"We seem to get trapped in our own little subculture rather easily. So, we wanted our audience to think about what's going to be eternal for the kingdom of God."
--Newsboys' Phil Joel




by Bruce A. Brown for the Music Channel at crosswalk.com


This weekend (5/15/99) marks the conclusion of the second leg of what bassist Phil Joel refers to as the {{Newsboys}}' "longest, biggest, baddest, most expensive tour." As Joel putters around his Nashville garden shortly before the final show in Music City, he seems pleased with the success of the "Step Up to the Microphone" tour.

"I think we (frontman Peter Furler, guitarist Jody Davis, drummer Duncan Phillips, keyboardist Jeff Frankenstein) had some pretty big shoes to fill after the 'Take Me To Your Leader' tour," Joel reflects. "Of course, we had John James as our lead singer back then and he was a great front man. John's absence really affected things across the board, so we all had to reach down and come up with something extra to take up the slack. It's not just Peter who has had to change his mode of thinking. We really ramped up the visual side of the show. We spent three months putting together footage for the drive-in cinema screen behind us. Next time, well be taking on the sense of smell the Newsboys in Smell-O-Rama!"

The participation of the Teen Mania missions organization in the "Step" tour helped the Newsboys recruit more than 20,000 teens for short term missions work. Through the efforts of the World Vision relief organization, more than 3500 children received sponsorship by Newsboys fans, numbers that Joel recites with more than a little pride in the band's audience.

"When we were teenagers, going on missions trips challenged us to examine not only what we believed, but why. That's why we want to encourage kids to get out on the mission field. It's great to see the young church respond to the call to take what they have, not only spiritually but also physically and financially, and share it."

Phil admits that he was a bit skeptical about joining forces with a relief organization, but a World Vision trip to El Salvador won him over. "It blew me away to see how smart this organization is. They do an amazingly compassionate work -- with lots of wisdom."

The band also took a missions trip with Teen Mania to Panama, something reminiscent of the trips several Newsboys members took in their teen years. "When I was teenager, I used to go on missions trips to beach resorts," Phil recalls with a hearty laugh. "Seriously. You'd do the same sort of things kids do today-have music, drama and share the Gospel. I think I often came away from those trips wondering if the people on the beach were having more fun than me. Their God seemed to be the God of fun. But it was good; it pushed me to ask some hard questions."

Phil says that both the album and the tour are an extension of questions the Newsboys continually asked themselves over the past couple years. "The title of the album and tour obviously refers to sharing your faith, but it's more than that," Phil emphasizes. "We've tried harder to understand why it is we believe what we believe. We all grew up in the church, wondering if our faith was really our own, or just our parents' faith that we'd latched onto. So when we do 'step up to the microphone,' what are we going to say and why are we going to say it? Do we understand what we're saying? Do we know what Jesus did on the cross? Do we understand the whole Gospel? Do we understand the need for the Gospel?"

"Those are crucial questions for all of us to be able to answer," he continues. "We understand that being on stage and making records - those things will pass, those things will fade away. We seem to get trapped in our own little subculture rather easily. So, we wanted our audience to think about what's going to be eternal for the kingdom of God."

For the Newsboys, one of the things that eases the strain of travel is what Phil calls "a love of toys. We've discovered the joys of go-peds, those two-wheeled scooters with the little chain saw motor on them. After we eat breakfast or lunch, depending on when we arrive in a town, we'll hop on the go-peds and visit bookshops, check out the city, grab a cup of coffee and just spend time hanging out and relaxing."

Phil says that, after a little coaxing, their tour mates the O.C. {{Supertones}} would often join them on their go-ped excursions. "I wish we'd been touring with them from the word 'go,' he enthuses. "They're so much fun. We've had to rev them up a bit. For young guys, they needed a bit of stirring up. We got 'em on the go-peds and got 'em happening. They manage to have a good time and love God at the same time. You don't find that too often, in all honesty."

The end of the "Step" tour will offer little relaxation time for the Newsboys. Phil says most of the band will head straight to Florida for pre-production for their next album. "We've rented some places on the beach so we can swim and get some sun. We also rented a little chapel, where were going to install some recording gear and write some new songs, as well as finish up some older songs. Then we go into the studio June 1st. But we'll make the record in Nashville and try to keep more 9 to 5 kind of hours."

If you missed the "Step" tour, the Newsboys will be performing at several festivals this summer, including Creation East and West, AtlantaFest, Cornerstone, Kingdom Bound and Spirit West Coast. If you're looking for a souvenir of the tour or if you can't make it to any of the festival dates, check out the Newsboys live video of their final 1998 show (==One Night In Pennsylvania==), which was filmed in Hershey, Penn. Also tentatively scheduled for this summer is another Teen Mania missions trip for the band, with the possibility of fall concert dates in Australia and New Zealand.

Despite such successes as the numbers tallied by World Vision and Teen Mania, Phil says that for him, touring gets harder as the years go by. "When you're out there and you're tired, you hit a wall," Phil admits. "You get grumpy, you hate the food. You wish your were sleeping in your own bed. You don't want to be there, it's a sacrifice, and you don't want to spend another day on that bus. But it's a part of laying down your life."

"The only reason we keep doing this is that we're so excited about it," Phil admits. "Music is great, I love it, and it's my passion in life. If I weren't excited seeing these things happen, I'd stay home and hang out in my garden. But we're making a difference in people's lives."