Guest Commentary: Amy Grant concert in Olympia takes me back to the 1980s


I’ve always been a fan of Amy Grant’s music, but I doubt I would have attended her concert last month if not for the movie “I Can Only Imagine.”

When I saw an ad about the contemporary Christian and pop musician’s Feb. 25 performance in Olympia, I contacted my sister and bought tickets right away. Good thing, too, because the Sunday afternoon concert at the Washington Center for Performing Arts sold out. I loved Grant’s music and still own many vinyl LPs of her Christian songs from the 1980s. She’s sold more than 30 million albums worldwide in the past three decades.

“I thought her message through music was what the world needs to hear,” said Mary Kay Nelson, of Chehalis, who also attended the concert with friends. “So positive, hopeful and purposeful. I enjoyed all her songs and remember many of them.”

She also noted she had never attended a concert at the Washington Center for Performing Arts. Neither had I.

And it was the movie showcasing Grant’s class and willingness to put others before herself that prompted me to attend. I wanted to support her just as she had supported Bart Millard, leader of the contemporary Christian band MercyMe.

The 2018 movie about Millard’s life depicted his turbulent childhood after his parents divorced and his friction-filled relationship with his abusive father who eventually found love and acceptance through faith in Jesus. Millard wrote the song “I Can Only Imagine” in 1999, picturing what his father might be seeing in heaven, eight years after his father’s death from cancer and released it on “The Worship Project” independent album that year.

In the movie, Amy Grant purchased the rights to produce the song but brought Millard up on stage to sing the song with her at a concert, giving the rights back to MercyMe and effectively catapulting Millard’s career and the popularity of the song.

In the fall of 2001, MercyMe released “I Can Only Imagine” on its second album, “Almost There,” the band’s debut with a major label, and the song shot to the top of Christian charts and crossed over to pop radio stations, becoming the most played Christian single in 2002 and a mainstream contemporary and country hit the following year. It sold 2.5 million copies and remains the bestselling Christian single of all time.

The movie, starring Dennis Quaid as Millard’s father, cost $7 million to produce and grossed $85.2 million worldwide, according to Wikipedia.

At the Olympia concert, Grant sang many of her pop songs, which I didn’t recognize, as well as her Christian tunes. She proved successful as a crossover artist with six No. 1 hits, 10 “Top 40” pop songs and 17 “Top 40” adult contemporary singles. She has received six Grammy Awards and 26 Dove Awards. She also hosted a television program, “Three Wishes,” on NBC and penned a memoir, Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far, published in 2008.

At 63, Grant, who has been married to country musician Vince Gill since 2000, hasn’t lost her ability to sing or entertain a crowd.

Her music drew me back decades to my single days as an avid downhill skier tackling double-black diamond slopes, the steeper the better, while singing Grant’s “Angels Watching Over Me” and “Love Will Find a Way.” Or while schussing down more sedate slopes, the beautiful lyrics to her songs “El Shaddai” and “My Father’s Eyes” mingled in my mind with Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All.” After the concert, my daughter played Grant’s inspirational greatest hits for me on Spotify in the car on the way to the hospital for a medical procedure I needed.

It’s funny to look back at concerts I’ve attended and realize they followed chapters in my life — Michael Murphy, Harry Chapin and Three Dog Night (I heard them while working in concessions at what today is known as the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland), War, Billy Joel, John Denver (with my mother), the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, Styx, Huey Lewis and the News (during college years at the University of Washington), Herman’s Hermits and the Monkees, Oak Ridge Boys, Jerry Jeff Walker, Charlie Daniels (twice), Willie Nelson, John Connolly (with a former boyfriend who loved country music) and Miley Cyrus, a.k.a. Hannah Montana, with my young daughter, and later Hozier with her when she was older. And now Amy Grant with my sister.

Gas Prices

Speaking of last month, when I attended my writers critique group meeting in Sherwood, Oregon, I drove past the Space Age station at Barnes Road near the Toutle exit from I-5 and noticed the lowest gas price was $3.53. I kept driving, and at the Space Age at King City, Oregon, I pulled in and bought gas for $2.95 a gallon. I heaved a sigh of relief, thinking perhaps gas prices were finally dropping to what they had been, but it was short-lived. Last week, the Toutle station charged $4.04 a gallon while the King City station’s price was $3.85.

What a difference a month makes.

 Woman’s Club of Olympia

Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Woman’s Club of Olympia at the Abigail Stuart House, which the club constructed in 1908 and named for its founder, Abbie Howard Hunt Stuart. I learned that the Woman’s Club of Olympia was founded in 1883, six years before Washington became a state and a dozen years before the St. Helens Club of Chehalis was established in 1895. Olympia’s is one of the oldest women’s clubs on the West Coast.

My presentation focused on women’s history, and I was delighted to share the lectern with living history in the form of Doris Bier, a Lewis County Rosie the Riveter who worked at the Mount Rainier Ordnance Depot putting together Jeep axles during the war when she was only 16. One of her dad’s friends also worked there and told her she should go home and play with dolls. Instead, she excelled in her position and earned the E award for efficiency. She shared her first-person account of life on the home front during World War II.

I also spoke a bit about my favorite Washington pioneer, Matilda (Glover) Koontz Jackson.

What a wonderful evening.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at