The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Audio Adrenaline has taken a page from the Newsboy’s playbook enlisting a former member of iconic Christian rockers dc talk to restart the band, which had for the most part ceased recording and performing in 2006 when vocal problems silence lead singer Mark Stuart.
Last month, Billboard magazine reported that dc talk’s Kevin Max has become the band’s new frontman, and the newly reconstituted group has released a new single, Kings and Queens, and will have a new album in early 2013. Audio A formed in the 1990s at Kentucky Christian College (now University) in Grayson and went on to record some of contemporary Christian music’s greatest hits including Big House and Hands and Feet.
But in the mid-2000′s, Owensboro-native Stuart developed spasmodic dysphonia, which creates spasms around the larynx that have left Stuart unable to sing. After an extended farewell tour, the group disbanded though Stuart and bassist Will McGinniss have continued to be heavily involved with the band’s Hands and Feet orphanage in Haiti and occasionally gave performances to raise awareness of the project, including an appearance at Broadway Christian Church earlier this year.
The reconstituted band is signed to Fair Trade Services. McGinniss is the only member of the band when it disbanded that will be actively performing with the new group. Stuart will continue as a writer and producer. According to Billboard, former members Tyler Burkum and Ben Cissell had moved on and were not interested in joining the new lineup.
That new lineup will include drummer Jared Byers, keyboardist Jason Walker and a familiar face (and hairdo) to Christian rock fans in former Superchick guitarist Dave Ghazarian. When last we saw Ghazarian in Central Kentucky, he was playing in the pickup band for former Newsboys frontman-turened-solo artist Peter Furler.
That brings us back to the Newsboys playbook, as Newsboys are now fronted by another third of dc talk, Michael Tait, who joined the group in 2009.
The other third of the group, Tobymac, has enjoyed a thriving solo career for more than a decade since dc talk went on a seemingly permanent hiatus.
But Christian rock fans have to be imaging the possible supertour of Tobymac, Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline.
Saturday night at the Ichthus Festival, I arrived in the photo pit at the Deep End stage and saw a familiar face on the front row: Jenny Green, a teen from Crawfordsville, Ind., who I had met the day before hanging out at the front row fence at the main stage.
Friday, she had arrived at the big stage at 10:30 a.m. to stake out a spot for Skillet and Family Force Five. But Saturday night, with a lineup including Disciple and The Almost, Jenny assured me that the Deep End was the place to be.
For her, at least.
The main stage had not closed Saturday. There were in fact thousands of people gathered for festival closers Matthew West and Chris Tomlin. But the worship artists were not going to make your ears bleed and pop your eyes out with pyrotechnics, as cool as How Great is Our God might be punctuated with some fireworks.
But the shifting stages and fan bases were part of why this year’s Ichthus demonstrated something serious Christian music fans have known for a long time: You cannot neatly categorize Christian music under one heading, though that is what the music industry has long tried to do.
Newsboys may be the comeback story of Christian rock.
I purposely did not qualify that statement with “of the year” or “of the decade.” Christian pop has never been a genre that completely let faded heroes of the past back into the limelight, and just three years ago, Newsboys looked like it was essentially done.
Back then, it would have been hard to belive Newsboys would be headlining the most successful Winter Jam tour ever, as of last night in Rupp Arena, and they’d be putting on a killer show. But Saturday night, before a crowd of 16,431 paying customers, the resurgent quartet showed off the perfect formula for rebirth.
The key ingredient is new frontman Michael Tait. Here in Central Kentucky, we’ve been able to watch him grow into this role a bit as Newsboys played the Lexington area three times in the last year. But last night, he was perfectly at ease exhorting the crowd, playing every part of the stage and drawing from two iconic bands’ catalogs of hits.
That’s part two of the formula: With Tait, Newsboys credibly performs its own catalog and that of his former band, dc talk. That would make this a greatest hits act if not for the third ingredient, some terrific new material like the title track from the new chart-topper, Born Again. It gives Newsboys a cross-generational appeal they might not have otherwise had.
I admit it. When Newsboys reached the rap in their rendition of Jesus Freak, I was hoping to hear a familiar voice start spitting, “I saw a man with a tat on his big fat belly.”
But it was indeed Michael Tait that saw his new band’s rendition through.
Then, a couple hours later, Tobymac repeated Jesus Freak in his set, delivering the rap in his familiar voice.
One of the first questions that popped into my mind when former dc talk singer Tait joined Newsboys was how he and former talk partner Toby would divvy up the old act’s classics when they shared the same stage.
Wednesday night, we discovered there’s room enough in an evening for two renditions of Jesus Freak. There was no loss of energy in the crowd when Toby launched into the searing guitar break near the end of his show. The earth did not open and swallow the Ichthus Festival for the double dip, and lightning didn’t strike the stage – kinda impressive, considering Toby’s record with Ichthus weather.
The pairing of the old dc talk bandmates was also an interesting study in band dynamics.
Newsboys has some colorful characters, particularly in super cool guitarist guitarst Jody Davis and clown prince drummer Duncan Phillips. And what can you say about a keyboardist named Frankenstein, Jeff Frankenstein? But this is clearly Michael Tait’s band now. He was the expressive, emotional leader, he had command of the tunes, he was running the show.
Toby also was running his show while developing one of the most colorful bands on the road. It sort of brought to mind Black Eyed Peas in terms of a diversity of voices and fun.
Ichthus has to deem its first “community night” a success. The hillside in the amphitheater was packed and locals seemed to respond to the deeply discounted opening night set. Ichthus executive director Jeff James indicated last night there will be a community night next year.
- Look for a slide show from community night later this morning.
Central Kentucky, this one’s for you.
The Ichthus Festival gets started early this year with its “Community Night” on Wednesday, featuring something of a historic bill: Newsboys and TobyMac.
With Michael Tait stepping up to Newsboys’ lead microphone recently, that show will give the audience two-thirds of the iconic Christian rock trio dc Talk.
“Ichthus has been known as a festival that reaches most of the eastern United States for a long time,” Ichthus spokeswoman Tina Pugel said. “We decided we wanted to reach out to our own back yard with a low-cost, one-night experience.”
One-night tickets for the show were $10 until May 31; they are now $20 at the gate. People who have bought a festival pass also will be admitted to the concert.
Pugel said about 3,000 individual tickets have been bought for the event.
Festival organizers want the Community Night to help charitable organizations in the area and are asking participants to bring the following donations:
■ For the Hope Center: a sandwich bag filled with shampoo, lotions, razors, lip balm and any toiletry items that will fit.
■ For God’s Pantry: non-perishable food items such as canned goods, cereal, soup, macaroni and cheese, flour or money (for every $1 received, God’s Pantry can buy $10 worth of food for those in need).
■ For All God’s Children: diapers (sizes 4 and 5), baby wipes, lotion, paper towels, wrapping paper, pens, laundry detergent, masking tape.
There will be collection barrels at the festival entrance and in the Community Night tent, just inside the festival entrance.
Overall, Pugel said, festival ticket sales are up 60 percent from this time last year. She attributed the surge to a strong lineup of musical acts and lower ticket prices. The past several years, full festival adult tickets had been well above $100. This year, festival passes started at $69 in December and will be $99 at the gate.
Mar6Filed under: Ichthus Festival, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: Born Again, Breakfast, dc talk, Duncan Phillips, Fireflight, Ichthus Festival, In the Light, Jeff Frankenstein, Jody Davis, Mac Powell, Michael Tait, Newsboys, Peter Furler, Rupp Arena, Shine, Something Beautiful, Tenth Avenue North, Third Day, TobyMac, Winter Jam
Last winter, Christian music fans received some of the most shocking news in the genre’s history: Newsboys frontman Peter Furler was stepping down from the microphone, and former dc Talk singer Michael Tait was taking over.
Third Day frontman Mac Powell said the move, fusing two of the biggest bands in Christian rock history, was like McDonald’s joining Burger King.
Tait was as surprised as anyone when he got the call.
“It was a pretty heavy mantle,” Tait, 43, recalls. “They said, Peter wants to step down and spend more time with his family — his mom and dad are getting older, living in Australia. But the Newsboys don’t want to quit, and you’re at the top of a very short list of able cats. I thought, ‘Oh boy.’ Newsboys were my old competitors, if you will, back in the day.
“So I prayed about it, and thought about it and said, ‘This could be fun. Let’s see what happens.’ But to tell the truth, I went into it with one eye open thinking, we’ll see how it goes.’
“Now, 130 shows later, I freaking love it.”
The singer says it’s like being in a garage band without the hassle of hauling amplifiers and sleeping in the back of a van.
Central Kentucky audiences have their first chance to see the Tait-fronted Newsboys on March 13, when the band plays the annual Winter Jam concert that is stopping at Rupp Arena for the third straight year.
They’ll be joined by headliners Third Day and supporting acts such as Fireflight and Tenth Avenue North.
Out of all those acts, Newsboys definitely sports the biggest curiosity factor, particularly since it has not released a new album since Tait took over. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s more news of lineup changes for Newsboys and this one is kind of strange. Former dc talk member Michael Tait is taking over as the lead singer of the band . . . on the road.
“Peter Furler will no longer front the band in concert,” a Newsboys press release states. “Peter will continue with the band and his trademark songwriting and production will remain as he focuses his professional career toward future newsboys recordings.”
The band is releasing a new album, In the Hands of God, May 5 that will feature Furler as the lead singer, but Tait will tour it. Furler will apparently pop in on tour this year.
We asked if Furler will be the singer on future albums, a spokesperson for the band said, “That is still to be decided.”
In a statement on Newsboys message boards, Inpop Records president Dale Bray said there is nothing wrong with Furler’s health, which was an initial thought with the strangeness of that arrangement. The statement says Furler will make a personal statement later this week.
Maybe that statement will shed some light on what sounds at first blush like an odd move. Will Peter continue to sing on future records, or is he just going to be a songwriter and producer? I’ve searched my noggin for half a day trying to recall a band that has tried to tour a different singer than was on the record without a clear-cut change out front. And you would think if Tait was going to invest his life in touring with the group, he would want his voice out front on future recordings.
On the other hand, with Tait on stage, think about the catalog this group will have touring, because you have to think that they’ll break out some dc talk classics. In the Light was reportedly on Tait’s first show as frontman in Texas over the weekend.
Lineup changes have been de rigueur for Newsboys since the band formed in the mid-1980s. Paul Colman left in January to make way for returning guitarist Jody Davis. Bassist Phil Joel left a few years ago to pursue a solo career. Furler’s departure actually brings the band’s original lineup to an end as Furler was the band’s original drummer until he took over frontman duties on the appropriately named Step Up to the Microphone album and tour in 1998. Tait is Newsboys third lead singer, succeeding Furler and John James. Since dc talk split up at the beginning of this decade, Tait has fronted his own band, TAIT.
“While I like Michael Tait and loved dcTalk, Peter Furler IS the newsboys,” one fan wrote. “The newsboys have always had a distinct sound. Why? Because of Peter. Anyone else fronting for him will just be sounding like they are doing a cover of the songs. It just won’t be the same. I do wish everyone the best.”
Another fan was more open, saying, “I have been so blessed by Peter and the rest of the newsboys! May God continue to rain down His blessings on all of them, but especially Peter and Michael as they enter this new stage in their lives.”
What do you think?
Outsider has been a familiar role for Tobymac.
As a student at Liberty University, he would get into trouble for his appearance, sporting hip hop fashion at the conservative school. In dc talk, he was the rap guy, introducing sounds unfamiliar to many Christian music fans unless they were associated with urban violence and misogyny.
Bucking the system was fairly routine as he entered his solo career, bringing hip-hop to the forefront of Christian pop – a white artist championing a distinctly African-American genre.
But now, Tobymac is the reigning artist of the year in the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards, and he’s nominated for the honor again. And last month, he picked up his first Grammy award as a solo artist: best rock or rap gospel album for his live set, Alive and Transported.
So, is Tobymac the establishment in Christian pop?
“I don’t feel like the establishment,” says the artist, who is headlining the Winter Jam concert Saturday night at Rupp Arena. “If anything, I feel like I push the establishment, not in a rebellious sense, but in that I believe we’re diverse, and I believe that diversity should be flexed, and the edge of the music we make and the fashion that we put on can be exhibited, but you can still be passionate about your faith.
“I know it can look like, ‘Hey, he’s the artist of the year. How can he say he’s pushing the limits?’ I think if you just look over the artist of the year, thank God and thank gospel music that they’ve stretched toward us.”
After all, while Tobymac’s sound might reflect what is on Top 40 radio around the nation, hip-hop is still something of a novelty in contemporary Christian music. Read the rest of this entry »
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich