Thursday, October 27, 2005

the pantagraph...and my "fate"

Here's an article about the Jars concert in my hometown this weekend (in the local paper). I appreciate the extra attention, but I'm not sure what to think of the word choice they used regarding me: "the fate of rural Towanda native and bass player Aaron Sands".

After huge pop success, Jars of Clay
strips down Christian sound

By Dan Craft

When it rains, it pours, filling those Jars of Clay to overflowing.

That was the metaphor that might have been used nine years ago, when America's then-hottest Christian pop group passed through B-N's two main concert venues twice in nine months.

The first was at ISU's Redbird Arena, opening for Michael W. Smith; the second, at ISU's Braden Auditorium, headlining an oddball split sacred/secular bill with the Samples and the Gufs.

After that: a dry spell (though the group did pass through venues around us, including their last area showing, five years ago, at the Peoria Civic Center).

Now this: a concert Saturday night at Bloomington's Second Presbyterian Church, the band's Illinois connections still intact (save one -- see accompanying story for the fate of rural Towanda native and bass player Aaron Sands).

With two big openers, Chris Rice and Sara Groves, the concert's 600 seats went fast, according to a church spokeswoman. A waiting list is being compiled for those interested in scooping up any returned tickets.

In an interview during a concert sound-check on the road, founding member Charlie Lowell admits that 1996 was then and 2005 is now.

Then was the era of huge Top 40 crossover radio hits like "Flood," and songs on movie soundtracks like "The Long Kiss Goodnight" and "Hard Rain," and tunes on the tube, giving a beat to everything from "One Life to Live" to "Felicity."

"On our last couple of records, I think we've grown more and more comfortable with who we are and what our musical inclinations are," says the keyboardist who met fellow bandmates Dan Haseltine, Steve Mason and Matt Odmark when they were all students at Greenville College in Southern Illinois, circa 1993.

"We're really embracing our organic acoustic side, and worrying less about radio accessibility," Lowell adds, referring to that 1995-98 heyday when it was sometimes difficult to tell which side of the sacred/secular fence the band stood on.

"I think part of the experience of the radio thing was feeling the pressure to follow up the first album (1995's "Jars of Clay") with more of the same. And we spent the next couple records kind of doing that, as far as where the music was going."

In a Pantagraph interview five years ago, Odmark admitted that the result was "a strange situation. And, I think, also a pretty confusing situation to a lot of people and promoters."

He called that situation "a two-headed game we've ended up playing, and it's made for some interesting experiences and caused its share of confusion. Because of our single ('Flood'), which was played on pop and modern rock radio, we recognized that our audience is more than just church youth group kids."

Which led to the not-particularly-successful touring with secular rock bands like the Samples and the Gufs.

Fans of all the groups were a little confused, didn't always know how to react and even split the audience down the middle in some cases.

"That crossover issue was tough," Lowell admits, five years after Odmark's assessment. "Some people were excited about it, and some were offended, and misunderstood us, and made judgments."

He says the experience "forced us to come to grips with who Jars of Clay are and who they are not -- not who the church wants us to be or who mainstream radio wants us to be. We said to heck with trying to keep everyone happy -- that's impossible. We were forced to sort of say, 'at the end of the day, we want to be able to sleep good at night and make good art that challenges listeners, and to be a strong band."

Today, Lowell says, everyone's sleeping good.

The quartet's new album, "Redemption Songs," featuring JOC reworking traditional hymns, taking their original lyrics and adapting them to a new sound.

Basically, says Lowell, "we're taking the words and writing new music -- making them musically relevant. It gives them a fighting a chance, and the lyrics are still unbelievable."

Saturday's concert in Bloomington will reflect that new direction for Jars of Clay, as well as take the audience on a trip back in time through the band's history, with some possible interaction, says Lowell, between them and opening acts Chris Rice and Sara Groves.

One thing is for certain, he adds: a full 10 years into their professional existence, the world has changed for Jars of Clay -- but all four members are still intact, no mean feat for a decade-old band in any musical genre.

In 1995, he says, "we were just a bunch of college guys" who'd gotten together a few years earlier, clicked musically and found themselves on top of their world.

No one was married. No one had kids.

Life was simpler then.

"We were a brand new band," says Lowell. "We didn't even know each other that well, and a lot of things were going on at once -- trying to be friends and then, unexpectedly, business partners.

"But we're still around and we still have a pretty decent fan base. And now the challenge is finding the balance between our careers and our families as different things pull at us."

Jars' bass player helping others through mission

By Dan Craft

TOWANDA -- Jars of Clay's Illinois roots run naturally deep.

The band's core membership -- Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Steve Mason and Matt Odmark -- first crossed paths at Greenville College in Southern Illinois.

Mason himself hails halfway between there and Bloomington-Normal, from Decatur.

But as Pantagraph JOC fans know, there's an even closer connection to the area: bass player Aaron Sands, who grew up in rural Towanda and graduated from Normal Community High School in 1993.

The son of Larry and Anita Sands, Sands joined the band in 1995 and debuted locally when JOC opened for Michael W. Smith in February 1996 at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena, then returned later the same year for a Braden Auditorium show.

For the band's first B-N gig since that show -- a sold-out Second Presbyterian Church concert Saturday night -- Sands won't be part of it at all.

According to Lowell, the current acoustic tour is meant to focus on the core membership and doesn't use the backing band featuring Sands.

However, he's still on call as bass player when needed.

And something more: He helps administrate JOC's Blood Water Mission, an outreach project in Africa dedicated to building clean water wells in areas ravaged by AIDS and poverty.

According to Lowell, the project is a response to a trip the band made to Africa three years ago, where the musicians were instilled with, he says, "a growing urgency and desire to become personally involved."

He estimates the Blood Water Mission has built around 50 wells to date, with "50 or 60" yet to come.

"Aaron was drawn to it when we started getting it off the ground; he's specifically in charge of donor relations and maintaining a relationship with them."

The net result: "We're seeing really powerful changes in these villages and hearing great stories."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

a little more situated

I'm about 3 or 4 weeks into getting a little more situated as donor relations coordinator with Blood:Water Mission. Thanks to some gracious and helpful volunteer staff, we are refining things and streamlining, hopefully bringing more excellence to the organization and moving things along. Tonight we will have a meeting with about 10 of us that now contribute to the day-to-day running of Blood:Water Mission. Since most of us are never in the office at the same time, it is crucial to have these meetings occasionally and see the teamwork in action (as well as plan ahead and refine). I'm thankful for God's faithfulness and miraculous work through this much as I try to think I'm making things happen, I'm reminded constantly that it is only happening according to God's hand and mercy. What good news!

Friday, October 21, 2005

a little music

Yesterday and today I've been working on a project for Matt Long, produced by Andrew Osenga and joined by Paul Eckberg in the rhythm section. I have been having so much fun straddling the music and non-profit worlds. I'm thankful for the opportunities as well as the timing...God provides in beautiful and timely ways, and most of the time I'm just too busy or self-focused to realize this. Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

already wednesday

Suddenly it is Wednesday and I'm wondering how another week can move so quickly. We had a great time with our neighborhood group last night, specifically discussing Romans 6. In this passage we are reminded of the glorious truth that believers in Christ are freed from the penalty of sin and the power of sin...though not the presence of sin. Those who are in Christ should no longer live in fear of being accepted, satisfied, successful; for these are the concerns of someone without the hope fo the Gospel. In Christ, one is accepted beyond human acceptance; satisfied beyond comprehension or any experience; successful in a completely different sense, measured in different ways (if able to be measured by man). May today begin more of a reflection and magnification of these truths for the world to see God's glory.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

all things

"I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Phil. 4:12-13

What great encouragement as we start this day. But we should not just take the last 10 words out of context and say "Nothing's going to stop me" or focus too much on the self and accomplishments instead of Christ. In the greater scope, it seems Paul is revealing that the only way he can FACE all things is through Christ. Whether in abundance or need, plenty or hunger, we can have hope and actually take steps into this world only by the power of Christ. This gives us the ability to love others well because my hope is the only hope for them, too...on equal ground and as image-bearers of God.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Heading to Dollywood

We returned from our family trip to Illinois last night. We were so glad we stayed through Monday morning, giving us a true weekend there and making the most of the opportunity. Sam traveled well, and had a great time with his cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents...and us:)

I'm heading to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN with Little Big Town this morning. We'll play two shows this afternoon and two tomorrow before driving back. I've missed these guys and look forward to playing these songs again. Cheers.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


The trip to NJ was great, even the 16 hour drive there and back. I indulged in many games of Madden 2006 with Steve...though the Titans were definitely faring better in make believe than in real life. Aaron Sands was the star fullback, the threat within the 5 yard line and occasional passing routes along the sideline. Steve Mason led the defense with his cornerback skills, intercepting passes and blitzing from the corner. Of course, Matt Odmark returned as the shortest, largest kicker (5' 5" and 415 lbs.).

The show was so much fun, playing for the 8-10,000 in the arena. Even though they'd heard lots of music throughout the day, they were right there with us the whole set. I miss playing the Jars songs and making spontaneous music with them, leading and following as the night goes on.

The last few days I've been playing with Ken Lewis, Andrew Osenga, Andy Gullahorn, and Matt Stanfield, tracking the new Jill Phillips record. Its been an extreme pleasure to be involved in this, recording amazing songs and spending time with friends. I can't wait to hear the finished product.

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