Augusta is in exclusive company when it comes to Christmas concerts this year. It’s one of only three cities to not only host the Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas tour, but to get a bonus – the addition of Third Day as a co-headliner on the bill.
The trio of dates will close out touring for 2014 for Third Day, and from the sound of things, it’s a great way for the group to cap off the year.
“Steven Curtis Chapman is by far one of our favorites, if not our favorite person, in all of Christian music,” Third Day frontman Mac Powell said in a mid-November phone interview.
“He’s an amazing man. As a Christian music listener, he is who you hope he would be. Who you see on stage is the same guy off stage. Still, after all of these years, I’ve known Steven for many years now, and we’ve played many shows together — we used to be part of the same management company (and) we’re now on the same record label — I still get giddy, like a little school girl when I get to hang out with Steven Curtis because he was such an influence on us and such a great songwriter, a great singer and musician.”
Powell may see Chapman as a hero, but Third Day can consider him a peer. Since forming in Marietta, Ga., in 1991, Third Day has grown into one of the longest running and most successful bands in Christian music.
After slowly building its presence on the Christian music scene and getting an early taste of crossover success with the top 40 rock single Nothing At All (from the group’s self-titled 1993 album), the past decade has seen Third Day albums consistently debut in the top 10 of Billboard magazine’s all-genre Top 200 album chart. In all, Third Day has sold more than 10 million copies of its 11 studio albums, won four Grammy awards and had more than two dozen Christian music hit singles.
And two decades into its career, Third Day doesn’t look ready to slow down.
Coming off of 2013, during which the group spent much of the year on tour, the group did a co-headlining run with Skillet in February and March.
Then the group (which includes singer Powell, bassist Tai Anderson, drummer David Carr and guitarist Mark Lee) turned its attention to songwriting and recording, which has resulted in a new worship album, Lead Us Back, which will be released March 3.
“It’s the first worship record we’ve made, I think, in 12 years,” Powell said. “We’ve had several worship songs on our records since the last worship album (2005’s Offerings II: All I Have To Give), but as far as focusing just on the worship music, it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, for awhile, but just never had, really, right songs together and the right opportunity. … We worked with two new producers (J.T. Daley and Jonny MacIntosh) that we had never worked with before. It’s the first time we’ve ever worked with guys younger than us. So it brings a new twist, I believe, a fresh new sound to a Third Day album.
“I believe from top to bottom it’s the best batch of songs we’ve ever had for an album. So I’m excited about that,” he said.
For Powell, Lead Us Back wasn’t the only music project that helped fill his year. He also wrote and recorded his second country solo album, Southpaw, which was released in October.
“It’s funny, I was writing, just because of the way things worked out timing wise, I ended up having to write and record the country album, Southpaw, at the same time as I did the worship album,” he said. “I was really dreading that because I thought, man, how can I live in both of these worlds? But it actually was a really great thing for me. It allowed me to, whenever I came up with any sort of musical idea, I had a place that I could put that idea and I could categorize things in a good way and not just throw things aside.
“If you’re writing a worship record and you come up with a love song, you know, I didn’t have to go, well, I can’t use this until (later). I’ve got to put it aside for two years,” Powell said. “Trying to do both very different albums at the same time really challenged me in a good way and I think helped me grow as a songwriter.”
The decision to take a shot at a solo career in country music was something Powell had considered for years before he acted on the idea and released his self-titled debut effort in August 2012.
“I’d had the idea and I wanted to do it for many, many years, but I just never thought I had the time, or I didn’t have the confidence of just knowing if I could do it, if it would be any good,” he said.
“Finally, I got to a place where – and this was maybe three years ago – where I thought I can’t put this off anymore. I’ve got to do this. And even if no one hears the record, I’ve still got to do this for me, as a songwriter, get these songs out of mind and onto a recording.”
Powell was able to squeeze in five weeks of solo touring before Third Day went on the fall tour that concludes with the three dates with Chapman.
The group’s set in Augusta will be a bit shorter than the shows the group did on the preceding dates. Those were “evening-with” performances in which Third Day played for about two hours. A song or two from Lead Us Back might be part of the set, but otherwise the song selection won’t be a major departure from the evening-with shows – even though the show comes just a week before Christmas.
“We’ll probably do more of a greatest hits Third Day set than a Christmas show,” Powell said. “I know Steven and (opening act) Brandon Heath will take care of the Christmas side of things. We’ll probably do a couple of Christmas songs, but for the most part, we’ll stick to a greatest hits Third Day set list.”