Amy Grant is dabbling in a bit of nostalgia.
On stage at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, she’s swaying in place, eyes closed, as she leads her five-piece band and two backup singers through “Stay for Awhile,” her 1986 ode to enduring friendship.
She sticks to the ‘80s a bit longer, marching in place to “Angels” in her silver-fringed black pantsuit and uplifting the sold-out crowd with “Find a Way,” her 1985 anthem of cheerful optimism and inaugural crossover hit from Christian to contemporary pop star.
Less than a week earlier, Grant was forced to postpone her show in Huntsville, Alabama, due to laryngitis. But now she is rolling through two sets of music, her relentless smile twinkling even while she sings, her voice shedding its light rasp as she continues through a 45-year-plus catalog.
Grant shared something special among hits “Somewhere Down the Road” (her “song version of a hug”) and a rare rendition of her 1986 smash duet with Peter Cetera, “The Next Time I Fall” (where guitarist Gene Miller impressively handled the male counterpoint): Her first new non-holiday music in a decade.
Grant released “Trees We’ll Never See” and “What You Heard” in March and April. Both contemplative, both informed by Grant’s mellow vocals, the tracks have jumpstarted Grant’s return to songwriting.
“It’s interesting to start writing in the first quarter (of life) and still be writing in the fourth quarter,” she tells an audience that is respectfully quiet between songs.
On the day that Grant postponed her Alabama show, she (hoarsely) talked with USA TODAY about her new music and the unexpected “gifts” she’s experienced in a difficult past year.
Amy Grant ‘feels good’ as she continues to recover from bike accident
In July 2022, Grant was hospitalized after a serious bike accident in which she hit a pothole and was knocked unconscious near her home in Nashville.
Her recovery period forced the postponement of her fall tour until this year. Her return, which includes spattered dates throughout the country until October and then her traditional Christmas concerts with husband Vince Gill at The Ryman in Nashville, has fed her soul.
“Oh my goodness, I have enjoyed being back on the road so much,” she says. “Being sick made me realize how much I count on feeling good most of the time. I don’t know if it’s a post-COVID thing, too, but I find the longer you enjoy something – either music or a sporting event or a walk in the woods – with time, that level of appreciation to still get to do those things increases.”
Though she’s spoken about the memory loss that occurred after her fall, Grant says now that she “feels good” as she continues to rebuild her stamina.
But, as is her way, the gracious Grant managed to extract something fortuitous from her accident.
“One of the hidden gifts of the bike wreck was it caused the growth of a thyroglossal duct cyst,” she says. Like the congenital heart condition that led to Grant’s open heart surgery in 2020, the cyst was another “freakish thing from in the womb.”
Her voice coach noticed that her Adam’s apple was off center due to the cyst, typically a mass or lump filled with fluid at the front part of the neck.
“The trauma of the bike accident made it grow, or I never would have known I had it,” Grant says.
The removal of the “quail egg-sized” cyst also included taking out part of a neck bone.
But again, Grant is sanguine.
“To me, it felt like with everything that has gone wrong, afterward it has gone better. And that is a gift,” she says.
Amy Grant has ‘so many thoughts’ about new music
Grant’s return to writing and recording new music took a circuitous – and fateful – path. Recording a duet with Christian singer Cory Asbury (“These Are the Days That We’ll Want Back”) last year led her to chatting with Asbury’s producer, Marshall Altman, who shared details about a song he’d written, “Trees We’ll Never See.”
Grant felt an immediate connection to the song, an analogous story of trees living on well beyond the people who planted them.
“What compelled me to sing new music? I guess it was that I showed up,” Grant says. “I was never a kid who looked in the mirror singing into a hairbrush. I have always viewed myself as the unlikely artist because I was so happy listening to everyone else’s stuff.”
With “What You Heard,” Grant pulled the lyrics straight from a therapy session with one of her children (last year she and Gill “gave our whole family the gift of therapy”).
“It’s about how words matter and miscommunications are easy,” Grant says. “Even the mystery of asking the question, ‘What did you just hear that I said?’”
Going forward, Grant admits that she has “no idea” where her current writing will take her, or how long it will take to complete.
“I’m a little slower at everything right now. I don’t know if that’s still my road to recovery or where I am in life,” she says. “But now I have so many thoughts at 62, and I’m so blessed.”
Kennedy Center Honors ‘gave us such a gift’
In December, Grant, along with U2, George Clooney, Gladys Knight and Tania León, were bestowed with a Kennedy Center Honor, the prestigious award denoting a lifetime of contribution to the performing arts and American culture.
The extended reach of Grant’s influence beamed through performances from Sheryl Crow, The Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby) and Michael W. Smith with the Howard University Gospel Choir.
Months later, Grant still sounds elated recalling the special weekend: Sitting and talking with Knight and her husband, William McDowell; joking with Bono about the lengthy guitar-centric conversations occurring between the Edge and Gill; and mostly, being able to celebrate with a lifetime of friends and family.
“I invited everyone I could buy a ticket for. I bought their flights and their hotel rooms. That was an expensive award for me,” Grant says with a laugh. “But I wanted the people who mattered to me – songwriters, producers, the whole entourage. Because it was all of our work (being honored).”
Grant doesn’t hesitate when asked if she’ll attend this year’s ceremony, as is tradition for previous honorees.
“Are you kidding me? Yes! I already had Christmas shows booked, but when I found out I was invited back, we moved those shows,” she says. “The Kennedy Center gave such a gift to all of us to enjoy each other’s company.”