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MercyMe set to perform for you at the Coliseum

Christian group making stop at Coliseum, Oct. 23

MercyMe will perform at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Oct. 23.

Alan Sculley

Whatzup Features Writer

Published October 19, 2022

The pandemic changed several things for MercyMe. It altered the highly popular Christian band’s plans for releasing an album. It torpedoed touring during what was supposed to be a busy schedule of live shows. And perhaps most significantly, it brought a different appreciation for what the band does to frontman/main songwriter Bart Millard and the rest of the band.

“COVID forced me to slow down and appreciate the moment more than ever, and I’m still kind of in that mindset,” Millard said in a phone interview. “So we treat these tours like they’re our last, and we’ll sit in the dressing room for a solid hour afterwards.

“It’s enjoying everything that happened that night and laughing about it,” he added. “Even if it’s you forgot the solo or messed up, it isn’t like, ‘Come on, get it right.’ We’re just laughing, going, ‘That’s the funniest thing I ever heard.’ It’s a different attitude and we’ll never take it for granted from this point out. … It’s like when somebody’s like, ‘When are you guys going to call it quits?’ I don’t think we will. We’ll just kind of maybe do less shows. But I don’t see any value in doing the ‘We’re retiring.’ It’s like the mafia. We’re in this thing until we die, probably.”

Now that they’re back on the road, MercyMe has stayed very busy, and they will stop by Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Oct. 23, just two days after the release of their album Always Only Jesus.

Finding success

That fans still have the opportunity to see MercyMe is fortunate as it was while making the 2014 album Welcome to the New where all five members, Millard, bassist Nathan Cochran, guitarists Michael John Scheuchzer and Barry Graul and drummer Robby Shaffer, seriously pondered whether they had run their course as a band. 

Instead, that period of reflection and assessment brought about a sense of renewal to the band, which is now in its 28th year. It was followed by two hit albums that remain favorites within the band, Welcome to the New and 2017’s Lifer

Perhaps the biggest game changer was the 2018 movie named after MercyMe’s signature hit, I Can Only Imagine

Millard wrote the song at age 19, after the death of his father, who had gone from being an abusive parent to living a life of faith. This transformation helped Millard grow closer to him before he died,  and the movie told this story.

The movie was a significant success and introduced MercyMe to a new wave of fans who have put a whole new shot of wind behind the band’s sails.

But it’s not like MercyMe hadn’t enjoyed considerable success before then. The breakthrough came with the song “I Can Only Imagine,” released on the 2001 album Almost There, and went on to cross over to mainstream pop in 2003, reaching No. 5 on Billboard magazine’s Adult Contemporary singles chart. 

The group has gone on to release nine more albums, six of which have gone gold or platinum, while notching 17 No. 1 Christian singles along the way. Billboard named MercyMe its Christian artist of the decade for 2000-2009.

Changing course

Now, after some two years of pandemic-induced uncertainty and adjustment, MercyMe hit the road following their release of their 2021 album Inhale (Exhale), whose songs are prominently featured in the show alongside earlier hits. 

While the guys in MercyMe weren’t sure ahead of time how tickets would sell, the band didn’t hold back anything with the shows.

“It’s our biggest production, the biggest show we’ve ever done,” Millard said. “We just wanted to give the fans, if they were willing to come out, to give them something really special. So we’re pulling out a lot of tricks and a lot of things we’ve never done.” 

Had the pandemic not interfered, MercyMe would very likely have been on a different path with their new music and live show. In fact, Inhale (Exhale) might not have existed. As 2019 came to a close, the group was almost finished with a different album to be released in spring 2020 and had already released the single “Almost Home.”

“It’s interesting because the original album was called Spaceman,” Millard said. “That’s why ‘Almost Home’ had a video with an astronaut in it and stuff. It was this idea of this world we’re just passing through, and that was kind of a theme. Then the pandemic hits, and it just didn’t feel right. The rules changed.”

With the world in a different place, the Spaceman album didn’t seem appropriate, and Millard returned to songwriting, eventually completing about 40 songs. 

Eventually, the group settled on a single 16-song album that stands as perhaps MercyMe’s most upbeat and energetic release. The pandemic wore on Millard and many of his musical peers, and over time he and his bandmates gravitated toward creating an album that offered a respite from the stress and fear surrounding the pandemic.

“There are a couple of emotional moments, but for the most part, it’s a very upbeat album,” Millard said. “And we kept saying if people can take a deep breath and set aside the things that weigh them down, even for the length of this album, and be reminded what’s important, that’s worth it.”

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