It's appropriate that Youngstown native Phil Keaggy is returning to the Mahoning Valley to play benefit concerts for the Avamar Foundation, a charity started by Avamar Gastroenterology and Dr. Farid Naffah.
''A gastroenterologist saved my life,'' Keaggy said during a phone interview from his home in Nashville.
Following a routine medical procedure, Keaggy suffered internal bleeding and required a few blood transfusions to compensate for the blood loss.
''It was a pretty scary episode, but she had me back on stage in two weeks,'' he said. ''Accidents can happen, and rather than blame anyone, I prefer to thank God I'm alive. I appreciate the good people out there who dedicate their lives to saving other lives.''
Keaggy will provide the entertainment on both Aug. 24 and 25 for ''An Evening Under the Stars'' at CADOBAZ: Culture, Arts and Dining of Bazetta. Proceeds will benefit the Avamar Foundation and its efforts to provide prescription medication for the elderly.
''I'll just have a good old time with it, and maybe my friends up there will sit in and play,'' he said.
WHAT: ''An Evening Under the Stars'' featuring entertainment by Phil Keaggy, dinner by Michael Alberini and the art of Tazim Jaffer
WHEN: Aug. 24 and 25 with hors d'oeuvres starting at 5 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m.
WHERE: CADOBAZ: Culture, Arts and Dining of Bazetta, 2747 Cadwallader Sonk Road, Bazetta
HOW MUCH: $275 ($200 tax deductible) and $175 ($100 tax deductible) with proceeds benefiting the Avamar Foundation and its efforts to provide prescription medication for the elderly. For tickets or more information, call 330-539-9999.
ALSO: Keaggy and his Glass Harp bandmates John Sferra and Daniel Pecchio will perform Aug. 31 at the Rex Theatre, Pittsburgh, and Sept. 1 at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, 120001 state Route 282, Nelson. Tickets each show are $35.
Keaggy said he loves playing solo, although with his virtuosity on the guitar coupled with the effects and equipment he uses on stage, he can create the sound of a full band by himself.
''I feel more comfortable solo,'' he said. ''There's less of a sonic shield on stage ... I think the people who attend my concerts like to hear what the words are.''
The solo format also gives Keaggy more freedom to adapt the show to the desires of his audience. His audience has many factions, from those who embrace the message of his Christian songs to guitar freaks young and old who want to watch his fleet fingers and latest tricks. And with more than 50 solo albums, he has plenty of material from which to choose.
''I actually try to please everyone within an hour-and-a-half, two-hour concert,'' he said. ''I try to cover what I feel prompted by my audience to play. Someone will pass a note or send a message ... And I'll go into a more technical way of playing, an improvisational way of playing where I'll do loops and create sounds and make people go, 'Wow, I didn't know you could make a guitar do that.''
Keaggy admitted there are times when he's gotten too consumed with the technology, and he credited his wife, Bernadette, with being the one to tell him, ''You need to quit playing with your dials and knobs and pedals and start focusing on your audience again. That was really good advice.''
As much as he enjoys playing solo, he said it's just as satisfying to get together with drummer John Sferra and bass player Daniel Pecchio to perform as Glass Harp, the Mahoning Valley band that launched his career nearly 45 years ago. In the next month the trio will play shows at the Rex Theater in Pittsburgh and Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Nelson Township.
''Especially this past year I've gotten extra comfortable playing with Glass Harp,'' he said. ''We've been lifelong friends. We really love each other as friends and brothers. I have a deep respect for both Daniel and John. I met John in eighth grade and Daniel in high school. We know how to read each other so well on stage.
''It's a challenge for us to play those old songs, like the 'David & Goliath' medley and 'Can You See Me' and 'Changes' ... We still can do it, and it's fun. We sound much like we did vocally in those days. The sound of our voices is very similar. And then we improvise and do all of that stuff.''
Keaggy's latest solo album is ''The Cover of Love,'' which mixes songs Keaggy wrote or co-wrote along with covers of songs by Elvis Presley (''I Want You, I Need You, I Love You''), Paul McCartney (''Somedays,'' ''Motor of Love'') The Moody Blues (''Voices in the Sky'') and The Beach Boys (''Good Vibrations''). Some of the songs Keaggy had recorded years ago but for one reason or another he hadn't released.
''Half of these tunes just had been sitting around - someone out there might like hearing these,'' he said.
In addition to the two McCartney tracks, some of the songs have a very Beatleseque feel to them, including the album closer ''Where the Morning Dawns,'' which contains the line, ''To know that love has a face/the giver of amazing grace.''
''As I wrap up this album singing secular songs, love songs to my wife, I ultimately try to get the point across, very subtly at the end, that God is love and Jesus proved it in the grace and love he showers upon us all,'' Keaggy said.
Keaggy's daughters Alicia and Olivia sing backing vocals on the opening track, ''Between Wyomings,'' and Olivia co-wrote ''Where Are You Love'' with her father. Keaggy's son, Ian, is on the road as a member of the band Hot Chelle Rae, which had a top 10 pop hit last year with the song ''Tonight, Tonight'' (the band performs Friday at Stage AE in Pittsburgh).
''He's 25, and he's experienced more travel and success than I had (by that age),'' Keaggy said. ''He's also a songwriter in his own right. He plays keyboards very well, guitar, bass, he knows how to program. He writing his own songs, co-writing with these great songwriters in Nashville, and singing them.''
Keaggy, who left Glass Harp in 1972 to pursue a career in Christian music, said he is there to offer advice to his son without telling him what to do, and he also turns to his son for advice sometimes in the studio.
''I want him to find his own voice, and he is. I want to cheer him on and keep encouraging him.''