a young man’s life,” West had said at the beginning of the evening.
‘”Over 21 college scholarships have been given away” through the Ryan McAfee Memorial Scholarship program, he said.
West said the concert will honor a young man who was taken too soon.
“We’re honoring his legacy and we’re honoring his family too,” West said.
West closed the musical portion of his concert with “The Reason for the World,” the song he wrote for Ryan McAfee and the McAfee family.
Following a thunderous ovation, West invited Danny McAfee, Danny’s wife, Linda McAfee, and their son, Lance McAfee on stage.
West spoke of Ryan McAfee and the influence his life continues to have on others.
He also recognized that Ryan’s family and friends miss him tremendously.
“Our family isn’t complete until we’re together again,” West said.
“When the story of your life has written its final sentence, you’re going to be with Ryan,” West said, speaking of “this beautiful place called heaven.”
At the beginning of the evening, West told the audience, “There’s a chance we will leave here different than we came in tonight.”
At the concert’s end, he invited his father, Joe West, on stage to end the concert portion of the evening with a prayer.
“Show Oklahomans what’s real,” West told the audience as the concert ended.
Although the music ended, the evening hadn’t, as West invited those who felt they needed prayer to stay a while longer.
“We will stay and we will pray until the last person leaves,” West said.
And, that’s exactly what they did.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.