Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

Major Concert Announcement: Mercy Me, arguably the hottest band in Christian music, will be coming to our fair city in February. The original venue was The Louisville Palace, but now that may change. The date is confirmed for February 15.

The group continues to get more news to celebrate as the 2002 release, Spoken For, recently received "Gold" certification. The CD has consistently been a top seller, remaining in at least the top 20 for a full year. Spoken For made Adult Contemporary (AC) Radio history recently, as its single "Word of God Speak," set the record for a #1 song at ten weeks on R&R Magazine's Christian AC radio chart. In addition, the single spent nine weeks at #1 on the Program Director Advisory AC radio chart and was #1 for more than 20 weeks on the Christian Radio Weekly AC radio charts. This breaks the previous standing record of eight weeks. It's got to be one of the biggest songs ever released in Christian music. "Word of God Speak" was also a #1 hit on the "Inspiration" radio charts (representing Christian stations that play softer music) for multiple weeks.

With their ridiculously huge song "I Can Only Imagine" continuing to impact mainstream Adult Contemporary radio (#5 at press time), Hot AC (#29 at press time), a certified platinum record with Almost There and growing sales each week , Mercy Me is currently touring with Michael W. Smith on the Celebration Tour, which kicked off October 16 in Milwaukee, WI to a capacity crowd at the U.S. Cellular Arena and continues to sell-out in cities across the U.S.

Between tour dates, Mercy Me is in the studio working on an April 2004 release and was recently featured on CNN Headline News' Entertainment segment. To watch the interview, go to www.inorecords.com/home.artists/video/MercyMe-CNN.wvx

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I don't believe Christian music has ever seen a phenomenon quite like what's been happening with Mercy Me. Yes, Michael W. Smith and groups like Sixpence None The Richer have had so-called "crossover" hits and sold tons of records. But did anybody ever think that "I Can Only Imagine" would do that? I mean, someone hearing Sixpence's "Kiss Me" may have no clue the group are believers. But it's impossible to miss the message in "I Can Only Imagine."

I should have venue and ticket info soon. Check back here for more details in the next issue of LMN.

I had lunch in Louisville recently with a new artist on Gotee Records named Sarah Kelly. Her debut CD, Take Me Away, is set to release on February 24.

Kelly's national debut release comes after her distinctive sound began to turn heads and create a buzz in music industry circles earlier this year. Before long Kelly found herself pursued by several record labels and landed at Gotee.

Gotee founder Toby McKeehan was eager to sign Kelly the moment he heard her. "Sarah's voice and passion woke me out of an A&R slumber," McKeehan says. "She took me from a mountain of demos to a moment of true worship, I believe."

Gotee Records President Joey Elwood agrees. "Sarah Kelly doesn't need a record company," he says. "She's already been recording, touring, promoting and selling on her own and that's both intimidating and humbling for us. But at the same time, it's inspiring us. She is a new generation of artists that I'm seeing more and more every day and frankly, it's not scary, it's a breath of fresh air not to be asked to be a venture capitalist, but a partner. Musically, we don't deserve her. She's raw, unfiltered, explosive and elegant. How many records will she sell? I'm not sure. But she will make an impression on all of us. Everything about her demands that you take notice."

In addition to her new recording agreement with Gotee, Kelly has also signed a long-term management agreement with Nashville-based Alabaster Arts, Inc. and a booking agreement with Creative Artist Agency (CAA), where she joins an artist roster that includes Jars of Clay, Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, among others. "One of the greatest things about Sarah's music is the fact that her energy as a person translates so well into her performance," says CAA agent Jeff Gregg. "She's such a vibrant and inspiring person to be around and her music reflects every bit of that. Everyone at Creative Artists Agency is thrilled to be working with her and we're excited to be helping her share her gift with others."

Hailing from Rockford, Ill., Kelly recently moved to Nashville and is already performing an average of 150-200 concerts a year. She told me she hopes to be on a major tour in 2004.

"I know without a doubt that I have the very best team of professionals surrounding me," she says. "I keep telling everyone that I've found the perfect fit and I believe that wholeheartedly - even though I'm not sure I deserve it! They get who I am and what I'm about, so I'm so excited about all that is ahead of me and I'm looking forward to the adventure."

So what's been going on with local artist Amanda Hill? Remember her song "Come Home"? It was all over Louisville radio airwaves (Christian and mainstream) following the terrorist attacks of September 2001.She also made the local television morning show circuit during that time.

Ms. Hill is now a senior at Restoration Christian School in Sellersburg. She was recently informed by the Christian Country Music Association in Nashville, that she had been selected as one of the Top 5 nominees for the "Youth In Music" award at this years "Christian Country Music Award Show" It took place at the Ryman Auditorium last month. The Host of the award show was Buddy Jewell and included scheduled guest appearances from George Jones and others.

Hill has been an opening act for country artists Trace Adkins, Joe Nichols and Trick Pony, among others and performs at fairs and jamborees around the region. For more info you can check out www.amandahillmusicnews.net.