July 30, 2008

Caution--Name Drop Approaching


This past Tuesday night on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Christian rock band, Third Day was the musical guest. I think this was a pretty important moment for Christian music (for lack of a better term...) because Third Day is not one of these "are we/aren't we, Christian band or band of Christians" kind of group. They've released some worship albums, and are very open about their faith. They've never shunned the Christian community, they continue to play events that include preachers/speakers (unlike one band I once tried to book who told me definitively "we don't do gigs with speakers anymore"), and a few years ago their Wire album offended their hardcore fans because the word "Jesus" didn't appear on the album, so (even though I disagreed with fans' sentiments...the album was great) they openly admitted that they would go back to making music that their fans enjoyed. Having a band like this on Leno with Seth Rogan (who...well, let's just say, "wow"...his interview was pretty crass) and Joan Allen is kind of a watershed moment for Third Day and the genre in general.

So, if you're (CAUTION: NAME DROP COMING IN 3....2....1....) Mac Powell, lead singer of Third Day and you're backstage at the Tonight Show, a mere 40 minutes before the show is taped, what are you up to? HOW ABOUT TEXT-MESSAGING SOME JAY MCGUIRK? Don't believe me? Well, here's my story:

In college, I was in a band. Yeah, I know...weren't we all. But, our band actually did more than warm up in the garage. We started playing locally, built a following among our churches and friends, and pretty soon tons of people were showing up to watch us play and we were getting gigs all over the south. One of those gigs ended up being at a three night festival at Auburn University called "Freedom" in 1999. As you can see from the picture below, we played it two years in a row. The line-up over three nights consisted of Shades of Red (who had a hit on the radio), Third Day, and our humble band, Consumed. My theory is that they ran out of money, and had to go with us. We played the final night, and since Third Day required a sweet light and sound set-up, we got to play on it too.

At the time, I was an intern on staff at First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, AL. Franklin Graham was coming to town for a crusade (which my band also played at...plus a few pre-events) and the very next week, there was a pre-event for students. Third Day was the band coming in to play it, and I was asked to help out at the event backstage. As I was sitting in the green room eating some lunch, Mac came in and we introduced ourselves. We talked about the previous week's concert and soon discovered that we're both big University of Alabama football fans. I was also the worship leader for the Fellowship of Christian athletes on campus at the time, so I had become good friends with several football players. One of them, (CAUTION: NAME DROP #2) Shaun Alexander, was also speaking at the event that night. I offered to introduce Mac to him, plus some other friends. Watching Shaun and Mac talk about the weirdness of fame was worth the price of admission. That ended up being a huge night for 20-year-old me. (Two quick highlights: Third Day soundchecking with "Honeysuckle Blue" by Drivin' n Cryin', and their bass player, Ty, saying to an older woman in the food line who had loaded up her plate with beans, "I hear those are really good for your heart". Classic...I've used that joke for 9 years now.)

A few months later, my future wife was in a wedding outside of Atlanta. I drove over to be the trophy-date, but knew basically no one there. Standing in the church lobby, who should show up? Mac. Turns out his wife knew the groom, and he also knew no one else. Remembering me from such times as, "Hey, have you met my friend Shaun Alexander?", we ended up hanging out together. I gave him a copy of our first CD afterwards, and I'm pretty sure it did a nice job holding up that short leg on his coffee table. It was pretty awful. I knew it was bad because the whole time I was digging in my truck for it, I was apologizing for it.

Fast forward about 11 months to the fall of 2000. By this time, our band has peaked and we've done some pretty big things. I got a call from our manager saying that he was at the Third Day show in Birmingham, AL and told me that if Jennifer and I were willing to help out a couple of friends of his with a video project we could come backstage and hang out. Turns out his friends were the guys who were shooting a practice-run DVD shoot (back before any bands were doing this) to present to Third Day as a "let's do this together" kind of thing. They ended up being the guys who produced Third Day's two DVD's along with several others. In the first concert DVD, during the commentary, one of the guys mentions these guys selling them on the idea after shooting the Birmingham show. I ran a handheld camera for their practice run! Anyways, we show up backstage at Boutwell Auditorium and I'm trying to explain to my manager that Mac knows me. He laughs me off, right up until Mac showed up, saw me, and came over and gave me the awkard man-hug. He also noted that I had grown a goatee (which I soon shaved off after David Nasser remarked that you can always tell who the youth minster in a group is...he's the one with the goatee. So true, so true.)

Later on, we were all having dinner together before the show, when Mac pointed out that he was going to be in Tuscaloosa to play a couple of acoustic shows to promote an event that Nasser was starting. I knew this already, because the events were at my church and FCA on campus. Right there in front of the band, crew and everyone else backstage, Mac yells across the room, "hey, why don't you just play with me that night?" Well...OK, I guess. In my mind, this was the equivalent of some famous NBA player saying, "hey, will you be on my team in this 2 on 2 game?"

So we exchanged phone numbers, talked about a set list, and that December did two acoustic shows. We did 6 songs, and it was incredible. I played and sang back-up. I've got a nice VHS tape, and one day I'll get it uploaded to YouTube and post the video. All this happened back in the day before every band was on th' internets and mostly you promoted your band by word of mouth and strategically placed neon-colored flyers. That was one of the more surreal events I've ever experienced. It's the first and only time I've ever shared the stage with a Grammy-winning artist. The funny part is that when he showed up, we were both wearing navy sweaters and khaki's and looked like some horrible duet team. Nasser only had an orange sweater with him, so we ended up wearing orange and blue...not exciting for two Alabama fans. But, the show was great and I still can't believe that happened. I came back down to earth when I got back to my apartment, and I said to my best friend and roommate, "I just played two shows with a Grammy winner." He responded with, "yeah, it's your turn to unload the dishwasher."

Every winter, our band would play Gatlinburg, TN, and every year it seemed like Third Day was there too. One year we ate at Bob Evans' with Mac and rode go-carts (where we got the whistle blown on us for bumping each other...rubbin's racin!), and one year we hung out backstage at the huge conference where they were playing. We tried to figure out how Mac could pop in and sing "Sweet Home Alabama" with us, but we were playing at the same time. I introduced Mac to some guys whose band was managed by the same company as ours, and he ended up producing and singing on a demo of theirs. Every time Third Day played close by, we'd go to a show and hang out beforehand, including when I moved to Virginia and they played our hometown in 2004. We were supposed to hang out before a show in 2006, but my grandfather passed away, and we didn't make it. A friend of mine ran into Mac in a bookstore before the show, and he remembered that I was supposed to be at the show that night.

So, over the last few years, I've lost touch with Mac. I left the music scene a while ago, and didn't really have much reason to call. I've never wanted to be a "hanger-onner" or a major name dropper (this post not withstanding). But, when I saw that they were playing on Leno Monday night, I was pretty proud for them. So, I shot him a quick text message. And he texted me right back. On Wednesday, after the show, we exchanged a few more messages too.

I say all this to point out that I ran across a ton of bands and "rockstars" during my years with our band. I could tell you some things that would make your heart hurt about guys whose music and ministry you probably enjoy. But, of all those bands, I never met any group of guys more gracious and genuine than the guys in Third Day. I mean that. They always made time for us, and treated us like we were somebody. Mac once introduced me to Josh McDowell right after Josh introduced himself to Mac. Class act, all the way.

Taking the time to text-message me mere minutes before taking the stage for arguably the most important TV appearance of your life is exactly what I've observed in my short time spent with Mac Powell. I hope they never quit making their music, and ministering to people like me.

1 comment:

Jeremiah said...

Jay, when I'm about to appear on Leno, I'll send you a text message.