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Thursday, November 20, 2014

#14 - The Most Worshipful Moment of Winter Jam
Life | 677 views

I had the incredible opportunity to see the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular: West Coast Edition last Sunday in Portland, and of course it was just that--spectacular. It's always encouraging for me to see so many artists, representing so many different genres, styles and even generations, uniting as one to lift up Jesus' name. 

And naturally, there were many fantastic moments, from Disciple's face-melting set to Trip Lee's spoken word presentation of the Gospel to Tony Nolan's heart-wrenching testimony to VERIDIA's cool acoustic set on the second stage. And don't even get me started on Hillsong United...

But in the midst of all of it, one moment sticks out to me more than the others. It was a moment fans couldn't witness and the bands and crew probably didn't notice. 

It was the picture of a mother holding her young child while worshipping to a song she's likely heard hundreds of times. It was the picture of a family that is sold-out to the mission God has given them to proclaim the name of Jesus, even when it's anything but comfortable. 

Oh, the mom? Adrienne Camp--Jeremy's wife and the former lead singer of The Benjamin Gate.

The soft-spoken South African had one hand raised while the other wrapped around her daughter, who was sitting on crates to the right of "Daddy"--who was singing one of his more recent hits, "Overcome." 

"Adie" undoubtedly knew the song by heart, and easily could've checked out and been relaxing backstage, but there was something about her presence to Jeremy's right. You could tell she was present--even intercessing?--for her husband, participating in the worship experience, knowing the pricelessness of every one of these opportunities for people to see Jesus.

Not only that, but she also likely knew the pricelessness of showing her children how to worship, even when there's every reason for it to become routine, or even mundane. As a dad, that's a model I desperately want to present.

Lost in worship, Adie only was interrupted by individuals who stopped by to say hello, to whom she responded with patience and grace. Being the former frontwoman of a crazy-good Christian rock band will bring out the fans (this writer included), but rather than be short or distracted, she looked them all in the eye, and with as much worshipful intentionality as she had moments before, making herself available for whatever God had in that moment.

In an industry that can many times be a subculture rather than a counter-culture, it's tremendously refreshing to see the Camps in action. We don't need more Christian rock stars. We don't need entertainers whose songs lead people to a place of worship. We need worshippers who lead people straight to Jesus. 

A Christian music subculture replicates the traits of its host. But we're called to be different. Even Christian musicians working in the mainstream world should know we're called to participate in, but not replicate the world's system. 

So many times, when we're professional Christians--and I find myself in this camp, for sure--it's easy for God to be our co-worker or our boss more than our Savior, Lord and love. How beautifully refreshing when you meet people who glow with God and act as if He's standing right next to them--even when they're not on the stage.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

#13 - Before You Go About 'Saving Christmas...'
Life | 227 views

It seems a bit like we've skipped over Fall and right from Summer into Christmas, doesn't it? And I say this as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest--not, say Nashville or Florida, where in the South that's pretty much the case every year.

I mean, we JUST pulled our swim bag in from the car, which we had with us in case our schedules aligned and my family and I could hit the local pool. Change happens fast!

As we race towards Christmas (and that OTHER holiday before it, Thanksgiving... not sure if you've heard of it), I know there's going to be lots of talk about remembering Christmas and putting "Christ" in Christmas. And I know the heart is right... but I just think that before we crusade in honor of Christmas, we might want to remember an equally important part of the season: Advent. 

Once upon a time, most of the Christian world followed a liturgical calendar of some sort, which spelled out the celebrations and focuses of worship for the year. The season leading up to Christmas Day was (and still is) called Advent. 

It seems that as a culture, we lose the whole "Jesus is coming" vibe to Advent, instead being in this awkward place of "Jesus is here... but His birthday is later this month!" You get what I mean? And then at that point, the only thing we're waiting for is our presents and Aunt Sally's famous ham. 

And then, when Christmas finally does come, we're left with a bit of a "thud"--a general feeling of, "What was THAT all about?"--an inevitable letdown. 

In a time and culture that's not accustomed to waiting for ANYTHING, the tendency is for us to celebrate His arrival when we should be mentally and spiritually in a posture of waiting and seeking.

So what's the answer? It's all about remembering.

Remember Thanksgiving. While retailers love to extend their mega-shopping season for as long as people will allow, mentally, we don't have to follow suit. 

Remember Advent. Let the songs you choose to play and sing reflect that sense of waiting. Prepare your heart. Read devotionals. Remember the fact that we are, in a sense, in a second advent season, as we anticipate the return of Jesus someday. 

Remember Christmas. This one seems fairly self-evident, but the truth is, for centuries, the Church didn't STOP celebrating Christmas on December 25th; they BEGAN celebrating Christmas on December 25th. That's where the whole "12 Days of Christmas" thing originated. Christmastide, as it is known, lasted/lasts from Dec. 25 until Jan. 6, ending in the feast of Epiphany, which remembers the Magi's recognition of Jesus as divine. His birth is just the beginning, and while culture tells us that we must purge every semblance of Christmas on December 26th, in our hearts we know that we must celebrate and react and respond to His coming longer than just one day.

Remember that Christmas is a response.

Some great soundtracks for this advent season:

Advent to Christmas by Page CXVI

Advent Christmas Volumes 1, 2 & 3 by Future of Forestry

Advent by Young Oceans

Advent Volumes 1 & 2 by The Brilliance (that's Michael Gungor's brother, who has a new album coming in 2015, y'all)

Let every heart prepare Him room... and THEN... Heaven and nature sing. 

Thursday, November 06, 2014

#12 - NRThankful... (Or, How I Stumbled Into My Destiny And You Can Too!)
Jobs Careers | 175 views

This is the time of year when everybody's Facebook feeds are clogged with reasons why they're thankful each day. I say this completely stoked about it, because after yet another polarizing political season, it's great to have the social media conversation steer around much brighter, more worthwhile things.

This month (and always), I'm thankful for NRT and how we found each other. 

When I was in high school, I worked for a Christian bookstore. Besides being an opera singer, one of my dreams was to work for CCM Magazine--the print edition--which was the premier publication in Christian music at the time.

As any good journalism professor would tell you, the important thing when you're an aspiring professional is to get clips. Clips, you see, are examples of your being published that you can share. It's a visual resume of sorts--proof that your work has been print-worthy. The concept of clips started in print, but also extended to online sources.

Around that time, I had purchased a copy of The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music by Mark Allan Powell--a phone book-sized collection of basically every Christian band since the Jesus movement. It was like NRT printed out... before NRT.

I ate that book up as a Christian music nerd, and scoured the "works cited" page to see if there were any websites I could contact--to get clips. I wrote for The Phantom Tollbooth, and did an interview with Shawn McDonald just before he was signed and when we both lived in the Northwest. I even had a little blurb printed in CCM at one point--pretty much the thrill of my life at the time, but there was this one little site that caught my attention.

It was a little reviews site called The Solid Rock online (click to view it frozen in time), and its web address didn't really even make sense: (Nowadays it has changed hands and is a sketchy lyrics site.) I'm not entirely sure how Powell found it or why he chose to site it in his book, but it was included. It was a one-man show run by this webmaster by day, uber Christian music fan by night who injected some snarky comments into his reviews, which were almost solely pop/rock. 

I contacted the webmaster, asking if he could use any writers. He was kind of shocked at the request, and said he was happy to share the load with a willing volunteer. So, I reviewed a number of albums, including KJ-52's breakout record Collaborations, and enjoyed getting some free CDs in the mail. (Oh wait, I think I just reviewed CDs I already owned.)


Oh... important detail: The guy who ran TSRocks? His name is Kevin McNeese. Ring a bell, NRT fans?

Not long after working for Kevin at TSRocks, he had created the first incarnation of NewReleaseTuesday as a marketing vehicle for his current employer at the time, Family Christian Stores. I wrote for him and his new site for a few years, before I found myself a newspaper reporter, and then later an editor. When writing and editing was my full-time job, I didn't have much bandwidth for writing as a volunteer. But all the while we kept in touch.

When Kevin relaunched the site in 2007, he approached me again, asking if I would join the staff again. You know, sometimes, when you participate in something, you think it's going to be means to an end. You think, "This is great, but I'm waiting for God's ultimate plan." And the truth is, sometimes in the waiting, God reveals that His plan is already unfolding.

You hear all the time about getting in on the "ground floor" of something, and many times it just doesn't materialize. But sometimes, as in my case, you completely stumble into something pretty amazing, that you never would have thought would happen. As a writer, Christian music fan and follower of Jesus, I grew right along with NRT, and over time (more than 10 years), got to see that it not only met my dream of working as a Christian music journalist, but it fully exceeded it. I didn't need to get to CCM, because NRT became that and more in my eyes. And in the process, I've made lifelong friends who I work with. God never ceases to amaze me.

I guess I say all this as my own public "thank you" to God for taking what I thought was a path to my dreams and making the path itself my God-given dream. I also say this to encourage you to know that God's plan is always bigger, better and more audacious than even our best plans, if we submit them to Him and are faithful in the process. And part of that being faithful is being responsible, able to be counted on, and a relationship builder (not for the purposes of success, but because you have God's heart--which loves people). 

This journey is far from over, and I'm excited and grateful to be doing what I do.

I've told this story a number of times to many different people, and only recently did Kevin McNeese hear the full story. He said he not only didn't know he was in The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music; he didn't know that book had even existed! And that goes to show even when you're not trying, God can work behind the scenes.

What are your big "thank yous" to God? Where has He surprised you in life bigger than you ever dreamed?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#11 - When's Your Favorite Band Coming to Your Town?

Whenever we petition fans to ask their favorite bands a question for an interview or our NRT LIVE show, we can pretty much expect the number one question to be: "When are you coming to [fill in the blank]?" 

That's a pretty telling question, because it illustrates that people are more interested in finding out when they might experience a band in person than learning more about the band themselves. It's funny because, really, they could just go on bands' websites or Facebook pages and immediately take a look at all public tour dates. 

But I think to some extent, people are thinking that, maybe by asking about their hometown, it'll increase their chances that the artist or band will consider booking a show there. 

If only it worked like that.

Being in the Pacific Northwest, I know a thing or two about shows not coming our way. The truth is, many bands' tours start and end east of the Mississippi (with Texas likely thrown in for good measure). And there's a good reason for that: That's the heart of the Bible belt. My friends northeast of Pennsylvania can understand, too. Blue states don't get a lot of love when it comes to Christian concerts. The Bible belt is where shows tend to sell out, and travel between cities is pretty seamless.

Out in the West, there are many well-populated California towns to visit, but beyond that there's Portland and Seattle--and MAYBE Spokane and Boise. And the distance between those cities is substantial enough that bands will surely lose money to play there. And in an industry where touring is what pays the bills (music sales sure don't), it's a pretty easy decision to make not to go. 


But of course, there's a spiritual issue to consider. The places where bands are least likely to be supported are the places that most need to hear them. Preaching to the choir certainly has a place, but there are still millions of people out there who need to hear the Truth of the Gospel in culturally relevant ways. 

So what's the answer? The answer could be to follow the Luis Palau model of free festivals underwritten by a conglomeration of local churches, passionate about the outreach (but, really, how often can you tap that well?). 

I think the whole stripped-down, Living Room Tour idea is a pretty good one. It guarantees money each night for artists while bringing them to cities that may otherwise never see a concert by a recording artist. It presents a sort of New Testament, traveling apostle vibe, where bands stay in host homes and have the time to personally tell their stories and get to know the communities in which they perform. 


The problem is that this model leaves the bells and whistles at home. No fog machine, pyro or even a full band, really. But it's better than nothing.

Bands should really consider this model for a season every year, or every other year, in order to engage the forgotten parts of the country. We're whining out here in the Northwest, but there's an entire cluster of "flyover states" in the U.S.'s nougaty center that rarely experiences live music from Christian bands. 

It would change things up a bit. In some ways, touring would be easier and in some ways more difficult. But the money would be guaranteed and it would fight against the whole "celebrity" mindset that can creep into the large show tours. It would be a season of staying grounded.

Of course, there's a whole world out there, too, that doesn't enjoy the Christian music subculture we have here. And a whole world that needs Jesus. Hillsong UNITED, Michael W. Smith, Skillet and Shonlock are a few examples of some artists whose heart for the nations translates into intentional tours to those nations. 


Smitty spoke to this very issue in an interview I did with him earlier this year:

"I don't know why it is, but there are very few artists from our genre that do that. I don't know why. It's unfortunate. It's a sacrifice a little bit, and this is not a guilt thing on anybody, but I would just encourage everyone to just challenge themselves--[asking] are you supposed to sing someplace besides America? We're just a small little field in terms of if you think how big this world is. Everybody says how small it is. I think it's big and you see all the places that there's great possibilities for the music to--that you can go and sew something into a country, just like Bahrain. I was in Bahrain last year. It's a miracle that I even got into the country. I had to be invited by the king. Just crazy. Again, it's just favor, nothing but God's favor.

While it's true that artists have to pay the bills in order to keep making music, I think there are creative ways out there to go to the seemingly forgotten places in our country and world to point more people to Jesus--which is the ultimate goal, right?


Thursday, October 23, 2014

#10 - Can Christian Music Learn from The Avengers?
Music | 564 views

I love the Marvel movies. Let me be more specific: I love the Marvel STUDIOS movies. Nothing against the Sony Spider-Man franchise or the FOX X-Men franchise, but they just aren't as well-written, realistic-ish and don't play as well with the other superheroes as the movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I mean, that first Iron Man was enough to get any superhero movie fan excited. But then, as Thor and Captain America and finally The Avengers emerged, we quickly saw that there was a master plan here. We saw that the characters were all part of incredible stories in their own right, but better than that, they were part of a bigger, overarching story that involved multiple universes, characters, plot lines and powers. 

Not to mention, different directors, producers and actors. Essentially, Marvel Studios has air traffic controllers at work, managing a lot of moving parts to create this overall incredible picture. We all stay to the end of the credits in Marvel films because we know some other character is going to show up, which hints at another piece of the puzzle. It's ingenious, and it's probably the reason why Marvel can't make a flop at the box office. They've thought this through.

OK, here's a crazy thought: What if record labels started acting like the Marvel Cinematic Universe? 

Think about it. In an age where a lot of people don't understand the role of record labels in this crowdfunding, DIY music landscape, record labels can be to artists what movie studios are to characters and actors. 

Of course, collaborations are nothing new, and don't require a record label affiliation for them to occur, but I'm talking about more than just cameos. (For example, that last Captain America movie didn't just have a Black Widow cameo; she was an integral part of the movie. You might have even called that movie Captain America & Black Widow. I digress.)

There are a number of ways to do this. One is that you get artists on the same label to co-write together. That's kind of an obvious one, and happens a lot already. But then, the artists record the song together and feature the same song on both of their respective records. 


Or, in a world that seems friendlier than ever to releasing EPs every six to nine months, perhaps Established Artist Joe takes Brand New Bob under his wing and they come up with something together, a complete collaborative EP, and even do a little two week tour around the Southeast together. 

What the Marvel films do well is that they take strong individual films and make them work together as a team, using the stronger standouts as a bridge to new, untested characters and concepts. What a great record label should do is take strong individual artists and use them as a bridge to new, untested artists and concepts. 

The only labels I've seen even come close to this are Lecrae's Reach Records and tobyMac's Gotee Records. Through 116 Clique, we saw established rappers like Lecrae introduce us to strong new acts like Andy Mineo and KB. Gotee Records devoted an entire album (its anniversary record) to
having its past and present artists do each other's songs--a pretty revolutionary concept that focuses more on the team than individual accomplishments. Passion (sixstepsrecords) also does that pretty well, using the Passion conferences as a launching point for their artists' individual efforts.

Imagine, for a moment, a world where we get to know Lauren Daigle through a four-song EP with Aaron Shust. Think about what a Skillet-We As Human double album project could sound like. Picture a Jeremy Camp and Adam Cappa duo EP? 

It's time to realize that side projects--as they'd be surely labeled--don't distract from the artists' body of work, it helps support and bolster them. These collaborative projects or EPs could serve as appetizers while fans are waiting for full-length albums, and could help break new talent and even reinvigorate the creative passions of some artists needing a reinvention.


Instead of a bunch of super heroes clocking in at the same office, it'd be pretty cool if Christian music could produce some Avengers. 

How do you think this could be done?


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