Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

Christian music's top two male artists are making 2002 a year like no other for Louisville. Christian music history is being made in Louisville!

Michael W. Smith returned to Southeast Christian Church on July 19 to record his second live "worship" CD. The event was called a "worship event," not a concert. Michael brought his band to the church and played for about two hours. The event was recorded and will be released this October as an album called Worship...Again.

Michael recorded his first worship album on June 1, 2001 at the Carpenter's Home Church in Lakeland, Florida. The live worship experience was recorded as Smith, supported by a 20-member choir, led worship for about 10,000 people. The album, simply titled Worship, was released on September 11. At a press conference the night before the Louisville event, Michael said he "did not believe that was a coincidence," eluding to the fact that both good and evil came from that day (interestingly, another huge-selling Christian release, P.O.D.'s Satellite, also released on 9/11).

For Michael, the Lakeland event was not about recording an album, but about leading people in worship and seeing lives changed. "I don't want this to be just another `recording''s about pure worship, period," he says. Eight songs recorded in Lakeland and included on Worship, were "Breathe," "Draw Me Close," "Open the Eyes of My Heart," "Agnus Dei," "Above All," "Forever," "Awesome God" and "The Heart of Worship." The album ended up being the fastest-selling of Michael's career.

"The support and excitement from retailers for Worship so far has been amazing," says Keri Turner, Director of Marketing for Reunion Records. "The idea of Michael making a worship recording is something that retailers and his fans have asked for...and (we were) finally able to give it to them." Now the world will hear a new "worship" CD-this time with over 9,000 Louisville "back-up singers."

It was interesting to attend the Louisville event, because, as I mentioned, it wasn't a "concert" per se. For one thing, it was free (an offering was taken to help defray some of the costs). Also, due to the nature of the live recording, children under 5 were not admitted. "Overflow seating" was provided in a Fellowship Hall and in the Chapel with live audio/video feed. People were encouraged to carpool with family and friends because of the large crowd expected (over 11,000 were on hand). Southeast members were asked to park at the old Sam's Club Lot near the church and buses began running at 4 p.m. to shuttle folks to the church and back.

As far as I could tell, things seemed to go very smoothly that evening. The only glitch the audience could notice was Michael asking to play a song twice (and no one was complaining about that).

Michael also recently recorded footage and audio for the Worship DVD at a Youth for Christ conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with over 15,000 youth in attendance.

"The DVD will touch people in a different way than the album does because it is a visual piece; it brings the powerful worship moments to life," he says. "The DVD shows that while God is consistent, He moves in different ways each time we gather to worship Him. I really believe that no two worship services are alike. Something different happens in each and every one."

"One of the things that is consistently being said about the Worship album is that it is more than a recording; it's an experience," says Dean Diehl, Sr. Vice President and General Manager of Reunion Records. "We feel a DVD...pulls people even deeper into what really happens at these events and allows them to take part in the experience at a whole new level." Executive produced by Michael, the disc features a "making-of" segment that will show behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Michael, his band, road crew and recording engineers in the mix studio. Musical footage will consist of many songs from the first Worship album including, "Above All," "Breathe," "Draw Me Close," and "Agnus Dei." In addition to these favorites, new songs featured are, "Step by Step/Halleluia," a melding of Rich Mullins' classic and a Smith-penned original; Mullins' "I See You"; and an electric-guitar version of U2's "40." The DVD is set to release later this month.

Christian music's other most popular male singer, Steven Curtis Chapman, has also chosen to record in Louisville this year. Steven comes to The Palace September 19 and 20 to record both a CD and DVD.

After performing in 33 cities to over 130,000 people Steven's Live Out Loud tour, wrapped for the spring season. The fall leg kick offs next month. The spring tour ended in Houston, which also turned out to be the biggest night of the tour, with over 9,200 people packing The Woodlands C.W. Mitchell Pavilion. Lakeland, FL was also a huge success in March, with over 7,200 concertgoers. With an average attendance of nearly 4,000, numerous shows were also sellouts, including Houston, Atlanta, Jacksonville and Dallas. In fact, the second Dallas date was added to the line-up due to the first show selling out so far in advance of Steven's appearance there. The tour featured Nichole Nordeman opening the concert. Nichole, last year's Dove award winner for Female Vocalist Of The Year, is confirmed to appear again on the fall leg of the tour.

I was at the Bloomington, Indiana show of the spring tour and was pretty much blown away. Hands down, this was the most amazing Christian concert I'd ever seen. Truly making the tour unlike any other were featured special guests missionary Steve Saint and Waodani tribal member Mincaye. As featured in USA Today, the story of Steve Saint and Mincaye was shared through their words and a 25-minute multi-media experience featuring footage from the upcoming film documentary, "Beyond The Gates Of Splendor," with narration and music from Steven.

Saint is the founder of I-TEC, an organization teaching indigenous people, and son of martyred missionary Nate Saint. Nate Saint died with Jim Elliott and three other missionaries in Ecuador in 1956, when Mincaye and five other Auca warriors attacked and killed them. At the Bloomington show, Saint was greeted with a standing ovation.

The effect the tour had was astounding, with comments coming in daily from radio, retail, media and concertgoers. The concert event featured Steven in his most entertaining live performances, but also impacted fans and others alike in a powerful way.

If that last statement sounds a little vague, it's because I'm trying not to give too much away - and that's sort of an unusual statement about a concert. Take my word for it, this is no ordinary Christian event, it's a visual and aural experience like none I've seen in a long time. I can't wait to see it again! Tickets are on sale on August 2. Get them early - I'll see you there.