The first Sunday in May, Matt Rothacher stood on the crushed cement where his church used to be, holding a smashed guitar he had pulled from the rubble. The Valley Church's lead pastor looked out on the Vilonia crowd of 350, more than four times the size of his usual congregation, and began the service's final song: Casting Crowns' "Praise You in This Storm."
"It was surreal, at the end of the week, standing on the building that wasn't there anymore," Rothacher says. "We finished with a song of hope. Despite all those things that are going on, we have hope."
Casting Crowns will play Saturday at Timberwood Amphitheater at Magic Springs Water and Theme Park in Hot Springs. The award-winning contemporary Christian band was scheduled to perform in Magic Springs' 2014 concert series long before tornadoes hit Vilonia and Mayflower on April 27. Since then, the lyrics to "Praise You in This Storm" have become an anthem for members of the communities, showing up in articles and sermons and on a sign planted in the wreckage of a demolished home.
The 2005 song, based on the band's experience with a mother who watched her daughter suffer from cancer, often surfaces during tragedy, Casting Crowns violinist and vocalist Melodee DeVevo says. It's a call to trust in a greater plan.
"It's amazing how God took and changed its meaning for people," DeVevo says. "It allows us to understand that He is good even when there are not good things around."
In 2003, Christian music giant Steven Curtis Chapman convinced Casting Crowns frontman Mark Hall to record an album, with Hall's stipulation that he could continue his work as a youth pastor at Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church outside of Atlanta. Since the release of the self-titled debut, Casting Crowns has dominated the Christian music scene, with honest ballads like "Voice of Truth" (2003), "Lifesong" (2005) and "East to West" (2007).
"Our songs are kind of in your face and I think people are looking for that," DeVevo says.
In the past decade, the band has won a Grammy Award for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album, 15 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, two American Music Awards and a pair of Billboard awards, according to Billboard.com. On June 1, the group was named Artist of the Year at the 2014 K-LOVE Fan Awards.
The band's success is earned exclusively within the Christian music sphere, an anomaly as Christian artists often achieve platinum status only after crossing into mainstream radio.
But Casting Crowns' more surprising twist is that the seven members are committed to leading their home churches in the Atlanta area. While on tour, Casting Crowns performs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in order to roll into Georgia for 8:15 a.m. Sunday services. It's a whirlwind schedule, but DeVevo says Christian artists who are constantly on the road can lose touch with the audience they are trying to reach.
"If you leave your church, what do you have to write about?" she says. "People who listen to Christian music are listening for exhortation and encouragement to live a life that is difficult to live."
Casting Crowns will follow a Friday night concert at Magic Springs by Christian pop duo For King & Country. The back-to-back concerts make up "Celebrate the Word" weekend, the first of three Christian music weekends in the water park's 2014 concert series. The park will also host "Amplify!," a student leadership and Christian conference, on Saturday.
The next stop for Casting Crowns is South Africa for a series of concerts the last week in June. The current tour, for the band's sixth studio album, Thrive, continues through December. DeVevo says the band is oscillating between recording another acoustic album or a second Christmas collection.
Rothacher says he doesn't know if any members of The Valley will attend the concert. Even without a building to call home, church members have been busy this week restarting The Valley's children's ministry.
The Valley congregation embodies the faith and perseverance DeVevo says Casting Crowns communicates through its music.
"[There are these] testimonies of people who say, 'I'm scared, but you've encouraged me to do this,'" she says. "They take off and do these big things."
"It's awesome to know that this music is part of people's lives."
Weekend on 06/12/2014
Print Headline: Casting Crowns’ ‘song of hope’ stirs storm survivors