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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2012

Songs of a preacher man

Casting Crowns set to play in front of sold-out Huntington crowd

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Casting Crowns frontman Mark Hall has no problem getting up in your business if he thinks you need a little pep talk or maybe something a bit stronger.

As lead singer and chief lyricist for one of the most popular Christian pop/rock bands on the planet and youth ministry pastor at his Baptist church in Atlanta for the past 18 years, Hall knows a thing or two about saying what's on his mind.

"Being in the church, you say what you have to say and you say it in love and people can handle it. People can handle a transparent person speaking truth and love because I'm going to talk just as much about my faults as I am my challenge to you," he said.

"So I think people can handle truth. Definitely, they can handle it."

Casting Crowns will perform in Toledo on Saturday might at Huntington Center, bringing their unique mix of anthemic rock, pop, and gospel to a sold-out audience.

Since its formation in 1999, the band has released nine albums, selling millions of CDs, downloads, and DVDs, and has won two American Music Awards, three Grammys, and 14 Dove Awards.

The seven-member band's latest release, "Come to the Well" takes its title from a biblical story that Hall said had a strong impact on him. It involves a woman who goes to a well in the middle of the day for water, only to encounter Jesus, whose message is that perhaps she should consider filling up other holes in her life from a spiritual perspective, Hall said in a phone interview from Atlanta.

"In her efforts to stay away from the world she runs into Jesus, which I think is teaching point number one," he said. "It's amazing how in control we think we are when we're running from God, but when he's ready to talk to you, you're going to talk."

Her discussion with Jesus reveals that God is the source of sustenance, not the well, Hall said.

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"At that point I just saw me. I saw so many believers in churches and everywhere else. When we come to God we sort of already have our wells. We've got our things that we think are going to sustain us so we would really like him to sprinkle a little Jesus dust on it and make it work," he said.

But of course it doesn't work that way, Hall said, and the real fulfillment should come from God, not friends or spouses or jobs. He struggles every day with his own "holes" and works to keep them in perspective.

"I'm so full of holes that I draw from. I like to be in control, I draw from the opinions of others," he said. "Man, I can be having a great day with a million people who love me and I get one email and it will just destroy me for the week. It just levels me because the opinion of others has so much weight in my life."

That kind of blunt honesty is part of Casting Crowns' appeal because Hall doesn't so much lecture you as take you along on the same journey that he is on and acknowledge a sort of universal humanity.

The band's most recent hit, "Courageous" was featured in the movie of the same name and Hall said it's a direct message to fathers to take a stronger role with their children.

"The family is just in shambles in so many places right now, including in the church. To me, I've got to get out there every once and awhile and shake dad up a little bit and talk straight to him," he said. "For me it's a, 'Hey man, let's do this together' kind of a song. We've all looked up and realized, 'Man I'm stinking it up as a husband.' "

Saturday's appearance is part of a 44-city tour that mainly goes out on the road Thursday through Saturday, with an occasional Sunday show. The limited touring schedule allows all of the members to pursue their other interests and spend time with their families.

Hall said his wife runs Casting Crowns, determining the touring schedule and making all the arrangements so that he can focus on the youth ministry and his children.

"I don't even know where we're going sometimes when I get on the bus. My kids travel with me, so we spend time together out on the road as well as at home. I don't entitle myself to five hours on the golf course when I've got kids. They are my hobby, they are who I spend my time with," he said. "Crowns has to fit in around all that."

Opening for Casting Crowns on Saturday at Huntington Center will be Matthew West, Royal Tailor, and Lindsay McCaul. The 7 p.m. show at the 500 Jefferson Ave. arena is sold out.

Contact Rod Lockwood at rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.



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