Most people wouldn't associate Christian music with artists like Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Toad the Wet Sprocket. But the two Contemporary Christian groups Jars of Clay and Three Crosses have pulled from those influences ranging from classic to alternative to rock to spread their message in a matchless fashion.

The two groups will share their unique style of Contemporary Christian music Saturday night at the Tupelo Coliseum as they open up for Contemporary Christian and pop artist Michael W. Smith.

Sealed by fate

The molding of Jars of Clay began in late 1993 when keyboardist Charlie Lowell and lead vocalist Dan Haseltine met at Greenville College in Illinois. Living on the same dormitory floor and both majoring in the school's contemporary music program,the two found they shared the same musical taste. The two began working on a demo project and a year later were joined by two guitarists, Steve Mason and Lowell's roommate. Lowell's roommate quit the gig and was replaced by the keyboardist's childhood friend, Matt Odmark.

Inspired by the King James version of II Corinthians 4:7, Jars of Clay have secured their own mission by sharing messages as old as Scripture with the sound of modern rock.

In the New Testament verse, the apostle Paul wrote, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."

"The jar of clay is a picture of something so easily broken that you wouldn't put a valuable treasure in it, yet God does that anyway," Mason said in recent press material. "That one verse paints in full the picture of what we're trying to communicate."

All four men admit they knew their calling was a career in music and ministry, but none of them had intentions of heading to Nashville for a record deal.

Jars of Clay's fate was sealed in 1994 when they cut four songs and submitted them to the Gospel Music Association Spotlight Song Contest. The group was floored when they won.

"Winning at GMA was really the beginning of everything," Lowell said. "We weren't expecting anything so we hadn't even taken the energy to send the demo to anyone yet. After we won, people started approaching us and we started getting a lot of positive feedback."

Unlike most recording artist hopefuls, Jars of Clay didn't have to go knocking on record company doors; instead, record labels were beating down their doors. "We were getting calls on the pay phone on our dorm floor," Lowell said. "We weren't even sure how some of them got our number. We finally put a sign by the phone that said, If anybody calls regarding Jars of Clay, take down their number and tell them "this" ... but don't tell them "this".'

After the semester ended, the group packed up and headed to Nashville. They signed with Essential/Brentwood Music and recorded their first album "Jars of Clay." Since then the group's potential was let out of the jar. This past year the group was named New Artist of the Year by Christian Research Report and received several nominations including 1995 Grammy Nominee for "Rock Gospel Album" and 1995 Nashville Music Award Nominee for "Contemporary Christian Album of the Year." In addition, they had the No. 13 Contemporary Christian Album of the Year for Billboard and the No. 3 Rock Album of the Year for Pure Rock Report. Their debut album features several Contemporary Christian chart hits and radio favorites including "Flood," "Love Song For a Saviour," and "Like a Child."

"I would like to think what we're doing here is unique," Mason said. "I get frustrated with acts being the Christian equivalent' of anybody else, because I think that if it's of God, it can be better than anything the world has to offer."

Taking up Three Crosses

Like Jars of Clay, Three Crosses is as basic as their name.

"We are not Three Crosses," keyboardist Ralph Barrientos said in recent press material. "We are about Three Crosses."

With their simple lyrics, rock-and-roll influences and commitment to God, the trio combine their talents to singing examples of God's grace.

Made up of Barrientos, guitarist Ed Nicholson, and lead vocalist Stephen Pasch, who has written songs for Lenny Kravitz and Poco, the group was formed by nothing short of a miracle.

In 1993 Nicholson recalls his high school friend calling him to tell him he had been saved. "... I thought he was putting me on. I thought Stephen would be about the last person I knew to get saved," Nicholson said in recent press material.

At the time Pasch and Barrientos were playing in a band called NYC. Disgruntled by a market that wanted them to follow trends, the two left the band making a commitment to Christ and to Christian music.

"We had no game plan," Barrientos said.

"This was not a decision," Pasch added. "This is where God wanted us."

Pasch called up Nicholson to see if he would be interested in writing songs that would totally glorify God. Nicholson joined the two and the group began to realize their unique combined abilities.

"The songs just happened, like a bolt of lightening," Pasch said and added that most of the songs on their current release were written in one night. Their first single, "Sign of the Times," was written at 7 a.m. in a Nashville hotel room during their album recording. "Ed woke me up at 7 o'clock and we had to be in the studio at 9 ... we had just gone to bed at about 2 a.m.," Pasch said. "He woke me up playing his guitar and sort of mumbling into his tape recorder. He was singing, It's a sign of the times.' Then I said, No, no. It's just another sign of the times.'" The three went into the studio that morning and recorded the song before their record label had even heard it.

Their songs garnered a wealth of attention. Three months after their first songwriting session they chose Benson Music Group from a pool of three offers.

"We were pleasantly surprised," Pasch said. "We didn't need a record deal. We just want to get people to come to Christ through our music."

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