They’d flown in from the West Coast and central Tennessee, and now they were sitting around the patio fireplace at Laity Lodge.
Three musicians—James Paek, Jimmy Abegg, and Liz Vice—had donned cozy knit beanies to stay warm in the cool of a Hill Country January. (A fourth, Tyler Chester, braved the chill without a hat.) They were puzzling through the songwriting prompt: to create a song about peacemaking and connecting across differences.
This private retreat had pulled twenty-five artists and musicians from around the country. Convened by David Gungor of the New York church Good Shepherd, the group’s goal was to draft an album of songs themed around peacemaking and reconciliation—in just four days.
All of them had been assigned to songwriting groups of three to five, tasked with prompts relating to the broader goal of the album. Hellos were said, hands were shaken (or fists bumped), and they began their work.
Six months later, on June 2, 2023, the album’s first single was released: “Side by Side,” sung by Charles Jones and Dee Wilson. It’s a classic soul duet wrapped in soaring strings, and it’s the fruit of Liz, James, Jimmy, and Tyler’s songwriting session. What started at Laity Lodge is streaming through speakers around the world.
Liz recalled the image that haunted them all early in the process: “living parallel lives on different streets.” Why is it so hard to know our neighbors, even those just a ZIP code away? (That’s a question we’re asking, too—at KnowYourNeighbor.com.)
“We want to be peacemakers,” said Tyler. “We want to live the lives we haven’t lived. But it’s hard to live side by side in daily life.”