Joe Kelso’s “moment of truth” came during a painful struggle that led him to begin a Christian contemporary band called, aptly, Moment of Truth.
The 62-year old Brigantine resident has been in love with music since the age of 7 when a nun at St. Cyril’s elementary school in East Landsdowne, Pa., first encouraged him to learn the piano. Since then, he has also taken to keyboards and, most recently, drums.
After years of performing as a band director and musician, he grew disheartened with the “sex-driven” entertainment industry that wanted his backup singers to show more skin. “It was against my morals. What we were asked to do had nothing to do with the music,” he said.
He left that part of his life behind, but on Ash Wednesday in 2014, his life changed in another way.
He slipped on black ice on the front steps of his Brigantine home, landing headfirst on the patio. He broke a concrete urn in the fall — and his own neck. He also suffered an injured spinal cord, crushed ribs and damaged kidneys.
After successful surgery to repair the damage, his doctor told him that he was a lucky man; it could have been a lot worse.
“I came as close as a piece of Saran Wrap to total paralysis from the neck down, he told me,” Kelso said.
But during recovery, he experienced temporary blindness, and was allergic to much of the medication he was taking. And the pain….
“The pain was absolutely beyond unbearable, like a dentist taking a saw to my teeth without Novocain,” he said.
Finding strength through prayer, Kelso recalled Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice for mankind’s sins.
“I gave every second of my pain to Jesus, as he did for me. My motto became ‘no pain, no joy.’”
Thinking that he’d never be a musician ever again, Kelso found a buyer to take his equipment. But days before a buyer came with his truck to pick up the equipment, Kelso changed his plans.
“I woke up at 2 a.m. one night, soaking wet with sweat,” he said.
He sat at the edge of the bed, feeling God was calling him to turn his music career around and worship him.
“That was the moment of truth,” Kelso said.
He cancelled his plans to sell his equipment and began to look for professional Christian musicians to join his mission to “replace the darkness (of the world) with light, and help people recognize that Jesus lives.”
With Kelso as lead drummer, Moment of Truth consists of professional musicians and vocalists who have performed at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and Carnegie Hall in New York. The group includes guitarists, an electric violinist, lead and backup singers, and a keyboardist.
Two sound technicians, a light technician, two roadies and a stage crew round out the production, which includes energetic music (covers from such Christian acts as Matt Maher, Casting Crowns and Michael W. Smith) and testimony amidst colorful laser lights.
Joe’s wife, Mary Jane, joins him on stage as keyboardist and vocalist.
As band director, public relations and communications guru for Moment of Truth, when not on stage Kelso is hard at work putting together press packets and music demos to send out to Catholic colleges and churches.
Kelso is one of the older musicians in the group. Most are in their 30s, the better to attract the youthful crowds he is targeting, he says.
Outside Moment of Truth, he runs a third-generation business, Kelso Plumbing.
On Sundays, he is a part of the music ministry at St. Thomas Church, where Mary Jane is the director of music and liturgy.
Kelso is next set to perform with the band at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, Gibbsboro, Family Faith Festival on Sunday, Sept. 27, the same day Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in Philadelphia.
“I will never stop. I don’t have a choice,” he said, adding that if he “can’t be a drummer at some point, I will be a manager.”
If he ever becomes manager, though, Joe will still recognize who’s really in charge.
“Jesus is the band leader.”
For more about Moment of Truth, visit www.momentoftruthband.com