Jars of Clay, one of the most popular Contemporary Christian bands worldwide, has been evolving for the past 18 years, following the group’s inauspicious beginnings while students at Greenville College in Illinois.
While many similar bands have come and gone during the years, Jars of Clay has survived the ups and downs of the Christian music industry. With each album the band re-invents itself, usually staying close to its unique genre of alternative folk, but is creative and comfortable enough to move into other genres as well.
Their Grammy and BMI awards, along with other accolades, are marks of their great success in both mainstream and Christian music. Their group-written songs are subtle, purposefully written to attract all segments of society. Hints of God’s love, mercy and grace are there, but do not overwhelm the listener.
After the Jars of Clay concert on Aug. 31 at First Baptist Church in Statesboro, the one word most attendees used was “awesome!” People expressed thanks that the church had brought such great talent to area, sponsored by the College Student Ministry Outreach team.
On a long, Labor Day weekend, Georgia Southern University students were not present in large numbers, but some were there. The large sanctuary was nearly full with excited folks from all over southeast Georgia, from as far away as Jesup and Savannah. The electricity in the audience was contagious as students and adults stood through complete songs, clapping to the beat, raising hands in praise and many singing the songs with the band.
One of the many projects the band is involved in is one the group founded in 2002. “Blood: Water Missions” enables people in various areas of Africa to have clean water through the process of drilling wells in communities. Their most recent project is to build a dam that will serve approximately 3,000 people at a cost of nearly $80,000.
The band released its 10th album, “The Shelter,” last year. A new untitled album is being recorded and is scheduled to be released in early spring.
Each album carries a certain theme. “The Shelter” was about community, with the message that everyone is together in this thing called life and should work toward the betterment of the world. One of those songs focused on the “endless pursuit of God.”
When asked what his true passion was, Matt Nelson, cellist for the band, said “I’m doing it right here! This is my passion, playing for others and demonstrating my love for God.” Nelson joined the group this year.
Charlie Lowell, the keyboardist, said: “My main purpose in life is to glorify the God who gave me everything. I awake each morning to serve Him in all that I do.”
Dan Haseltine, the lead vocalist and songwriter, shared his great passion for the band’s work in Africa and said that it had literally transformed his faith and life.
“Before Africa and our missions there, my life had become somewhat mundane, but after we started the mission of working with HIV/AIDS and well-drilling projects, my life took on more purpose and meaning,” he said.
In July, Haseltine received four stints after suffering a coronary event.
It “runs in my family on my father’s side,” he said. “My father has heart problems as well, and it sort of changed things in my life in a very positive way.”
That positive energy translated to the audience.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Wanda Bowers, of Statesboro. “They were absolutely marvelous.”
Cleve Freeman, of Sylvania, said: “I decided to come at the last minute, and now I’m glad I did. I loved the acoustics.”
Jim Riggs, of Statesboro, added: “The band was awesome. I really enjoyed it tonight.”
Those seemed to be the sentiments of many following the concert. The band had long lines of autograph seekers afterward, and three members worked the merchandise tables. They were friendly and exuded a spirit of Christian love as they interacted with their fans.
When asked what really drives him, Haseltine said: “I seek true justice in the world for myself, my family and others. That’s what really leads me to Africa to people who are marginalized and are suffering beyond our imagination. Every artist begins with a core message they are trying to get across. They may write their song over and over in different ways, but the message will be the same. My message is connectivity, always trying to connect people to the problems of the world and how we can resolve them together. It’s like Jars; we do a lot of bars and clubs trying to connect with people in a positive way.”