Mercy in the Music

Words by Shelly Brown
Illustrations by Aedan Peterson

A welcome call. At the core of our hearts’ deepest desire is to be welcomed as we are. For those in the public eye, this contentment doesn’t always come easy. To be a “face” that people see on stage carries its weight as much as its reward. It is said that it can be lonely at the top. Based in Nashville, Porter’s Call is making sure that those rising to the top, as well as those struggling to make it at the bottom, have someone to meet them wherever they are.

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Therapist Al Andrews moved to Nashville with his wife in 1997 to open his private practice. As his clientele grew, he began to notice a common theme amongst the Nashville crowd: 90 percent of his clients were in the music industry. The diversity rested in the musical roles of his clients, but the core issues all had great similarities. What started out as only a dream for most of his clients had so quickly become a reality.

While to most people this doesn’t sound like anything that would cause issues, Al became closely acquainted with the reality of fame. His clients were at the top of their game professionally, and he found their personal lives crumbling. The dual life of performing as one person on stage and humbling into a completely different role at home was a challenge. There is no road map for being met with screaming fans on a stage and the next day being met with a screaming toddler at home. The lonely spouses, empty hotel rooms, drugs, alcohol, and schedule fatigue might sound like the chorus of a classic country song, but these were the reality for Al’s clients.

To make it in the music industry requires a lot of availability. Headliners and studio musicians alike must be available for tours, fans, record labels, writing sessions, and interviews. So where does therapy fit into the schedule of a successful musician or the budget of a struggling one? Al quickly picked up on the need for these performers to be guided on the path to healing, and that it required convenience for their lifestyles. He decided to try and begin the path to healing not from his office but from a record label. Andrews took his discoveries to some of the biggest labels in Music City. By partnering with a label, he saw the opportunity for more consistency with his clients. One of these meetings was with Peter York of Sparrow Records. Peter immediately knew there was great importance in investing beyond the tour and merchandise of artists, into their hearts and souls. Sparrow records invested in the idea with the generous requirement that artists from any label would have the opportunity for free counseling, not only those signed with Sparrow.

In 2001, what had started as a way for Al to see his clients more consistently had quickly turned into a haven for the artists of Music City. As the word spread about niche counseling for the music industry, a plan was devised to turn the idea into a non-profit. With more record labels willing to invest in their artists’ personal lives, Porter’s Call was born and continues to offer counseling for its clients, free of charge.

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It was named for the term given to the kind greeters of early fifth-century monasteries. A porter was chosen by his fellow monks to be the first welcome call a traveler would encounter after a long and tiresome journey. The porter was to be the warm embrace that represented the monastery, offering an abundance of love, conversation, and prayer. This ancient greeter now provided healing inspiration for the travelers of Nashville, and also to the ones left at home.

With counseling being so well received by artists, it wasn’t long until the helping hands of Porter’s Call extended to those who loved the artists most--their families. It may be one of the most misunderstood concepts of humans: to have it all on the outside but feel empty on the inside. These feelings affect not only artists, but can trickle down to their loved ones as well. Marriages take love and effort, no matter what career path each spouse has chosen. When you add travel, money, temptation, and fame to that, you create a recipe for a stereotypical disaster. If it’s lonely at the top, how does it feel for those who help you get there? While touring picks up for artists, families are left at home. What does it feel like at school for teenagers to be known for who their parents are? What are the expectations at home for a celebrity who is worshipped on the road? Who do you talk to when you’ve risen to fame and are no longer allowed to have feelings? When the spotlight shines so brightly, sometimes people can be blinded and lose identity. In a culture that worships performance, when is it OK to say no? These are not issues and questions that artists and families are able to bring up around everyone, so Porter’s Call is there to help.

For almost two decades, Porter’s Call has provided guidance for the artists, band members, and spouses who are part of the music that fills our lives. They see the darkness that can happen behind the brightness of the spotlight and can help to point the way toward the narrow path. Al Andrews is now the Executive Director and serves artists with two other porters.Through their annual storytelling event, and the generosity of donors and artists, they have continued to offer their services free of charge. These porters provide safe, attainable, and confidential guidance to the people they help. By having a safe haven for sharing their inner world, artists are able to share their gifts with the outer world.

To find out more, or to donate to this incredible cause, visit porterscall.com.