Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

As we talked about last month, Point of Grace brings its trademark harmonies to the Kentucky State Fair's free Christian concert on the 20th. The latest Soundscan (the device the music industry uses to measure album sales) figures I've seen show that the ladies have sold about 200,000 copies of their Free to Fly album since May 1. Looking at that number, it's obvious the ladies are as hot as ever, so I recommend getting to Old Cardinal Stadium as early as possible for a good seat. The concert is free with paid admission to the Fair.

The Greater Louisville Billy Graham Crusade wrapped up June 24 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. It was an incredible event, not just because of the amount of people on hand, but also because of how people reacted to the Crusade. Dr. Graham's messages were awesome to hear live and in person. And the response at each evening's invitation time was amazing to see.

Here's a rundown of the musical side of the Crusade:

The first evening, Thursday the 21st, was by far the most formal night of the Crusade. Local politicians and Crusade officials spoke to the crowd. Judge Rebecca Jackson, herself a Crusade Counselor, spoke eloquently about what an honor it was to have the Crusade in Louisville. Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Louisville's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Chairman of the Crusade, praised Dr. Graham for his integrity and long-standing commitment to spreading the gospel. Because it was the first night of the Crusade, the early part evening was basically spent welcoming Dr. Graham and the Crusade to Louisville.

Musical guests that evening were newcomer Rachael Lampa and veteran Michael W. Smith. Rachael starting the evening off, singing just two songs: "Live For You," the title track to her 2000 debut album, and her huge hit, "Blessed." Listening to the latter you could have easily thought Mariah Carey had shown up at Papa John's that night. Though only 16, and all of 5 feet tall, Rachael's vocal ability is amazingly strong.

Michael W. Smith followed, choosing not to sing his hits but to play a set of praise and worship songs. He also plugged his upcoming release Worship and featured music from it as well. Four giant Jumbotron screens showed the lyrics, and the crowd of over 40,000 sang along. A full band accompanied Smith, including guitar great Wes King, and gospel artist Darwin Hobbs.

The second evening was Kentucky-themed. Louisville's Larnelle Harris opened the event with a couple of songs, and some down-home humor. "It's great to be here tonight...I'm here (in Louisville) every night! I live over there!" he shouted, pointing to the east.

Ricky Skaggs and the Kentucky Thunder Band followed, singing and picking and showing why they are the Grammy and Dove-Award Winning outfit they are. I don't sit at home listening to Bluegrass, but I'll see Skaggs anytime I can. The guy's amazingly talented, and his band is too. Skaggs mentioned that he had included Dr. Graham's voice on one of his recordings, which he played. The band sang and played three songs, two slow and one very upbeat. The crowd of about 45,000 cheered loudly at the close of each one.

Saturday night was billed as the "Concert For the Next Generation." My guess is that it will be forever known as "The night Kirk Franklin ran around Papa John's Cardinal Stadium," but I'll get to that in a moment.

Jennifer Knapp was up first that night, singing three of her bluesy-rock songs including her hit "A Little More". Strumming an acoustic guitar she brought her almost "coffee house" vibe to the packed-out stadium. She talked about watching Billy Graham on a black and white television as a child and being frustrated that his Crusades interrupted her favorite shows. She said she never could have dreamed that one day she'd be the one singing at a Crusade.

Up next was Kirk Franklin. I had seen him live a couple of times at industry events and as well as on "Late Show with David Letterman" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno". Honestly, most of his music sounds the same to me, I can't really tell one song from another. So I thought I knew what to expect that evening. I had no idea. I've been to a lot of concerts. I've seen crowds go wild over everyone from Aerosmith to Kiss to the Bee Gees (yes, its' true, I saw the Brothers Gibb when I was nine-years-old). But I've never seen crowd enthusiasm like I saw that night! That crowd was on their feet jumping for the duration of Franklin's set. All of the most familiar songs were there, such as "Stomp," "Revolution," and the slower "Lean On Me." The crowd sang and jumped at Franklin's beck and call. Then after about twenty minutes or so, Franklin disappeared from the stage, only to re-appear on the field of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. He proceeded to run the entire field, stopping occasionally to dance with someone. People of all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens were "getting their groove on." It was pretty amazing to see. There were over 40,000 people in attendance and it looked as if every one of them was dancing and singing to Franklin's "Nu Nation" beat.

Franklin is a very tough act to follow (especially that night!), but dc Talk, perhaps the most popular group in Christian music, managed to getting the crowd rockin' as the headliners of the evening. Toby McKeehan, Michael Tait and Kevin Max appeared on stage for their first Louisville concert since March of 1999. Opening with their recent hit, a remake of their "Say The Words (Today)", the group energized the crowd with a vibe more conducive to crowd-surfing than grandstanding. Dc Talk went on to play many of their most popular songs including "Jesus Is Just Alright," "In the Light" and their signature song, "Jesus Freak" (which featured the re-appearance of Kirk Franklin, running around the stage like a madman).

Sunday night blew away nearly everyone's expectations. It ended up being the most-attended event ever at the stadium, with over 50,000 people inside and over 7,500 more outside in the overflow area.

The Gaither Vocal Band opened the evening with a couple of songs that brought the capacity crowd to its feet. It was a brief set for sure, but the audience seemed to be delighted just at the appearance of the almost legendary group. It also marked one of the last times the Band will be in Louisville with Mark Lowry, who just announced he will leave the group effective December 31.

If dc Talk is the most popular group overall in Contemporary Christian music, then Third Day is the hottest of the moment. The Georgia-bred band took the stage with a new song, the title track to their forthcoming Come Together project. The group's on-stage presence is more like a traditional rock band (no jumping around, running into the crowd, etc.). But the crowd roared at the finish of each song. Though known as a Christian "rock" band, lead singer Mac Powell seemed to be leading a church service, rather than a sold-out show. I guess that make since, considering the setting (although he does the same thing at Third Day shows as well).

Musically (and spiritually) the whole event was awe-inspiring. I doubt Louisville will see anything else quite like it, at least not in my lifetime.

The Greater Louisville Billy Graham Crusade will air on television sometime in the next six months, according to Crusade officials. Check it out if you can, I guarantee you won't find anything better on the tube that night.