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Community takes on new meaning for Jars of Clay

staff report • Aug 1, 2011 at 4:02 AM

For the men who make up the creative force called Jars of Clay, this season has tested their perceptions and challenged their beliefs. But after spending a year working on its latest album, the band is finally ready to share “The Shelter” with fans. Jars of Clay will perform at the Virginia Highlands Festival’s Christian Summer Concert Series on Saturday, Aug. 6 at Highlands Fellowship Church in Abingdon, Va. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Writing songs about community as an aspect of shelter wouldn’t seem like a revolutionary idea. Neither would recruiting talented friends, both long-time and brand new, into your working environment. But for Jars of Clay, long known as a self-contained creative organism, opening up the doors to let new voices speak into the process wasn’t the easiest decision. “This was a push in a totally different direction,” said guitarist Matt Odmark. “We brought people in on the songwriting side of things, and we knew in the beginning that we wanted as many voices as possible in the record. We wanted to make a record about community, and we wanted the recording process to be community. We wanted it to be an expression of what it was trying to articulate from a concept standpoint. It wasn’t going to work any other way, and it didn’t make sense to us to write a record about community that was just us talking to one another.” So the call went out to the creative community Jars has long been a part of, but hadn’t previously felt led to truly tap into. Songwriters they respect, like Laura Story, Thad Cockrell and Phillip LaRue, injected new lifeblood into songs that had been percolating for more than a year, and long-established, readily recognizable voices like those of Mac Powell, Amy Grant, Brandon Heath, Leigh Nash, TobyMac and more lent timbre and texture to this new set of Jars of Clay songs. And yet, the motivation was there to make them more than just a set of Jars of Clay songs. “We wanted the songs to sound like a group of people more than ‘there’s Toby, there’s Leigh, there’s Mac,’ so we brought in a choir,” said keyboardist Charlie Lowell. Another of the challenges of trusting this new method of creating was not only asking others into the process, but also convincing them to bring their own imprint into the project. “One of the great parts, too, was to let the artists who weren’t able to physically come into the studio with us, just let them loose where they were,” said vocalist/lyricist Dan Haseltine. “I think a lot of artists create in a very controlled environment, where they’re taking cues from people on what they should be singing and how they should be singing it. We said to them, ‘What we really want is your instinct.’ It doesn’t speak to the idea of community to tell them ‘sing this exactly like we did on the demo.’ We wanted them to do it how they’d do it, sing it how they’d sing it. If you hear other things that should be in the song, put them on there, then we’ll piece through it and figure it out working with other peoples’ instincts.” Crafting “The Shelter” has dominated the work thoughts of the men of Jars of Clay for more than a year, but it was the massive flooding in the Nashville area the first weekend of May 2010 and the subsequent aftermath that brought the idea of both a community in need and needing your community into stark relief. The band experienced flood-related setbacks both personal and professional. Its recording studio suffered significant damage, as did Haseltine’s home. But it was in that moment when the short-lived idea of taking shelter within your community became concrete. “I’ve experienced that at my own house with people showing up with shovels and gloves and doing work that I couldn’t have done without them. A lot of us have experienced that. We’ve seen the character of our community. But we need Jesus to remind us sometimes that when we stop, we’re actually part of a great privilege, a privilege to be a community, a privilege to see God’s hand working and moving through us and for us,” Haseltine said. Tickets for Saturday's concert are $12 at the door. For more information about the Virginia Highlands Festival, call (276) 623-5266 or visit www.vahigh landsfestival.org . To find out more about Jars of Clay, visit w w w. j a r s o f c l a y. c o m .Courtesy of Virginia Highlands Festival

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