The Next Chapter


Last year I released a record called BRING FORTH, a collection of reimagined, obscure hymns. Though I’m quite proud of how the whole thing turned out, as I approach the one year anniversary of the album’s release I think the biggest gain I’ve received from it has less to do with WHAT was made and more to do with HOW it was made.

For me, BRING FORTH was a crash course in the concepts of creation and re-creation… this idea that NO art is truly original, but that a fundamental part of our role as humans is to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, link arms with those around us, and breathe new life into the fragments and artistic artifacts we encounter every day. Because each of us brings to the world a different combination of experiences, predispositions and wirings, the art we each have the potential of bringing to the world is uniquely valid and meaningful.

All that is fancy language to say this: the act of creating is both good and necessary for us and good and necessary for our world. I am discovering that this basic truth is at the core of what makes me alive and gives me reason to get up in the morning. Its a rhythm of life that makes me fully alive and fully human.

Though it seems obvious, all of this was a fitting lesson to learn while in the middle of a creative project that involved re-working others’ art, funded by the generosity of a community (through Kickstarter) that believed in the unique voice I bring to my own art. In turn, the opening of my eyes to these deep truths over the past year became the seeds that would inform the next steps for my art, my career and even my family.

It was during this season about a year ago that I began dreaming of exactly what those next steps could look like. A lot of these dreams revolved around the idea of creating a space that could serve as a creative hub for a community of musicians and other artists. A space that would be more focused on the process and journey of creating than the end product. A space that would put creative tools in the hands of people who otherwise would never have the resources nor platform to create.  A space that would foster mentoring relationships, giving a new generation of artists the confidence to create. A space that would teach people to tap into their unique creative potential… into this creative rhythm of life that makes us fully alive and fully human.

As these dreams and ideas began fermenting within me, conversations began.

Some of those conversations were with my friends running an organization called Triple Threat, a non-for-profit mentoring organization focused on bringing hope to under-resourced communities through mentoring-focused relationships. Their model is simple: get a bunch of passionate adults together and give them opportunities to live out that passion and their life's purpose in context of relationships. The adults benefit. The kids benefit. Communities benefit. Bridges are built and walls are broken down. And best of all: it works. They've been doing this in the Chicago area for the past decade or so and have some INCREDIBLE stories to tell.  (Check out what they’re up to here and while you're at it, learn how to get involved here.)

Recently, Triple Threat has expanded their work to the West Coast by beginning work in Santa Ana, California. Santa Ana is a diverse and evolving city of roughly 330,000 people. It's home to one of the most interesting and eclectic art, food and music scenes in America. It's also home to a lot of poverty, gangs, violence and some profound inequality between those who have and those who don't. By living out their model of passion, purpose and relationships, Triple Threat is adding to the beauty of this city and bringing hope one story at a time.

Given all of these circumstances the conversation then became "what if we could build a space in Santa Ana that could serve the artist community, tapping into its raw, creative energy, and leverage it to make a direct impact in the lives of under-resourced families? What would it look like to teach young people in Santa Ana to tap into their unique creative potential? What would it look like to empower creatives in Santa Ana to create their unique art while also giving resources and a platform and a voice to those without resources, platform and voice?"

Holy shit. This gets me excited.

So... After a couple decades of making my art, establishing a family and doing ministry in the Chicago area I was given the opportunity to join the Triple Threat team, move to Southern California and create THE STUDIO in Santa Ana.

Four weeks ago my family and I moved out of our house, said goodbye to our deep network of family and friends in Illinois, packed up our little black Subaru and hit the road. We'll be spending the first several months here assimilating and networking within Triple Threat and Santa Ana as well as diving into new adventures as a family. Every day feels both terrifying and exhilarating, like a new relationship or like downhill skiing with no pants (don't try to visualize that one).

Since there's a good chance you are reading this because you've connected with my music somewhere along the line, I'll answer this question: What does this mean for my own music? Will I continue to make Ben Thomas records? Will this move be a complete shift into focusing exclusively on the music of others?

The answers to those questions, in order are: I have NO IDEA, YES, and heck-to-the-NO. I am seeing this next step as the next evolution of my own music and as a continuation of my artistic projects. In fact, I believe that the act of developing other artists (even when their work may look or sound radically different than my own) will provide a new depth to my own art in ways that I can't even name right now. Just the journey of this transition ITSELF has given me a huge amount of experience and stories from which to be inspired by and I look forward to seeing what kind of unexpected places these steps take me as an artist.

All of this said, THANK YOU for your encouragement over the years. THANK YOU for believing in me and getting behind my art. THANK YOU for giving me the confidence as a creator to create and dream and take bold steps forward. You go with me into this next chapter. Any impact I make, and any art I make, will be made because of you... my community of friends, family and fans…  who have given me spirit to make it.

We do this together.