Last night I and a few hundred other curious souls filed into the Crown Hill Theater in Brooklyn for the first live performance by Andre 3000 and his new flute-driven project, New Blue Sun.

From the start, the show feels like a minor scene — phones confiscated and locked away, first-come, first-serve seating that has the room buzzing and necks craning, and numerous NYC culture notables in attendance, including reporters for the New York Times and New Yorker and the artist Marina Abramovic.

Andre and his four collaborators take the stage as the lights go down, Andre wearing his new uniform of lightly colored denim overalls and a ski cap. Wafting chimes and the soft drone of a Shruti box fill the space. Behind the performers, lights — two sets tiered vertically like a row of five suns on either side of the stage, and another a set of fingers that shoot from behind the stage into the crowd — begin to rotate and glow in sync with the music. The room sparkles. The light breathes.

After the first piece, Andre warmly speaks in his iconic timbre: 

“This isn’t a show for you. This is a show for us. We’re just up here playing. This is a show for the trees, the wind, the water. This is just music.”

They start playing again. When you close your eyes you could be anywhere — outside a temple in Asia; in the mountains of Mexico; getting a massage in LA.

After another piece, Andre speaks about his journey with the flute, paraphrasing:

“I started playing this flute everywhere. It was always with me. One time I was playing in the park and this man who I know didn’t know anything about Outkast or who I was tried to give me $20. Told me it was beautiful. People told me it was beautiful.”

Andre pauses, becoming emotional.

“This whole thing — I wasn’t trying to be anything. I was just playing. I didn’t mean to make a record or go on tour. I was just doing it, and people seemed to like it. So…”

Andre stops. We cannot see his face, but you can feel he’s on the verge of tears. He continues:

“I just wanted to share it with you,” he says, voice breaking.

The crowd generously applauds.

The percussionist calls out: “This is our first show ever in front of an audience.”

Andre confirms: “This is the first time we’ve ever played in front of people.” The crowd roars louder. And then, after just one or two more pieces — including one where the band and crowd make a spontaneous chorus of animals shrieks and sounds — a curfew brings the show to a close.

Coming home, the feeling of the evening kept washing over me. My strongest sensation was that we had not witnessed a performance. “Performance” suggests someone being or doing something that’s not who they are but is tailored for that moment. It was explicitly this, it felt like, that Andre was rejecting with this whole project.

Instead what we saw was an offering. An offering not to us the audience, but, as Andre said, to the wind, to the trees, to the water. Music that comes from the Earth and is of the Earth and sees no greater aspirations beyond the Oneness of the Earth, which is of course everything. It’s a performance born in the depths of where music comes from. Music is not a man-made invention. It’s nature’s, of which we humans are just one part.

My personal favorite musician is the trumpet player and later “world music” innovator Don Cherry. Someone who, like Andre 3000, checked out of his more mainstream career right in the middle of its heights. For Cherry, he was sick of performing and playing that role. It was too emotionally and physically hard for him. So instead Cherry started playing fully improvised music with non-musicians just for the joy of it. He called it “Organic Music Theater.” Here’s how he put it:

“I wanted to play different instruments in environments not man-made for music — natural settings like a catacomb or on a mountaintop or by the side of a lake. I wasn’t playing for jazz audiences then, you realize. I was playing for goat herders who would take out their flutes and join me and for anyone else who wanted to listen or sing and play along. It was the whole idea of organic music — music as a natural part of your day.”

Watching a former rap superstar play an indigenous flute was no one’s natural part of their day until very recently. But it’s that process of a superstar reaching an apex, then discovering that the real prize is to be a beginner all over again, that speaks to us. We want Andre 3000’s story to be true of all of us. We want to be the wunderkind superstar and the late bloomer. We want more chapters in our life than anyone anticipated. We want what Andre 3000’s life promises to us: that our growth never has to end.

For those that stay creatively alive and never lose their hunger to listen, the source from which all creative work originates will continue to speak. As last night showed, there’s no greater gift than to begin again.