Grace Notes
By Chris Crain

Winter Jam 2007 is on Saturday, January 13 at Broadbent Arena. Steven Curtis Chapman, Jeremy Camp, Newsong, Sanctus Real and Hawk Nelson are all scheduled to appear.

So what have the artists on the tour been up to?

This will mark Chapman's first concert appearance since playing at the Kentucky State Fair in 2005. Among other things, he has traveled overseas to perform for the troops.

Jeremy Camp last played Louisville in February of 2005, opening for Mercy Me. He just released a new CD, Beyond Measure, and has been touring with fellow Winter "Jammers" Hawk Nelson.

Newsong played in Louisville last winter with Anointed and new artist Ana Laura.

Michael O' Brien has left the band and newcomer Drew Cline has joined.

Sanctus Real has been busy. The group's latest CD,The Face of Love, contains hard-hitting songs portraying universal themes of love, brokenness. Inspired by real-life heartache and rediscovered joy, the emotions behind each track are vulnerable and undisguised, making this album the band's most accessible project. Further, Sanctus Real members Matt Hammitt (lead vocals), Mark Graalman (drums), Chris Rohman (guitars) welcome newest addition Dan Gartley (bass), a protégé of producer Mark Townsend. Gartley replaces former bassist Steve Goodrum.

Popularly known for its trio of chart-topping hits -"Everything About You," "The Fight Song" and its cover of U2's "Beautiful Day"- Sanctus Real's The Face of Lovecomes on the heels of two seasons on opposing emotional poles, one of success and one of trial.

After the critically touted Fight the Tide was released almost two years ago, Sanctus Real fired cleanly on all cylinders through the end of 2004. A relentless touring outfit, the band gained its first headlining slot; fans responded enthusiastically, especially through popular online outlets like MySpace.com. Sanctus nabbed Radio & Records' "Most Played Christian Rock Band Of The Year" title and in early 2005 it added four more Dove Award nominations to its success tally. Further, with Graalman's first son about to be born and guitarist Rohman preparing to be married, all indications pointed toward another banner year for Sanctus Real.

Then, turning on a dime, life dropped absolute heartbreak into the mix.

The "Fight the Tide" tour was drawing to a close and Graalman, a stalwart family man like the others, elected to rejoin his wife before their son was to be born. A couple days later, Benjamin was born at a local Toledo hospital. But shockingly, two hours later and one floor below the happy celebration, Graalman's father was diagnosed with cancer. Tests proved there was nothing doctors could do. Mark says, "I remember thinking, 'God, what are you allowing to happen here?'"

The news overwhelmed family and band alike. With limited time to share with his father, Graalman came off the road indefinitely and the band was forced to continue with a replacement drummer to meet its professional obligations.

Also at this time, the grandmother of vocalist Hammitt became gravely ill. She eventually ended up in a local hospice care facility in a room next door to Graalman's dying father. The final straw came when the band's bass player at the time, Goodrum, decided leave to pursue other interests. Kicked in the gut and breathless, the guys came face-to-face with just how fragile and capricious relationships could be. And despite being tapped later that spring for the band's first Dove Award -2005's Modern Rock Album of the Year -Sanctus Real could barely muster the will to write and record, let alone deliver the new album its label anticipated.

"It was devastating dealing with these things and truckin' through it," Graalman acknowledges. "We were backstage at the Doves, for example, doing press interviews. Everyone was congratulating us, which I was grateful for. But my dad had just died; my heart was very far away from all the hype. And in the midst of all that was happening we were supposed to be making a record and writing songs. But we had nothing."

Enter producer Chris Stevens, who helped the band channel its complex emotions into songwriting, their grief-stricken passion into powerful, emotive studio performances.

"All the lyrics we'd written shifted to the stuff we were going through at this point," Hammitt says. Band members credit producer Stevens for walking with them through their dark night of the soul experience and coaching them to their strongest record yet. Rohman says, "Chris was willing to put it all out there. He believed in the songs and believed in this band."

The album's opening confessional and first radio single from the album, "I'm Not Alright," locates the singer in desperate human brokenness, requiring him to move closer to God for strength. "It's been an unbelievably hard year for the band," drummer Graalman reveals. "But we've learned to rely on God's grace and we've learned to be honest and transparent. Being honest and transparent means not faking it. It has to be OK to say, 'No, I'm not alright'."

Inspired by Brennan Manning's The Signature of Jesus, the album's title track, "The Face of Love," became an unabashed anthem of unconditional love.

"All the stuff we went through sparked an excitement for life and the journey," Hammitt reveals. "We don't know what Jesus really looked like, but we can know who Jesus is. We can then discover who we are in Christ and hope beyond hope to become the face of love to all those around us."

The final track, "Benjamin," adds an effective coda to The Face of Love. A bittersweet tribute to Graalman's family, written by Hammitt, the song recognizes that life is lived from dependence to dependence, cradle to grave.

Tickets for Winter Jam are available at all Ticketmaster outlets and online at Ticketmaster.com. The tickets are only $10, but of course there is a Ticketmaster charge. If you want to avoid that, I suggest buying tickets at the fairgrounds. Of course, you could wait and see if there will be tickets at the door, but I wouldn't advise it. I know the show is over halfway sold out and last year's "Winter Jam" was a sellout.

Tickets are still available for Newsboys, Kutless and Stellar Kart at the Louisville Palace on March 15. Should be a great show!

There are rumors of some other shows on the way, but that's the "official" word for now. I'll keep you updated.