It has been 20 years since Steven Curtis Chapman’s breakthrough hit, The Great Adventure, was released.
If that makes you feel a little old, if your perspective on the rousing rocker has changed over two decades, Chapman is with you.
“When it came out, oh, what, 20 years ago-ish, which is pretty crazy, it was as rockin’ as anything they played at Christian radio,” Chapman, 49, recalls. “And that song represents a moment in time. There’s an element of it that was every summer camp song — hey, let’s saddle up our horses, and everybody made up dances to it in Christian youth groups and things, and it becomes almost a novelty of sorts.
“But for me, I know where that song came from originally. It was far from a ‘rah-rah, let’s go have fun’ song. It was really rooted in some hard things I was wrestling with coming into this understanding of God loves me, God has this plan for my life that is like an adventure, not a prison. Grace is something that makes our lives everything they were meant to be.
“I really wanted to recapture that.”
So, he rerecorded the song and a number of other hits, including Heaven in the Real World and More to This Life, for his latest album, re:creation.
As it starts to play, it sounds like it might be a mellow, unplugged Great Adventure on the new album. But then it builds, strings come in, and the adventure becomes Spielbergian, life as a great adventure with a cinematic swath.
And Chapman can claim that kind of life, becoming a chart-topping recording artist, traveling the world to perform and gather his family as an adoptive parent, suffering the communal tragedy of the school shootings at his alma mater, Paducah’s Heath High School, and the personal tragedy of the death of one of his children.
“There’s a lot of life crammed into 3 1/2 minutes of a song,” Chapman says. “Sometimes there’s years and years of life and story that went into that song, and I love knowing it and I love sharing it.”
To tour the latest album, Chapman decided to take a different approach than just putting together a band and hitting the road.
For the Songs Stories Tour, which stops at Southland Christian Church in Jessamine County on Tuesday night, Chapman has brought along fellow Christian artists Andrew Peterson and Josh Wilson for a sort of Nashville-style singer-songwriter night.
“Usually it’s several writers that will sit on a stage on stools in a row or in a circle and just go down the line and tell a story and sing a song, and then it’s the next guy’s turn,” Chapman says. “As it goes down the line, everyone kind of backs each other up and plays along, and it’s a cool kind of community, a unique thing that happens in a songwriting town like Nashville.”
The album re:creation presented a prime opportunity to take that show on the road. So he called Peterson and Wilson to see if they were up for it. The tour went out last fall, and it went so well they booked another leg for the new year.
“We’ve got 46 instruments onstage at last count between the band behind us — we have a three-piece band — and the three of us, and we’re passing instruments around,” says Chapman, whose father owns a music store in Paducah.
“One of the things I love, and this goes back to being from Kentucky, is this is the first tour I’ve had a banjo and a mandolin and some of those instruments onstage with me. Those are the instruments I grew up with, and I love bluegrass music and folk music. It’s the first music I listened to and learned to play. This tour is the first where I’ve felt I’ve been able to go there a little bit more and do more folk arrangements.
“It’s the first time for sure that I’ve picked up a banjo onstage in all my years of touring. So it seems only appropriate that I bring this tour back to Kentucky.”
Chapman recently received a big honor from the commonwealth when he was given the national award in the Governor’s Awards in the Arts, Kentucky’s top arts awards. The national award goes to a Kentucky native or person with a strong association with the state who has had a national impact in the arts. Previous winners include George Clooney and the Judds.
“Anybody can win a Grammy or a Dove Award,” says Chapman, who has five Grammys and a whopping 56 Doves. “But it’s a little more narrowed down when you get opportunities like that to get recognized as a Kentucky boy, a Paducah boy.
“So I am really honored by that and grateful for the support I have had from my home state and my home folks.”