Music fans got a brief respite from bad news about the state of music-dom in September with big-selling new discs from some big names. One not-so-big name (at least outside faith-based music) joined that list: Casting Crowns, whose third album debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s album chart, selling nearly 130,000 copies. Dig their music or not, it’s hard not to root for ’em.
There’s a bigger (or smaller, rather) picture that Casting’s success is a part of— Atlanta’s burgeoning Christian music scene. Longtime home to Third Day, the Bible Belt city can now claim Aaron Shust and Casting, plus newer artists like Fee, Laura “Indescribable” Story, John Waller and Echoing Angels. The Passion movement and its record label, sixsteps (Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, et al), is also located there.
“Atlanta has always had a solid music community,” explains Casting Crowns’ guitarist Juan DeVevo. “REM, The Black Crowes and Gladys Knight and the Pips all came from here, so music has always been here. Now, there happen to be some people who wanted to put Jesus in it.”
Accordingly, many of these artists started and continue to serve at local churches in or around Atlanta. North Point Community Church in particular serves as a hub for area musicians, fostering an environment that values their artistry.
Steve Fee, longtime Passion worship leader and member of new INO band Fee, connected to the church while he was still in college in Tennessee. At Lee University in the mid-’90s, Fee met “the two main people who drew me to Atlanta”—Andy Stanley, then just starting North Point Community Church, and Louie Giglio, then beginning Passion. “The motivation to begin these two journeys with Louie and Andy at North Point and Passion—that’s what brought me to Atlanta and kept me there…as a young worship leader looking for a place to use my gifts.”
He ended up leading worship at North Point and for 7:22, a young adult Bible study led by Giglio and held at the church. He shares duties at the church with Todd Fields and Kristian Stanfield, all featured on North Point’s own worship recordings (one’s out already, another’s in the works). At nearby Perimeter Church, Shust leads worship with Laura Story, who has her own record coming out on INO this fall.
The upside to living there? DeVevo’s philosophical about it: “Sweet tea. And, this is where God has us right now. Nothing like being where God wants you. Ask Jonah.”
And the downside? “The only times that are tricky are during recording,” he says. “We record about once a year, and our buses are here, so we just load up and go. It’s kind of like a family reunion. And we get to see all our favorite people— folks from the label, management and other bands—once a year at GMA Week.”
It’s also easier to escape the “Nashville sound” if you’re not using the same players everyone else does. In addition to his producer, another North Point guy, says Shust, “I’ve used plenty of Atlanta players for different shows and recordings the past few years. Most all of them I would rank up there with the best in the world.”
Shust wisely notes that Texas is also home to its fair share of Christian music folk—MercyMe, Nichole Nordeman and the Shanes (though he fails to mention a certain CCM columnist), who all live near Dallas. “I think Atlanta is just another large city in the swath of the country’s Bible Belt. Just like Texas, Atlanta has large churches on every block, and when the quality of music is so high from church to church, I think that fosters a desire to create excellent music; it forces musicians to raise the bar.”
Those musicians benefit from their connectedness in other ways. “We all know each other. There’s this kind of unspoken brotherhood,” Fee says. That helped him land a cut on that mega-selling Casting record, by the way—“All Because Of Jesus,” which closes their record and opens his. The group, based across town at Eagle’s Landing First Bapist Church, also recorded “I Know You’re There” from another ATL guy, Jeff Chandler.
“That’s the beauty of it,” says Fee. “The connection had to do simply with the local church; we’re both worship leaders in Atlanta. I got a text from him [Mark Hall, lead singer of Casting Crowns] saying ‘We love and our church loves this song. We want to record it.’
“We’re all really proud of Atlanta, and God’s propelling our ministry—maybe by way of Nashville, but we’re still here,” says Fee. “We’re going to do it right here and watch God carry it to Nashville and the ends of the earth.”