The only thing that separates Matthew West's inspirational/Christian folk-rock from contemporary music is the places he chooses to perform.
"There aren't that many differences with what I'm doing and what the mainstream artists are doing," West said by phone from a car on the way to the Chicago airport. "It's really just the venues these days. I mean the first real concerts I performed were at fraternity houses. I have since been playing churches and auditoriums. But my music is inspirational and uplifting, like any good pop song."
West, one of the hottest inspirational singers on the scene, said it was a broken dream that got him where he is today. "When I was growing up, I had a burning desire to play baseball for the Chicago Cubs. Throughout high school, the local papers wrote articles about me and said I was going to have a great career with the Cubbies. But something happened. Things didn't turn out the way I had planned them. I didn't get the baseball scholarship and I wasn't playing in college."
That's when the music kicked in. "I always loved music," said West. "I was drawn to the oldies stations. I loved oldies music. There was something simple and pure about the arrangements. And even the lyrics — though back then they were controversial — they had a touch of innocence, unlike what we hear on the contemporary radio stations today.
"Anyway, it was a sign that I wasn't going to play baseball. So I put my focus on music."
West always wanted to make music that would make people happy. So that's why he began writing inspirational songs. "I just like seeing people smile."
The singer/songwriter had already made a name for himself writing songs, recording two independent albums and playing live when he attracted the eyes and ears of the Universal South record label. "I think one of the most difficult times in my life happened just before I was going to sign my record contract. I locked myself out of my house and fell through a window trying to get inside."
The fall severed a major artery in his left arm. If it weren't for someone finding him, he would have bled to death. "The wound was so bad that the doctors didn't think I would be able to use my arm again. I remember laying in the hospital after surgery and feeling that this may be another dream that was dying."
This time around, however, the dream lingered. And West was more determined than ever to hold on to it as long as he could. "I worked hard to be able to use the arm. I did a lot of physical therapy and exercises."
In 2003, West released his big-label debut album, 'Happy.' A single, 'More,' went straight to No. 1 on the Christian Adult Contemporary charts. "That made me feel a little more pressure than usual," said West with a laugh. "I was surprised at how popular the song was. And I knew that I had to keep things going if I was going to keep doing this for my career."
Now, two years later, West has released his second big-label album, 'History.' "I recorded this album with the idea that everyone makes history. No matter the circumstances or who you talk with, you are making history with the people you come in contact with.
"And it's a timely theme these days with what's happening in the Gulf Coast. Those people who are helping the victims are making history."
If you go . . .
What: Matthew West, Shawn MacDonald, Paul Wright
Where: Calvary Chapel of Salt Lake, 460 W. Century (4380 South)
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
How much: $5
Phone: 814-4645 or 326-4501