My name is Dave Decker Jr., and I am the founder of LightsOut. I grew up on a farm in small-town South Dakota, moved to Sioux Falls for college and seminary and have been doing youth ministry since my feet hit the ground here.
Music is a big part of my life, introduced to me through AM 570 WNAX while spending a ton of time on a tractor growing up, listening to old country music. While living in Sioux Falls, I began volunteering for LifeLight, helping them to hire new bands for their annual summer music festival. I soon was on their board then was booking bands for their rock stage for over 10 years. This helped me to not only develop relationships with traveling bands but to really grow a passion for the musicians themselves.
The idea for LightsOut began about nine years ago, when I started caring for artists in an amateur way. I would invite touring musicians over to my house for dinner or offer them a place to stay for the night when they needed it. I’m a caring professional, and within these musicians, I saw a need. When they stepped off the stage and the lights went away, they were hungry for connection, care and hope.
That’s how LightsOut began.
In all of our jobs, we have a great hour, a moment we adore and appreciate, and it’s why we love what we do so much. But the rest of our work can be tedious, challenging, and not life-giving. For artists, the reality is that they have one great hour on stage, but then the other 23 hours of their day is time spent away from home, family, comfort and care. It’s catered meals and packing gear and hours on the road, a repetitive schedule day after day, with no home to retreat to. LightsOut is a way to care for the artist, a way to create a sense of progress in an otherwise monotonous lifestyle.
To offer this ministry, we join tours through the year and also travel to music festivals and reach out to bands that we’ve connected with over the years to let them know we will be there for them when they are done performing. Summer travel is in an RV named Doris, and within that space, we hang up pictures on the fridge and we have snacks and our dogs there. We create a sense of home, a place to feel safe.
During our time with artists, we listen. We build trust through conversation and accountability, and we offer soul care. I believe that your soul is all of who you are — your physicality, your mental capacity and your gifts, all woven together — and soul care is tending to all of your needs.
With all the time on the road and performing, artists may not realize how hungry and malnourished they are, but my hope is to help them first pay attention to themselves, then to look around the room to their family and friends and then finally to look up and see and care for their audience. LightsOut is grateful for the music, but we take care of and are compassionate to the musician first.
In conversation, I often ask an artist, “How is your heart? When the lights go out, how do you handle it? What do you look like when no one is watching?” Through hope and connection, we take care of the person the audience doesn’t see, but the one who matters most. As a person of faith, I connect with not only how I see myself, but how God views me. Seeing myself through my own eyes can be hurtful or non-merciful, but through my Creator’s eyes, I tend to see myself more holistically. I see a better day ahead, and I believe all artists deserve to see that same view through those same eyes.
“This is the last thing I want to do,” but in that same breath confirming, “this is what my whole life has taught me to do.”
We once had a band stay over at our house as they were passing through Sioux Falls, and one of the guys in the band was still in high school. I came downstairs, where I was giving them their space, and I saw that same guy on the couch with a chemistry book open, trying to get his homework done. He was so little and so young, and it was impossible for me to fathom that that was the same kid with his bass and this giant personality on stage. He seemed so fragile juxtaposed with this big rocker everyone else sees. And that’s how it is for most of us — all we see is this big rocker on stage, and we don’t think to get to know them because they don’t seem like they want to be known or need to be known; but they do, and LightsOut seeks to care for them.
I remember being in my garage once and saying to God, “I don’t want to do this. Find someone else. I don’t know how to do this, and I just want to do what I know how to do.” It was maybe the most selfish thing I’ve yelled, but as it turns out, all the things I’ve done in my life have actually been teaching me to do the very thing I’m doing. I took a ton of counseling classes in seminary, and even though I loved that component, I didn’t realize how that would come into play until now. As for the music, I somehow gained access to so many bands, getting to know their stories, and now I want to be responsible with that. I remember thinking, “This is the last thing I want to do,” but in that same breath confirming, “this is what my whole life has taught me to do.”
And so I will.