By Charlene Dunbar
AUGUSTA, Georgia—He’s one of Christian music’s most iconic artists, popular with fans ranging in age from 6 to 66. His music has been around since the late 1980s, and yet he is still garnering new fans every time one of his songs comes across the radio.
With accolade after accolade to his credit, TobyMac continues to develop fresh songs that bear his unmistakable stamp: lyrics so personal you can feel the emotion behind them combined with a musical style that makes you want to get up and dance.
I was here to check out TobyMac’s Theater Tour for myself to see if I could get a handle on just what it is about his music that appeals to such a wide fan base.
In preparation for this event, I asked fans on TobyMac’s official Facebook fan site about their love for the artist. I encountered fans who had started following TobyMac’s music since his days with the band DC Talk.
Sandra R. started following DC Talk when she was 22, and she still has the band’s cassette tapes. “I love his take on diversity,” she said. “We are all the same people that God created in His own image.”
Andrew W. agreed: “I love his ability to communicate across generations. It doesn’t matter how old you are, with how many songs he has produced there is guaranteed to be one that hits deep for everyone.”
Many fans are thrilled they can enjoy the same music as their children and grandchildren enjoy. Sue F. was dragged to a TobyMac concert by her granddaughter 14 years ago, and she’s been a faithful fan ever since. “I love that he was preaching diversity long before it was politically correct.”
Upon reaching the historic Miller Theater in Augusta Georgia, I spied a family posing for a photo. They weren’t hard to miss: three out of four family members were wearing TobyMac’s “Speak Life” T-shirts. The father was thrilled to bring his young son to his first concert. He believes that TobyMac’s music appeals to Christians because it challenges them, “as iron sharpens iron”, to speak life and show love to people of “all races, all color, all people from all walks of life.” He valued the fact that TobyMac has always preached diversity.
TobyMac was born Toby McKeehan. He became a fan of rap music from an early age, and he formed the band DC Talk with his friend Michael Tait while the two were in college. Classmate Kevin Max Smith became the third member of the group, whose musical inspiration was drawn from Christian contemporary music, rap, hip-hop and even grunge.
Once TobyMac stepped out on his own, he continued writing the songs that appeal to fans of all ages. His popularity is undeniable as is his artistry.
TobyMac has racked up music awards: seven Grammy awards, six Gold records, and he has won the Dove Awards’ Artist of the Year—twice. TobyMac just released his album “The Elements” in October, and releases from the album have already soared to the top of the charts. Songs like “I Just Need You” and “Scars” are great examples of the richness of the lyrics and how well the artist combines it with his unique musical style that pulls fans in time and time again.
Saturday night the crowd waiting to make its way into the theater was excited and energized. Once inside, the artist’s merchandise table was overwhelmed with fans vying for T-shirts and CDs. As TobyMac and his band, DiverseCity, took the stage, they started out with an acoustic set. The scene was very laid back, featuring a couple of musicians, backup singer extraordinaire Terrian Bass and TobyMac, all sitting in a half-circle as they performed. They eased into songs like “Me without You” and “Steal.” Then it was on to some of the fan favorites. “Speak Life” and “Love Broke Through” had everyone singing along.
TobyMac told the audience that although he loved doing the big coliseum concerts, he wanted something more.
“I’m glad to be here, I wanted this to be a little more of an intimate night,” he shared.
Once the chairs were whisked away, the screens lit up in psychedelic colors as TobyMac took it
“old school” with “Funky Jesus,” a song many of the younger generation had never experienced. “Diverse City” followed, its lyrics reflecting TobyMac’s views on diversity. He spoke of how God created a world with a variety of people in it, all of them beautiful.
He went on to say, “If your world isn’t diverse, I will say this … you’re missing out on the richness that I know.”
Song after song, audience members enjoyed worshipping God together in this intimate setting, the atmosphere feeling more like church than a concert. We didn’t just enjoy the music, as is the case at some Christian concerts; no, TobyMac likes to share stories, and this night was no exception. TobyMac spoke of how his songs are very personal in nature.
“I wrote this song because I needed a new perspective,” he said, referring to “Edge of My Seat.” He spoke about needing a new perspective, one that started with God, where he would greet the day ready to see what God had in store for him. “I get to write a song and ask God to breathe something through me like He has never done before…something that will turn peoples’ eyes to Him.”
He was excited to see what God was going to do, each and every day.
As promised early on, TobyMac delivered a concert that ran almost two hours in length as he covered 24 of his songs spanning decades. For the final song of the evening, fans of various ages were pulled up onto the stage to sing alongside the Christian artist, their smiles saying it all: TobyMac, you led an incredibly personal worship experience that we won’t soon forget.
As for me, I am taking a page out of TobyMac’s book: I figure he’s a good role model. I want to wake up in the morning and ask, “What is my God going to do this day?”
I just want to be a part of it. Don’t you?
By Charlene Dunbar