"Iced coffee. Iced latte. Even when its cold,
Anna Hutto says in between small slurps of her beverage of choice.
Its my vice.
The question was whether she is a coffee drinker. The answer is
easily apparent, but its one of those throwaway topics of
conversation that can sometimes lead to an interesting vignette.
Last night I went to Starbucks and got some coffee just to
have at the house, Hutto continues. And Im driving
and Im smelling the bag and Im thinking, This
is sick. But it just smelled great.
The image of Huttoone hand on the wheel, nose pressed up
against a bag of House Blendis a gently humorous one.
It is just after 8 a.m. on a brisk, overcast Friday in January.
Iced latte weather, it is not.
Hutto sits outside one of Emory Villages coffee houses. While
she has a great deal to do today, she isnt rushed and never
even glances at her watch. The previous afternoon, Hutto, associate
director of development and alumni relations in the Candler School
of Theology, returned to Atlanta from a weeklong trip to Florida.
She met with Candler alumni living in Tampa and Orlando as well
as a handful of other lesser known burgs known mainly for orange
trees and cheesy gator farmsplaces with names like Lakeland
and Winter Haven.
In less than five hours, shell be on a plane again. This
time to Greensboro, N.C., and what she calls The Other Side
of Her Life. She will be performing at a retreat for the Episcopal
Diocese of North Carolina. Since she was 17, Hutto has performed
concert and retreat ministry. Her visit to Greensboro will encompass
not only music, but she will meet in small groups with the students,
who are high school seniors.
In between trips, she didnt bother to unpack. I got
really good at [living like] that when I traveled full time,
Hutto was, in fact, a full-time musician for six years. She played
more than 125 shows a year. And she was
she is good.
For those six years, singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist Hutto
was a cog in the Christian contemporary music machine in Nashville.
The inevitable comparison is to Amy Grant. Its accurate, though
Like Grant, Hutto has a strong, clear voice with unmistakable depth.
But comparing Hutto to solely Christian artists is a disservice.
Early 90s country singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist Suzy Bogguss
can be heard in her voice as well. There also is an alterna-folkiness
to Huttos music that references Nanci Griffith.
More than just a strummer, Huttos guitar playing is complex
and she often strays toward the exotic, incorporating accordions
and dobros and Hammond organs into the mix.
Her lyrics are positive but not saccharin. Like a song she wrote
called Somewhere Tonight.
Somewhere tonight, someone is lonely. With only a hope and a
prayer. Oh, but somehow tonight I have been chosen. To reach out,
but do I dare.
Essentially, she writes love songs. They just have a bit of a religious
bent. Didnt The Beatles do that? U2? Sting?
Hutto says of her goals as a songwriter: Being able to say
this much in about three-and-a-half minutes and say
it well and without clichés. Thats what songwritings
always beendistilling an idea into something thats understandable
yet deep and thoughtful.
Hutto, who has an English degree from the College of Charleston,
doesnt write many songs anymore. Shes just not in that
place right now.
If you think about rites of passage, when youre becoming
somebody else, there are a lot of times when you dont know
how to tell somebody whats going on with you, she says.
My songwriting has been affected by that. My language is different.
I dont use words like sin, and heaven
means something different for me, and humanity means
something different. Its harder to write now.
Its not that she doesnt use those words at all. Shes
just seen them used in contexts she had never imaged. To wound.
Huttos new point of view began coming together when she split
from the music industry in 1996. At the time, Hutto was primed for
a breakout. While working on her first album, Hutto was paired with
Dove Award-winning producer Bryan Lenox (the Doves are basically
Christian Grammies), who had produced albums for Christian contemporary
heavyweights like Carman and Michael W. Smith.
Their songs were professional. Tightly played and accessible.
But Hutto was conflicted. She no longer felt her personal values
reflected those of the industry, which can be as cutthroat as any
other genre. Often, if an artists beliefs do not match up
with the status quo, its not the industry that will lose.
I believed in my heart that there was a lot more to the life
of the church, and to ministry, than just going in and singing a
little bit and leaving, Hutto says. I felt called to
do a lot more. I felt called to speak, to teach, but I needed some
training to know what I was talking about.
In the midst of these feelings, Hutto was undergoing an important
theological shift as well. No longer the self-described zealot of
her teen years (I was lovin Jesus, she says about
her devout Baptist days growing up in South Carolina), Hutto, in
her early- and mid-20s, looked at herself and her situation and
wasnt sure if she fit in.
I wasnt sure if I believed as conservatively as I once
did, she says. It seemed like a good time to stop and
say, Okay, what do I really believe? What do I really think
about all this God stuff? What does it mean to be a faithful person
who lives in the world, is part of it and loves it?
Seminary seemed like a logical place for me to just stop
my music and go and study, she says. It was a way to reach
a deeper understanding of the very things she had been speaking,
teaching and singing about since she was 17. I just tucked
myself away for three years.
Hutto graduated with her masters of divinity degree from
Candler in 1999. One of the things she enjoys about her job is connecting
with her fellow alumsseveral of whom she knew while in schooland
finding out what Candler can do for them now.
In fact she barely touches on the money-raising aspect of her job.
The best part is being out there with our folks, Hutto
says. Theres a saying that if you go after the money,
you dont always get it, but if you go after a building a sense
of loyalty and friendship with somebody, thats a better connection.
And Hutto will be connecting with a lot of alumni. Her next trips
are to Sea Island in south Georgia, then to Nashville, a city home
to many Candler graduates.
And all the while, as she is shaking hands with her fellow Candler
alums, a part of her remains somewhere inside her own mind trying
to figure things out. She doesnt rule out a return to music
full time, either.
My journey has made me a better person. Im more whole.
Im more compassionate, she says. The fact her album
was titled Journey becomes all the more ironic.
Who do I want to be? she asks rhetorically. Who
can I really belong to?
Have you figured that out yet? She is asked.
No, Hutto replies. And thats hard to admit.
She sips contemplatively from her iced latte. The chill in the
air suddenly feels a little less biting.