They call it "the straight and narrow." But many times the path of faith -- and life -- can be winding and difficult to follow.
Jennifer Knapp's path leads her to Club Cafe on the South Side tonight, where she will be joined by Margaret Becker. The two Grammy-nominated solo artists have teamed for a tour, performing their music, including songs from their new joint release, "The Hymns of Christmas."
"It's more of a duet performance. I'd stop shy of calling it 'Indigo Girls,'" Ms. Knapp said, laughing.
Ms. Becker, 53, of Nashville, is a longtime Christian rock singer with more than 20 No. 1 Christian radio hits.
"Margaret and I have been friends for a long time," Ms. Knapp said. "She's a forerunner for me, especially in the world of contemporary Christian music. There weren't a lot of chicks with guitars running around before I got there, but Margaret was one of the few of them. Her legacy is one of the reasons why I have a career today."
Ms. Knapp, 38, was born in Kansas and broke into the music business writing and performing chart-topping Christian music. But in 2002, she walked away from performing -- if you can call taking up residence in Australia "walking away."
She returned in 2009 and in 2010 revealed in interviews -- including one on CNN's "Larry King Live" -- that she was lesbian, a revelation that cost her some fans while cementing the support of others.
"The fact that I've even got a career pretty much borders on miraculous," she said. "I quit music and had a seven-year break when I didn't perform at all. I wasn't sure I was coming back.
"The challenge of being honest involves a risk. I've done that with my sexual orientation, being recognized as a Christian music artist. I've challenged the church to be more inclusive of LGBTs, and I've been playing sacred music in bars. I love playing one night in a bar and the next night in a church."
Pittsburgh, she said, is one of the few cities she has visited where she hasn't sung in a church.
"And that's OK," she said. "It's really nice to see people loosen up and come because they love the music. I don't have a huge fan base, but I have an incredibly loyal one. And it's growing."
Her fans don't follow her because her music has the answers. Rather, it's because Ms. Knapp is facing the same questions they are in faith, sexuality and society.
"Every time you feel like you know the answer, something happens and you realize, 'Wow, I have no idea what I'm doing,'" she said. "I think that's one of the reasons that my fan base has been very loyal. Because I've allowed them to have that space."
The Christmas album with Ms. Becker was born out of a longtime desire to work on a project together.
"We pooled resources, recording at home," Ms. Knapp said. "We chose songs that were in the public domain music, so we didn't have to pay for it. But really, that left us with the classics. 'Silent Night.' 'Go Tell it on the Mountain.'
"It turned out to be a way for me to go to my old-school music roots, because that's how I came to music in the first place. It turned into this really beautiful work.
"My fan base has been asking me to do [a Christmas album] for something like 15 years. But I never really wanted to do it. To be honest, Christmas music usually just tends to drive me absolutely crazy. I hate the mall for the whole month of December because Christmas music tends to be really kitschy.
"I do enjoy the sacred, high-church type of Advent music. And Margaret encouraged it. The songs are instantly familiar. There were some people who said, 'Two great songwriters didn't make an album of unique Christmas music?' But for me it's hard to go past those. Every Christmas season, these are the songs I wait for. I wait for 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing.' 'O Holy Night.' 'O Come All Ye Faithful.'
"I don't think you can rewrite the oldest and grandest story of them all. You're better off retelling it."
Club Cafe is at 56 S. 12th St. Admission tonight is $20. Doors open at 7 for the 8 p.m. show. Expect it to be packed.
Get a preview of tonight's event!
"The Hymns of Christmas" preview: http://www.jenniferknapp.com/knappbecker_christmas
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.mobilehome - neigh_city - music
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/