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The tour that isn't

Music | Wilcox practices a life worth singing about

Issue: "The waiting game," March 22, 2008

David Wilcox has a new album, Airstream, and more than 50 gigs on his calendar in 2008. But he insists he is not on tour.

"A tour is all about supporting a band," he said. "What I'm doing is traveling around and playing for people."

That sort of self-effacing non-answer is what fans expect from this singer-songwriter with a 20-year career. Out of the Asheville, N.C., music scene Wilcox built a regional following in the late 1980s. He threatened to become the "next big thing" when he signed with A&M Records in 1989, but the major labels wanted million-sellers and Wilcox produced critically acclaimed and steady selling albums-but no hits. After three discs, the label dropped him.

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By then he had a fan base that would travel to see him, and he now fills 500- to 1,500-seat venues, playing enough shows to make a living, but few enough for Wilcox himself to have what he calls "a life that's still worth singing about."

Part of that life involves a Christian commitment, though Wilcox music definitely doesn't fit the Contemporary Christian Music mold. "I've tried to sing praise songs, or write songs that might be called Christian songs, and I'm just not that good at it," he told WORLD before one sellout show. "I have no trouble talking about Jesus, but my gift seems to be to writing in ways that surprise people into thinking about faith, rather than to write songs that congratulate people in some sort of club."

Given his insistence that he is not on tour, it is ironic that Wilcox, his wife Nance, and their teenage son spent two years touring the country in an Airstream motor home pulled by a biodiesel truck, which provided grist for his latest album. And given his insistence that he doesn't write "Christian songs," it is also ironic that Wilcox recently found himself at the Washington Hilton during the National Prayer Breakfast, not as a scheduled performer, but essentially as a "busker," walking around with guitar in hand, playing to small groups who recognized him, and sometimes to those who didn't.

"This kind of group is not my normal audience, but it's great to play for people who listen to my music and 'get it,'" he said.

With a new album of songs and a 2008 "non-tour" that includes a week-long fan cruise to Alaska and a stop at the venerable Kerrville Folk Festival, this could be the year more than just a hearty core of Wilcox fans get his music.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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