Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

Celebration 2003 took place on June 7 at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, and nearly 5,000 people were on hand to check out Jars of Clay and Chris Rice in the park's amphitheatre that night. Everyone I talked with seemed to enjoy the show and it looked as though many people were there to see Chris Rice as well as headliners Jars.

The event featured a second stage as well at the smaller Looney Tunes Amphitheatre inside the park. Local acts including Alexis Shay, Krymson, Jireh Jah and others played throughout the day. The only group I actually saw was second stage headliners Across the Sky. The band, which features former Louisville resident Ben Kolarcik on guitar and vocals, recently signed with Word Records. The group has an upbeat Third Eye Blind-ish rock/pop sound that would fit nicely onto the playlists of both Christian and mainstream radio stations. They did an excellent job that day, hitting the stage about 4:30 p.m..

For a group that hasn't been together very long, they sounded tight and even handled some technical difficulties well. Several hundred people were on hand to check out the group's hour-long set. Look for more from them in the months ahead. Across The Sky's first single, "Found By You," has been getting some airplay in Louisville on Christian radio and their self-titled debut CD releases this month.

Over in the park's big amphitheatre, Chris Rice took the stage about 7 p.m.. The place was packed and the crowd cheered loudly as Rice took the stage in Louisville for the first time in nearly five years.

Dressed in shorts and a polo shirt, the 40-year-old Rice and his band played for about an hour, hitting most of his biggest hits, including "Life Means So Much," "Big Enough," "Smellin' Coffee," "The Other Side Of The Radio" and the often-requested "Cartoons," which probably got the biggest response. It was not a fancy set with lots of lights and smoke, but Rice kept the crowd pumped simply by playing the hits. Probably a third of the crowd left when his set wrapped up at 8 p.m..

Jars of Clay, who also headlined last year's Celebration event, took the stage at about 8:45 p.m.. It was an acoustic heavy show, but not a typical "unplugged" show. Instead of four guys on bar stools strumming guitars, it was the complete band with drums and keyboards. The crowd liked it.

Jars played for about an hour and fifteen minutes and included most of their radio hits, including "Love Song For A Savior," "I Need You," "Fly" and an extended encore version of "Worlds Apart." The song that got the biggest response was probably "Flood," the group's first hit from a few years back. The crowd (which was mainly teenagers by the end of the evening) bounced like crazy during the chorus. The group even included a version of the J. Lo song "Jenny From The Block." Yes, you read that correctly.

I was impressed by Jars Of Clay's set. Despite the more acoustic feel of this year's show (last year was full-on electric), the group had tons of energy and played feverishly most of the time. Actually "feverishly" might not be too far from the truth, as guitarist Stephen Mason revealed that he had been ill that day from eating a hot dog. But the group sounded great and the crowd, tired and weary from a day of riding the coasters, seemed to have a great time.

Platinum-selling vocal group Point of Grace is scheduled to put on a free mini-concert at Oxmoor Mall on July 18. The group just released the double CD 24, which includes all 24 consecutive #1 hit radio singles and highlights their successes spanning a decade-long plus career. This album release adds to the existing momentum of Girls Of Grace, the album and nationwide conferences that have heralded over 40,000 teenaged attendees to date.

Barry Landis, president of the group's record label, says "People have embraced Point of Grace. They love the music they make and they are drawn to them as women and as Christians," he says. "Denise, Shelly, Terry and Heather prove daily to those around them that they have been entrusted with their talent for a good reason."

The group will sing inside the mall starting at 11 a.m..

Finally, the news item that has had people talking more than any other: "Hey Chris, did you hear Mercy Me's `I Can Only Imagine' is on WDJX?" Yes, it's been #1 on the "Top 5 at 9" as a matter of fact.

As it hit the Top 20 at #19 on Mainstream Adult Contemporary and #41 on the CHR/Top 40 charts in June, surely one of the biggest surprises at pop radio this year has come from the song. This has to be one of the most amazing stories in Christian music history.

Featured on radio countdown shows like Casey Kasem's "American Top 20" and Leeza Gibbons' "Hollywood Confidential" in June, the song is continuing to get listener response most radio stations have never experienced.

Sales of the nearly three-year-old album Almost There, which features "I Can Only Imagine," have begun to grow again, re-entering the Billboard Top 200 sales chart several weeks ago. According to INO Records, the album has increased in sales at a minimum of 50 percent and in some cases as high as 300 percent in markets where it is receiving airplay.

The phenomenon started when Dallas' "Wild 100" FM morning show played the song as part of their "All Request Hour," and the phones rang off the hook all day with overwhelming positive feedback.

Seeing they clearly had a hit on their hands, Mercy Me's label, INO Records, partnered with Curb Record's promotion's team to work the song nationwide.

Since then, Dallas has not been alone in their listener response. Program directors in Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Monterey, Atlanta, Orlando, Columbus and others, say "I Can Only Imagine" may be the biggest reaction song they've ever had. The song has also been added to five stations in Greenville, SC., three in Birmingham and over 100 markets nationwide. At Nashville's Clear Channel station, The River" the song was their most requested every day for two months and the song is now in `power rotation,' being played as much as 76 times in one week.

The response stations are getting is really uncanny, with many getting hundreds of emails the first day they play it and one station commenting that because their phone lines were jammed for two or three hours with requests for the song, people actually drove to the station to ask "what that song was."

Pretty amazing. In Louisville "Almost There" is outselling the group's current project "Spoken For."

That's it for this month. August is a busy month with a lot going on! I'll have the info next time in LMN.