The lights went down and the noise of the crowd came to a hush. The sound of the acoustic guitar did not prepare me for what would happened next…
The fall of 1997 found me an awkward middle school kid on the verge of turning 13. In what will sound foreign to today’s teenagers, these were the days before YouTube and digital music. If you wanted to hear music, your options were limited to the radio or putting down the money to buy a CD or cassette. If you wanted to hear Christian music, your options were even more limited. Like me, many people lived in towns with only one Christian radio station, and it was usually filled with static and only played 90s music that appealed to soccer moms. If you got really lucky, you might find a Christian rock album at Walmart, but it was more likely you’d have to travel to a Christian bookstore and pay $17.99 for an album you knew almost nothing about.
There was one perk to this, though. Each month CCM Magazine would release a $0.99 preview cassette that included singles from upcoming albums. Most of the songs were forgettable. But occasionally you’d discover a unique band with a unique sound.
As my mom drove us home from the Christian bookstore, I popped in the latest preview cassette. I didn’t think much of what I was hearing until a certain song caught my ear. The guitar intro caught my attention, and I was immediately drawn to the vocals of the lead singer, who had a southern rock sound similar to Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish. The song, titled “My Hope Is You,” was by a band from Atlanta named Third Day. When the song hit the bridge and I heard a clean guitar solo that was simple, yet beautifully executed, I was hooked. This sound was what I had been looking for.
A few months after purchasing that cassette, I stood in the middle of an auditorium, unsure of what was to come, yet excited for the possibilities. This was my first real concert, and despite only knowing one Third Day song, my 12-year-old self was ready.
Without warning, the acoustic guitar gave way to the sound of an electric guitar, a thumping bass, crashing drums and cymbals, and strobe lights that illuminated the silhouettes of five men on stage. As lead singer Mac Powell began to sing the lyrics to “Peace,” my eyes widened, my jaw dropped, and I verbally uttered, “This is awesome!”
It has been nearly 21 years since I was introduced to the guys from Georgia. That one cassette tape has blossomed into a love for hundreds of songs that span multiple decades. While that October night in St. Louis marked my first Third Day concert, June 23, 2018 in Nashville marked my 14th and final concert as the band has decided to say goodbye and end Third Day as we know it.
As I stood there in the Ryman, singing along with every song, I found myself filled with so many memories and emotions as I said farewell to the band.
I was reminded of that first concert in 1997 when I heard Mac say, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6” and launch into “Consuming Fire.” Hearing that song and Tai Anderson’s bass line is what made me save up my money and purchase my first bass. As the band sang, “Cry Out to Jesus,” I thought about some of the dark moments in my life when I would literally sit in my car and cry while listening to that song that encouraged honesty and transparency. “I’ve Always Loved You” brought a smile to my face as I remembered learning the bass line in high school and playing it with Ryan Bowlin, dreaming about one day opening for Third Day. Hearing songs like “Thief” and “Love Song” reminded me of what Christian music should sound like, and how lament can lead us to worship. The chorus of “King of Glory” brought tears to my eyes as I was taken to a place of pure praise for who Jesus is. And hearing “My Hope Is You” 21 years later reminded me of that confused 12-year-old kid who heard a message of hope that connected with him then, and still connects with me now.
It’s been 22 years since Third Day’s self-titled album came out, and it’s amazing to see the band go out on their own terms. Twenty-two years is impressive for any band, but it’s especially impressive in the Christian music industry. Some of Third Day’s best songs never made it to radio because they didn’t carry that cheesy, pop sound that Christian radio was looking for. Yet the band continued to produce song after song and album after album that connected with the fans in a very special way.
Third Day was the first Christian band to show me that Christian music didn’t have to be cheesy and cliche. Their music showed me that excellence can be found in a great Mark Lee guitar solo, a thumping Tai Anderson bass line, a powerful David Carr drum pattern, and a Scotty Wilbanks keyboard solo that would make Beethoven proud. The songwriting of Mac Powell and Mark Lee showed me that songwriting is a craft, and not simply a rush to make words rhyme. Their music also encouraged uniqueness. At a time when much of Christian music all sounded the same, they brought their own sound to the world, and changed my life in the process.
So as the band says farewell, I’m here to say thank you. Thank you for inspiring that 12-year-old kid who was confused about life and music. Thank you for showing me what excellence in music looks like. Thank you for creating guitar riffs and solos that stayed in my mind for days and urged me to be better. Thank for you writing songs that challenged me in my faith and challenged me to be a better man.
Third Day might be coming to an end, but your legacy will live on forever. Thank you gentlemen for your faithfulness to your craft and your faithfulness to sharing truth.
By the way, if you haven’t been introduced to Third Day, here are some songs I’d recommend checking out:
- Consuming Fire
- Love Song
- Sky Falls Down
- God of Wonders
- Show Me Your Glory
- I’ve Always Loved You
- King of Glory
- My Hope Is You
And though this isn’t one of their classic “southern rock” songs, I’d like to leave you with perhaps their most powerful song:
Photo credit: Awakeningevents.com