Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

Some tickets are still available for the Mercy Me/Jeremy Camp/Monk and Neagle/The Afters concert on the 19th at Louisville Gardens. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

Here's something more important to tell you about: The Gospel Music Association (GMA) announced the establishment of "Project Restore," an Asian Tsunami awareness, prayer and fundraising effort. Project Restore launches with the formation of a website, Project Restore.org and will serve as the industry's unified campaign for raising awareness of how the gospel music community and its fans can be involved, including encouraging financial donations to World Vision (www.worldvision.org) and other Christian agencies like Compassion International (www.compassion.org) which GMA has worked with and which are directly providing disaster relief for the countries and the victims of the Tsunami. I've worked closely with Compassion International several times and highly recommend them. Project Restore will focus its initial efforts on the Tsunami disaster, but will remain the industry's official crisis response vehicle in the future.

Among the artists who will be lending their support to Project Restore include Paducah native Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day, CeCe Winans, Kirk Franklin, Casting Crowns, and NewSong. Links from the artists' fan websites will includes links and information about Project Restore and World Vision. During the month of January, more than 45 concerts of World Vision artists will make an appeal to concertgoers for a single gift donation for Tsunami relief.

A complete list of artists supporting Project Restore, and details related to concert fundraising will be included and updated on a regular basis at Project Restore.org. As part of the Project Restore campaign, artists not associated with World Vision or another relief charity will be offered resources for their website and tours.

"As I've wrestled with the questions that all of us have in the wake of this great disaster I've come to realize that once again the only question I'm in a position to ask is, "what now, how am I to respond?" As a community of people who create art for the purpose of showing the glory and greatness of our God through music I believe moments in history like these are the very reason we exist. Who we are in these times is the essence of why we are, so its my prayer and hope, that as we carry this banner of compassion everyone will join in alongside us and watch what God will do through us," said Steven Curtis Chapman, who is the father of three adopted Asian children (shohannahshope.org).

I'll be headed to India to help out as well. Give in what every way you can.

Three groups that visited Louisville in 2004, Switchfoot, Mercy Me and Casting Crowns are three bands with very different stories, but together they represent the newest generation of artists and are one of the big stories of 2004 for gospel music sales. The three groups were among the top-selling artists in a year that saw gospel music sales total 43.4 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Switchfoot, who played a free concert at the fair this year, had the #1-selling album on the Christian SoundScan Overall Albums chart for 2004, The Beautiful Letdown thanks in part to Sparrow Records and Switchfoot's new relationship with Columbia Records, which brought mainstream exposure to the San Diego-based band. The album has been on the Billboard charts for over 80 weeks, including over 30 weeks at #1 on the Christian Albums chart. Switchfoot has been a critic and fan favorite in gospel music since they released their first record, The Legend of Chin in 1997, followed by two more critically acclaimed releases, New Way To Be Human and Learning To Breathe (these three records, which remain with Sparrow Records, were re-released this fall as the compilation: Switchfoot the Early Years - 1997-2000). But it was Columbia's push of "Meant To Live," a single that peaked at No. 5 on Billboard's Adult Top 40, and "Dare You to Move," that brought Switchfoot national attention and a surge in both their Christian and mainstream retail sales.

Mercy Me, who played at the Palace last February and return this month sold more than 1.5 million units in album and DVD sales, including the #4 and #6 top-selling records on Christian SoundScan's Overall Albums chart for the year -- Almost There and Undone respectively. Mercy Me's success was fueled by the momentum from "I Can Only Imagine," the smash single from Almost There, which first hit mainstream radio in 2003 and continued its impact in 2004. "I Can Only Imagine" delivered an unabashedly spiritual message about what heaven might be like. Millions of radio listeners who may not have ever considered themselves fans of Christian music suddenly found themselves singing along to the song's irresistible chorus. The song saw heavy airplay on Pop, AC, and Hot AC mainstream radio stations nationwide, and "I Can Only Imagine" ended 2004 as the 20th most-played song on Radio & Records mainstream AC chart while "Here With Me," the first single from Undone, was 24th and also a big hit at Christian radio. The band from Greenville, Texas, not only earned multiple Dove Awards including Artist and Group of the Year in 2004, but they also were honored with an American Music Award for Favorite Contemporary Inspirational Artist. Mercy Me has evolved from being Christian music's fastest-selling new act in 2001 when Almost There first released to become nationally known as a great rock group that tackles the essential themes of God and love.

Casting Crowns, who played the Gardens with Steven Curtis Chapman in December, represents yet another face of the new generation of Christian artists and its self-titled CD is the fastest selling debut Christian artist in recent years. At the center of Casting Crowns is Mark Hall, a youth pastor, who until recently was writing music primarily for the kids in his youth groups. Casting Crowns grew out of two of Hall's stops along his youth ministry path, first while leading a youth group in Daytona Beach, Fla., then transplanting and growing when Hall moved to a new position in Atlanta. Discovered and signed just in early 2003 by Mark Miller of country music's Sawyer Brown to be the debut artist for Beach Street Records, an imprint Miller founded and leads for Provident Label Group, Casting Crowns found themselves in the enviable position of making their first major label record with Steven Curtis Chapman as co-producer, Chapman's first time producing another artists' work. Hall's presentation of straightforward and challenging Christ-centered lyrics found a home at Christian radio which embraced hard-hitting #1 charting songs like "If We Are the Body," "Who Am I" and "Voice of Truth" and played a considerable role in the band's success.

Coming next month: what else? A major concert announcement!