When 10 of the top contemporary Christian music groups pull into the parking lot at World Arena on Friday for Winter Jam 2013, one group's lead singer will be plotting a surprise.
The evening follows the record-setting format: Grammy and Dove award-winning musicians rocking out praise and worship style for several thousand jammers. But lead singer Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North wants to find a way to humanize the giant event.
"When shows get so huge - and this one is going to be huge, packed - it can be dehumanizing," says the singer/songwriter. "We're working out a way to also be one-on-one. It's a secret."
The five members of Tenth Avenue North (named for a major road near Palm Beach, Fla., from which the Nashville residents originally hail) have been partners with Compassion International for a number ofyears and consider the nonprofit's model one to emulate. In fact, two members of the band have met "their kids" through the group: the Honduran Compassion children they support monetarily and in other ways.
"It's the human connection - instilling worth, wasting your time on someone who couldn't possibly pay us back," Donehey said. "It's wastefulness of grace. If we won't serve one,embrace the least, we shouldn't take that platform (on stage) in front of thousands."
In one of the group's songs, Donehey wrote, "I want to know who you are even if you're falling apart. Reach in and touch your scars."
Lyrics like that remind him that he's here to be a gift. Maybe he'll single out a couple of people to be his audience for a personal serenade. Maybe he'll just slow down and talk with strangers. "This tour I'll take the time to just look into someone's eyes, to make contact. That power you have, its worth is invaluable."
The five members of TAN, as they're known to fans, will reveal some of their own scars when they sing "Worn," the popular single from their album "The Struggle" (2012). Interviewed by phone as they were preparing to leave on the tour, Donehey said he wrote "Worn" when he was worn out and feeling useless.
"I call myself a recovering Christian school kid," he said. "I was trying to combine a gospel with things like ambition, success, money and power. Those might be the greatest threats to the kingdom of God today."
While life on the road can be hectic, Donehey said those busy times provide a much more accurate picture of what's important in an individual's life.
"I'll be honest. When you're in a band, you have an amazing community of people who are your church in some ways," he said. "They're people who know your crap day after day, who know when you're starting to blow smoke. I can paint on a plastic smile one hour a week, but touring is 24/7."
The young men of TAN have much to be thankful for this fall, with three of them becoming fathers this year. Donehey and his wife welcomed baby June Marie on Oct. 7.
When June Marie’s sisters Eisley and Nora were born, Donehey was gripped with concern about all the evil in their world, he said. There were bad people, dangers, temptations and on and on. Horrible things “could befall my children.”
“Could the maker of the stars hear the sound of my breaking heart?” he asked in one of the group’s songs and answered with “You Do All Things Well” from “The Struggle.”
Now, Donehey says, “I’m amazed at the possibility of all the good they (his daughters) might bring into the world.”
Donehey can only chuckle when people — mainly men — worry about him losing his male identity in the world of hair ribbons. “I’m just oozing with masculinity,” he said, laughing. “I grew up surrounded by women. I have four sisters.”
However, Mr. Testosterone has learned that he cries more easily because of his three girls. “That Subaru commercial, I cried.” He wrote a blog in response to it. “A Subaru commercial?! Seriously? My man point stock is crashing with every key stroke, but before you condemn my whimpering, have you seen this one?”
“Dude is sitting at the bus stop in the morning with his little girl when the bus suddenly screeches to a stop and the doors swing open. His daughter proceeds to give him the most achingly forlorn look I’ve ever seen in the history of the world.
So what does he do? He jumps in his car and races beside, constantly peering through the school bus windows.
“And in slow motion you see her with new found friends, laughing at the brilliance of rainbows and all things bright and beautiful. Punch me in the face. I’m hysterical at this point.”
It’s a moment all the TAN members can relate to during those long hours on the road because, said Donehey, there’s a God they honor and can look to as they play truth and beauty and wonder.