“We wanted to keep playing,” says Air Supply's Graham Russell, one of the band’s longtime leaders. “Our songs still have life in them. So you tweak a few lyrics, memorize some scriptures, get yourself a testimony, and viola, you’ve got a fan base again.”
For years, bands like Air Supply and REO Speedwagon plied the county fair circuit, playing old hits and trying to pump up dwindling audiences. But as competition for county fair slots increases, and older bands fade further into the past, more are finding success playing churches, youth conventions, even acoustic sets at prayer gatherings.
Lighting and sound can be iffy, but bands use their arena-rock skills to keep the energy level up, kicking their legs into the air, jumping around the platform, clutching their hearts during ballads.
“You haven’t seen an altar call until you’ve seen it to REO Speedwagon’s ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore,’” says Sam Durabian, 25, youth pastor at Second Baptist church in Boise, which hosted the band last year.
Bands have experienced a “church bounce” as album sales creep up the back-catalog charts. And with more bands re-uniting to exploit the trend, marketspace is getting squeezed.
“We tried to book a Presbyterian church in Buffalo for Fourth of July, but they’d already booked Mr. Mister,” says Air Supply’s Russell “I guess the secret is out.”
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