Fans of contemporary Christian musician TobyMac can pretty confidently bet on hearing “Lights Shine Bright,” “Move (Keep Walkin’)” and “Love Broke Thru,” all off the Grammy-winning “This Is Not a Test,” at his “Hits Deep” tour.
“Made to Love” and “City on Our Knees,” both of which reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard U.S. Christian Songs chart and were nominated for the best gospel song Grammy too, will likely make the setlist.
And “Lose My Soul,” from 2007’s “Portable Sounds” is practically a given.
The point of the “Hits Deep” tour, after all, is to play the hits.
But it’s not the entire reason TobyMac, aka Kevin McKeehan, is hitting the road playing fan favorites.
“The whole idea was giving the audience hits,” McKeehan said recently from his home in Nashville. “Not only hit songs but songs that have hit them in a deep way.”
The “Hits Deep” tour comes to Spokane Arena on Sunday.
McKeehan estimates he’s done about four “Hits Deep” tours, which evolved from the singer’s Winter Wonder Slam concerts.
When creating a setlist, McKeehan browses through his solo discography (McKeehan began his career as a member of Christian hip-hop trio DC Talk) and picks the songs audiences know and love.
He hopes to choose songs audiences love to sing because that leads to special moments during each show.
“That’s the most special moment about my life as an artist and songwriter is when you dream up this song and you write it and then you record it and release it, you’re thinking about the listeners the whole time,” he said. “Then all of a sudden you and those people you were thinking about, praying about, all of a sudden you’re in the same room, you’re singing the song together. That’s the pinnacle moment as an artist/songwriter. It’s a powerful moment.”
Joining McKeehan on the “Hits Deep” tour are “American Idol” alum Danny Gokey and Mandisa, Boise’s Ryan Stevenson, Georgia-based quartet Finding Favour and Bristol, Virginia’s Aaron Cole.
McKeehan said there’s no mastermind plan behind choosing who joins him on tour; he simply reaches out to friends he hopes are available to hit the road.
“I just love this line up. It’s a diverse night of music, diverse night as far as style of music, but also races, color of skin on stage,” he said. “I think we’re more beautiful together than separated, so it makes me happy to tour with these people … I think the recipe for a great onstage thing is a beautiful backstage. It’s us communing together, loving each other well and then we take that love out to the stage and it’s just a spillover effect.”
The most recent addition to the “Hits Deep” setlist is “I Just Need U,” which McKeehan released in January.
McKeehan didn’t want to throw the song into the show simply because it was new. It had to be a hit, after all.
But after learning the song had been picked up by more than 60 radio stations in its first week, he thought it qualified.
McKeehan released the song during a listening party in Franklin, Tennessee. While playing “I Just Need U” and giving away copies of the song on vinyl, McKeehan met fans and signed autographs.
McKeehan was born in Virginia, but he’s made his home in Nashville and he’s still grateful to have the city’s support throughout his career, first as a member of DC Talk, then as a solo artist.
McKeehan is currently juggling the “Hits Deep” tour and finishing up his new record, which will include “I Just Need U.”
It’s not the easiest balancing act, but McKeehan knows he couldn’t have one without the other.
“It’s one of those things where you need experience to write songs,” he said. “I’m always inspired by watching people, talking to people, sitting in public places and writing lyrics, observing humanity. That’s going to be great for that side of it but there’s also the side where you need the time to hole away and record it.”
For now, McKeehan is squeezing in studio time in between tour rehearsals. He’s writing, as always, with the hopes that his music will inspire listeners in some way or make them think.
“I haven’t grown jaded or weary of trying to speak life to people through music, trying to offer something that takes them to a better place,” he said. “That’s always my goal, and I want to have fun with it, but at the same time I want to offer food for thought and offer some soul food for people through music.”
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