On a TV show or in a commercial you’ve heard it said, “You had me at . . . “
I spoke those same words to Robbie Lukens the other night.
Perched on a stool on stage and strumming his guitar, Robbie had me at, “I’ve been sitting here trying to find myself. I get behind myself. I need to rewind myself.”
He had me and kept me all the while he sang his own arrangement of a song using slices of “Only God Knows,” by Kid Rock and “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved,” by The Script. Robbie made my eyes mist because that’s what beautiful things do to me.
“I started with the first verse of Kid Rock, broke into The Script and finished with the first verse of Kid Rock,” said Robbie, who has a marvelously distinctive and somewhat haunting voice – sort of Rod Stewart-ish. He was among 18 contestants in the Exchange Club’s “The Valley’s Got Talent,” competition last Sunday in the Empire Arts Center.
Zach Ahrens was a terrific emcee and I was delighted to judge the show with Mayor Michael Brown and Terry Dullum of WDAZ-TV. We had great fun chatting before show time and during intermission. I learned Michael and Terry have frugality in common. Neither has a fancy pantsy set of new wheels. They drive old beaters and are proud of it.
In the competition, Robbie placed third and took home $100 which he’s already spent on groceries. First place went to singer Michelle Stahlecker. Mandy Rudy, also a singer, placed second.
Robbie told me his story of an early start in music. When he was just a tot, he heard a good family friend humming a tune. “I could barely walk or talk and I hummed it back to her,” he said. “I don’t know if I was a year old yet.”
Now 26, Robbie was a special education paraprofessional at South Middle School in Grand Forks before recently moving to Grafton, N.D. where he now teaches first grade at Century Elementary.
Along with singing and playing guitar, Robbie also plays harmonica.
When he lived in Grand Forks Robbie sang in the choir at Faith Evangelical Free Church. Now in Grafton he’s a member of the musical group, Vessel of Praise – six people who sing, play drums, bass, guitar, keyboard and piano.
As a matter of fact, Vessel of Praise is in concert at 4 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 11) in United Methodist Church, Cavalier, N.D. “We’re doing special Christmas songs,” Robbie said, “putting new spins on old-time favorites.”
When Robbie was 15, something happened on his parent’s farm that changed his perspective on life.
“I smashed my right hand in a rotary hoe that’s similar to a large row crop cultivator used to soften up the ground after a hard rain,” he said. “It was smashed to the point where it was the size of a grapefruit. It took five surgeries to get it usable.”
Still, he said, his hand is not what is was before.
During his early teens, Robbie said, “I was not with God. I didn’t believe there was a God and I did not live a Godly life.”
When the accident happened, Robbie turned to God. “I prayed, God, if there is a God, please help me because you are all I have.”
God was listening.
“There are very few times in life that God gives you something immediately,” Robbie continues. “He answered my prayer almost immediately and I was pulled from the brink of death. When you are a faithless person and you realize there is a God and you pray one little prayer and you are saved from death, you feel somehow that you are privileged, like you have some special gift. It took years for me to realize that I’m not special and that I need to grow up and be a man.”
The more I think about Robbie the more I beg to differ with him just a bit. He is a very special young man who has God-given gifts found in his right and repaired strumming hand and in his voice.
I know because he had me at. . . . . . . .