GCU-bound Diaz swings high, finds music success
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Baseball seemed to be Jonny Diaz’s destiny.
His brother, Matt Diaz, played for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, to name a few.
He himself landed a college baseball scholarship to play for Florida State University — the fourth of four brothers to be offered a baseball scholarship.
The Lakeland, Fla., native played ball his first year of college, but he kept getting called up elsewhere.
“God just started opening doors for music. I was given these opportunities to play concerts. … There are reasons God has opened up all these doors,” said Diaz (pronounced DIE-as), who will be one of 15 artists at Grand Canyon University Arena this weekend performing as part of the Elevate Music Festival. He’ll take the stage on Sunday.
In its seventh year in Phoenix, the three-day, multi-artist music fest, which opens at 7 tonight, also will spotlight such artists as “American Idol” alum Danny Gokey, Micah Tyler, Lincoln Brewster, Colton Dixon and Grammy-nominee Jeremy Camp.
Diaz was still in college when music, once just a hobby, started happening for him — and fast. He was about to start his sophomore year in college when he released his first album, “Shades of White,” in 2003, though it was his third CD that garnered significant attention. One of its singles, “Hold Me,” made it onto the Top 40 charts.
His first major label release, “More Beautiful You,” continued Diaz’s rise in Christian pop music, with the album’s title single reaching No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart. It conveys to women that they don’t need to look a certain way to be beautiful and is the song for which he is most known.
Diaz’s rise in music started years before that major label release and his first musical successes in college. He remembers playing saxophone in fifth and sixth grade band.
“Then I went to a private school that didn’t have a band. But my dad had an old guitar,” said Diaz, who started to teach himself to play chords from music books. “… We didn’t have YouTube back then.”
When those doors opened up for him in college, he said he didn’t think much about the genre of music he wanted make. He simply remained true to himself and developed the easygoing sound that has defined his career.
“I just kind of stumbled in,” he said of how organically his music — and his life — as a Christian artist just fell into place. “… The people who took notice of the songs were all Christian labels, radio stations and venues.”
Ironically, it was country music he resonated most with when he was growing up: “I didn’t sound very country, but I love the storytelling in country songs.”
It didn’t hurt, too, that Diaz already had honed his performing skills, leading worship for his church’s youth group in front of some 200-250 people at each event.
“It was a great opportunity for me to get comfortable on stage,” he said.
Since that first CD 16 years ago, Diaz has continued to remain true to himself as an artist, releasing his latest CD, “Sweetness and Sorrow” in 2018 — something that almost didn’t happen.
He thought his previous CD, “Everything Is Changing,” would be his last. He was burned out and said he seemed to have lost his passion for what he was doing musically. So he started to find fulfillment in his life in other ways, having just become a father and starting a new business with his wife.
Then he wrote “Breathe,” about slowing down, taking a moment and finding peace. It resonated with fans and hit No. 3 on the Billboard Christian Airplay Chart. With that song, he found his way once again.
At the Elevate Music Festival — Diaz has performed with the festival every year it has existed — he’ll bring “Sweetness and Sorrow,” and “Breathe,” to the stage.
Then late in the summer, he will embark on the “Marriage Date Night Tour,” which spotlights performances by two comedians and Diaz.
“It’s a night of music and laughter,” he said. The show has been so well received that this fall’s outing will mark the fourth leg of the tour. It will be heading to Vineyard Church North Phoenix in Glendale on Aug. 23, Victorious Life Christian Center in Flagstaff on Aug. 24, and at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church in Gilbert on Aug. 25.
Diaz will do what he does best, which is to keep it easygoing and simple on stage. If you see him performing, oftentimes it’s just him without a band or a big production.
“I like playing with a band from time to time,” he said. “But mostly I just love to get in front of a group of people — just me and my guitar.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at email@example.com or at 602-639-7901.
IF YOU GO
What: Elevate Music Festival
Where: GCU Arena
When: 7 p.m. today, 5 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday
Lineup: On Friday — Danny Gokey, Lincoln Brewster, Ryan Stevenson, Carrollton; On Saturday — Jeremy Camp, Phil Wickham, Hollyn, Micah Tyler, Austin French. On Sunday — Building 429, Plumb, Unspoken, Colton Dixon, Jonny Diaz, Land of Color
Tickets: Range from $24.50 to $57 for single-day tickets; range from $60 to $134 for three-day tickets. Taxes and facility fees not included in ticket prices.
Information: www.gcuarena.com or 602-639-8979
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