Topeka native Mitch McVicker, a musical nomad, is returning

Topeka native Mitch McVicker returns to his hometown for a concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 6, at First Free Methodist Church, 3450 S.E. Indiana Ave. (Submitted)

This coming Sept. 19 marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Christian singer-songwriter Rich Mullins in a Jeep crash on an Illinois interstate highway.


Traveling with Mullins that night was Topeka native Mitch McVicker, who was critically injured.

The two were headed to Wichita for a benefit concert at the time of the crash, which occurred on Interstate 39 about 100 miles southwest of Chicago.

The crash sent shockwaves through the Christian community across the nation and around the world, with many mourning the loss of Mullins, whose music touched the lives of millions. Among Mullins’ best-loved songs was “Awesome God,” which continues to be a standard in churches around the world.

McVicker was just starting his musical career at the time. He recovered from his serious injuries and within a year was performing live concerts again. McVicker received a 1999 Dove Award for song of the year from the Gospel Music Association for his work on the song “My Deliverer,” which he co-wrote with Mullins.

McVicker, 44, has been something of a musical nomad for most of these past two decades, shunning the spotlight of large concert halls or arenas for smaller, more intimate venues.

A graduate of Shawnee Heights High School, where he was an all-city basketball player, McVicker will return to his hometown for a concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 6, at Topeka First Free Methodist Church, 3450 S.E. Indiana Ave. There is no charge for admission and a freewill offering will be received.

Speaking by phone this past week from his home in Atlanta, where his wife is an assistant principal at a large high school, McVicker reflected on life on the road, how the music business has changed over the past two decades and the tragic crash that killed Mullins and changed his life forever.

Live music evolving

“I do about 100 concerts a year,” McVicker said. “It’s a great blessing to get to do that. I miss being at home, being with my kids who are 11 and 6, but I’m still home often.

“It’s an interesting thing, because I got into this to do concerts for people and try to give people some substance and hope.

“Now, because it’s so hard to make it in live music, I have to do concerts all the time in order to keep the ball rolling.”

To that end, McVicker had called me the day before while he was in Wyoming.

The crowds aren’t always what they used to be for a musician doing live concerts, McVicker was saying. Maybe because people are too plugged into their computers.

“I think probably the biggest change is that people can experience the world from their fingertips, at their computer, instead of getting out and going to a live concert,” he said. “While a live concert is just as valuable and powerful as it’s ever been, for some reason, it requires more effort or initiative. People have to get up out of their chair.

“It’s not an indictment on anyone in particular. I’m indicted, as well. It’s just that the cyber world — for all its good, there are some detriments, and that’s one of them. It’s become a way to experience life, and for a lot of us life doesn’t necessarily include interacting with people or being in community because of the way technology has advanced.

“And people’s perception of live music is different than it once was — maybe it’s because of the ‘American Idol’ phenomenon. That’s really not what live music is, but it’s what people have been duped into thinking.”

Hoping for a good turnout

McVicker has plied his trade for most of the past two decades as an independent artist, performing in churches across the country — particularly where he has a following.

He has been in Topeka, on average, about once a year. It allows him to touch base with his parents, Doug and Wendee McVicker, while he is home, and also to connect with old friends.

The crowds for his hometown shows are up and down. He said he was hoping for a good turnout for Saturday night’s show. But, then again, that’s always the case with any show he performs.

“You always hope for as many people as possible who can come out,” he said. “If you believe in what you’re doing, you hope for that.

“It’s always wonderful to return to Topeka, but it’s really not a lot different than several other cities in my travels. It’s hit and miss, but there have been some really well-attended concerts in Topeka, and there have been some that haven’t been as well attended, but I have to do what I do regardless of who is there.”

These days, McVicker is accompanied by another musician, Dave Sprinkle. Together, the two make a lot of music, thanks in large part to McVicker’s use of a “looping” tool that allows him to be creative with various forms of percussion.

“I still make percussion loops with all the garage-sale items and household junk,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sprinkle will “jump from bass to keyboard to percussion, and we try to take seriously our purpose of doing what we’re doing without taking ourselves too serious.”

Recovering after September 1997

Last but not least, I asked Mitch about the night in September 1997 that Mullins was killed and he suffered near-fatal injuries in that crash in Illinois.

Does it seem possible it’s been 20 years? Does he think about it a lot?

“Sure,” he said, pausing as he selected his words. “As life ebbs and flows and changes over 20 years, which is a lot, that event is always kind of a benchmark for me. It’s always kind of there.

“My relationship with Rich is how I got into doing what I do now, and my being injured in the way I was had a huge effect on me.

“It won’t ever be gone, but the fact that it’s 20 years now — there’s people who are doing books on it. I’ve contributed to a book on it and I’m going to contribute to a CD from various artists who have been influenced or impacted by Rich, so there are people who are doing 20-year anniversary things.

“I can’t get away from it. Not that I want to, but it won’t go away, and that’s a testament to how powerful Rich’s influence and impact have been on a number of people and continues to be.

“Mostly I’m grateful for the whole thing, and that’s a difficult statement to make,” he said, “but even the difficult, rough time for me personally, just recovering and trying to get my life back together, up and going again, whatever you would say, and then losing my friend, and basically having the rug pulled out from what I thought life was going to be…

“I’m grateful for that — it’s much easier to say that looking back, but we are called and moved to be dependent on God, and it seems sometimes God has to yank the rug out from underneath you in order for that to happen. I had nothing or very little to hang onto other than God. I’m grateful for my time with Rich, and I’m grateful for having to deal with the rough stuff.”

Talking to Mitch, or going to one of his shows, you never know what he might say. More than likely, it can and will disarm you and set you to thinking about things in a radically different way.

McVicker doesn’t go about trying to make outlandish statements. Rather, his words and his thoughts are reflective of who he is — a man who has literally been broken, both physically and spiritually, and who has lived to tell about his road to recovery, with his faith in Christ very much intact.

“Like I’ve said before, in order to make us into the people God is making us into, often it seems like God uses that which we would not choose to go through on our own,” he said. “Yet I think I fall in the same lines of Paul when he says it is in our weakness that we are made strong.

“I don’t know if my faith is particularly strong,” he allowed, “but I know I am in a much more attentive place to try to walk by faith and try to live in the kingdom of God than I was before this difficulty.”

To this day, McVicker remembers and is grateful for the many people who prayed for him after the crash 20 years ago — people he didn’t know and never met.

For those who haven’t yet met McVicker or heard his story and caught a glimpse of where he has come from these past 20 years, Saturday night’s concert would be an excellent place to start.

Contact reporter Phil Anderson at (785) 295-1195 or follow live reports @Philreports on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at