By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
David Crowder can gab about the mythology of his beard or the deeper meaning of the “Stranger Things” font — the same font that graced the cover of Stephen King’s novels in the 1980s – just as well as he can speak eloquently of the powerful moments in his life as a Christian music artist.
“I hear story after story. But one particular story that blew me away was from a woman who said, ‘I’m headed to meet this guy I’m having an affair with. I’m on my lunch break. Then I heard your song …’”
His song encouraged her to turn around.
See her husband.
End that affair.
She said she heard the truth of God through Crowder’s music.
“The most responsible level I felt early on was, I hope I don’t screw everything up,” Crowder said of his career in Christian music. “Now it’s, I hope I have words that people pull over for.”
Expect to pull over when Crowder makes a stop at 7 p.m. Sunday at Grand Canyon University Arena on his “American Prodigal 3.0” tour.
To look at him, with his mini ZZ Top beard in tow, often donning a baseball cap and plaid shirt, you would think Crowder just came from the ranch rather than the studio or stage. His successful music career has garnered him three Grammy nominations, and that doesn’t include the honors earned by the his old band, the David Crowder Band.
But if you think he just came from the ranch, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
Although he makes his home these days in the Cabbagetown neighborhood of east Atlanta, Crowder was born and raised in Texas, land of ranches, chili and Willie Nelson. But it would be the church, more than the ranches, that would speak to his life. If church was in session, you likely would find his parents there – and him, too.
“My parents were really devout. We were in church every Sunday and sometimes Wednesdays,” Crowder said.
It was a path he continued to follow when he moved to Waco, Texas, smack dab in the Bible Belt, to attend Baylor University. Although Crowder thought he would move back to Texarkana after his college stint to join his father in his insurance business, he found a different path.
He was approached by his friend, Chris Seay, who had this wild idea to start a church. Seay told Crowder, hey, you know music. You need to start this church with me.
Crowder’s first thought was, why would Waco, a town smack dab in the Bible Belt that’s home to one of state’s largest Baptist universities, need yet another church?
But then he learned, “Over half the students (since they’d been in college) had never stepped foot in church,” Crowder said. “And that wasn’t just indicative of the Bible Belt.”
So began the mission to make a connection with college students — a connection that seemed to be missing in other churches.
For Crowder, musically that meant hearing in church the kind of music that college kids were listening to on the radio, and they weren’t tuning into the typical church hymns or gospel standards. So he started to search for a sound that was more college-friendly.
That meant paying attention to what resonates with them, even if that means listening to what’s playing over the speaker at Dillard’s or JC Penney.
“I collect things that resonate,” Crowder said in a November 2017 Calvin College interview.
He then organizes those things into songs and attaches those songs to theology. What has resonated in Crowder’s rock ‘n’ soul, lay-of-the-land, rootsy rock music is a style he has referred to as “folktronica.” In it, you hear Southern gospel. You hear country. You hear electronica. You hear a kind of John Mellencamp-meets-Jesus-meets-buzzing electric guitar sound — with banjo, if the mood strikes.
He first started developing that sound as worship pastor at University Baptist — the church he helped start. As the church grew, so did the band’s popularity and, eventually, the David Crowder Band launched itself outside of the church.
Since the group disbanded in 2012, he has pursued a solo career under the name Crowder (most of the rest of the band formed Digital Age) and has released two solo CDs, 2014’s “Neon Steeple” and 2016’s “American Prodigal.” The latter album debuted at No. 5 on Billboard’s Top Albums Chart and has produced the hits “Run Devil Run” (picked by NBC’s Sunday Night Football), “My Victory,” “Forgiven” and “All My Hope.”
Crowder’s folktronica sound is musical artistry to a T, yet he doesn’t quite consider himself an artist.
Music, for him, is a means to an end, and the end is to bring people to God. Collecting things that resonate isn’t done for collection’s sake; it’s done with a message in mind.
Recalling his college days, Crowder said that, like everyone else in college, he was on a journey and looking for his calling and place in the world. Starting a church meant “carving out a little space for people like me that was more impactful; we were just a bunch of college kids, really, asking questions.”
Now at 48 – and still a powerful voice with college audiences — Crowder obviously finds joy in what he does. He gets tickled talking about things like the “Stranger Things” font. But he also reaches deeper and said that connecting young people to church again is as simple as opening a door and wanting to have a conversation.
“Gospel is really transmitted in relationships and the journey together,” he said. “They’ve got this ache of, we know there’s something more. What am I going to do with my life?”
In the end, he said, “There’s something bigger than you.”
It’s an ache Crowder hopes to quell, at least somewhat, through the messages in his music – music people would pull over for.
IF YOU GO
Who: David Crowder on his “American Prodigal 3.0” Tour
Where: GCU Arena
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, April 8
Etc.: Also appearing will be Young Escape
Tickets: $10 for student tickets with valid student I.D.; $20 general admission; $35 early entry; $75 VIP. Prices do not include taxes or fees.