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Music 101

Christian Artists Beyond Nashville

by Wendy Lee Nentwig

Christian Artists Beyond Nashville

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For decades now, Nashville has been the hub of Christian music. In the 1980s there was a small presence on the West Coast, but by the end of that decade, it was pretty much understood that if you wanted to make it in this growing genre, you had to move to Music City. And so Christian artists did, hanging out at Koinonia (the Christian bookstore where Amy Grant got her start), flocking to Belmont University for its Music Business program, worshiping at Christ Community Church while trying to catch a glimpse of artists like Jars of Clay. For many, it paid off. But not everyone wanted to make a home in the South, and some big names have managed to find fame among the faithful without ever adopting a 615 area code. Youth pastor Mark Hall formed Casting Crowns in Daytona Beach, Fla., and while the group did make a move, it was to Georgia. Big Daddy Weave also weren't willing to uproot themselves, choosing to call Mobile, Ala., home sweet home. Then there's Third Day, who are loyal to their Georgia roots, and The Afters, who formed in a Starbucks in Mesquite, Tex., and who proudly remain residents of the Lone Star State.

Others have obligations outside Tennessee. Chris Tomlin and much of the Passion crew left Texas to help found Passion City Church in Atlanta. Even British worship leader Matt Redman joined them for a time, relocating his entire family, before returning home to a church plant in Brighton, England. Laura Story also moved to Atlanta for ministry, serving as an associate worship leader at Perimeter Church. Then there is Phillips, Craig & Dean, made up of three pastors with separate ministries in Texas and Missouri, making a move to Nashville nearly impossible.

Some artists just feel more at home somewhere else. Fernando Ortega has managed to have a thriving career while based in Laguna Beach, Calif., and you can't blame artists like P.O.D., Switchfoot and Phil Wickham for choosing not to leave the sunny shores of San Diego. Meanwhile, Sara Groves remains a Minnesota girl.

The final category is made up of artists who tried Nashville and -- often at the height of their fame -- moved away. Rich Mullins fits into this camp, choosing work with Native American kids on a reservation, and Nichole Nordeman moved to Texas, then Oklahoma.

While Nashville is hotter than ever, due in part to a growing restaurant and club scene, it's not for everyone. Fortunately, thanks to the Internet and social media, it continues to get easier to maintain ties to a city without actually living there. So while the door remains open to the artists named above, we wish them well and will keep tuning in, no matter what city they call home.

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