Kingdom Bound welcomes Stephen Stanley; for KING & COUNTRY to perform at Erie County Fair
By Joshua Maloni
For more than decade now, a new type of musician has performed at Darien Lake. You might want to label the offerings of these artists as “Christian music,” but that would be inaccurate – especially to those who grew up with church hymnals and/or well-intentioned but somewhat contrived (read: corny) “Jesus jams.”
Yes, these performers are followers of Christ, and, yes, they believe in the Bible; but you wouldn’t necessarily know them by their (musical) fruits. That is to say, songs from acts such as Skillet, MercyMe, Colton Dixon, Matthew West, Ledger and tobyMac are on par with “secular” music in every way. Lyrics are hopeful, not preachy, while offering encouragement instead of pushing condemnation; and beats are rocking, oftentimes accompanying TV programs (even WWE’s “Monday Night Raw”).
With Kingdom Bound booking more and more artists putting out songs destined for stadiums, not sanctuaries, the Buffalo-based ministry, in turn, found more and more people attending its four-day summer festival.
Two summers ago, Marketing and Communications Director Dave Bruno said, “Kingdom Bound 2019 was a fantastic festival that drew crowds in recent festival record numbers from 26 states and three Canadian provinces to Six Flags Darien Lake. From the music on three stages, to art classes, to speakers, to activities for the whole family and more, 2019 was a great success.”
He closed by writing, “We so appreciate all those who attended and look forward to what is to come at Kingdom Bound 2020.”
Of course, there were no large-scale concerts last year, as the region joined the world in working to fight the coronavirus. Hopes were high that Kingdom Bound would return in 2021 but, alas, the following message was posted several weeks ago on the ministry website:
“Kingdom Bound is more than just a festival, it’s a family. When the last notes rang out as Skillet finished the final song of Kingdom Bound 2019, little did we know how special it was to be gathered together in that moment. Ever since that day, our team has worked tirelessly with the singular goal of reuniting our Kingdom Bound family once again.
“Due to the requirements, variables on guidance, and continued challenges presented to those holding large events in NY State, we are heartbroken to share that despite exhausting all possible options and pursuing all possible solutions, Kingdom Bound has been postponed and has been rescheduled for July 24-27, 2022 at Six Flags Darien Lake.”
Though the ministry was forced to postpone its festival another year, that doesn’t mean Western New York will be without performances from those who fit the mold of the modern-day Kingdom Bound headliner.
Grammy Award-winning for KING & COUNTRY – fresh from collaborations with the likes of Dolly Parton, Tori Kelly and Echosmith – will headline an Aug. 18 concert at the Erie County Fair. The Chapel will host “A Night with Kingdom Bound” outside of its Getzville campus on July 30. Zach Williams will headline the concert, which also features Stephen Stanley, Nick Kish and Reggie Dabbs.
for KING & COUNTRY live on stage (Photo by Jason Walle/Chain Reaction Studios/courtesy of The Media Collective)
for KING & COUNTRY
Fronted by brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, for KING & COUNTRY’s modern rock sound, sophisticated production and knack for finding the perfect collaborators has made the native Australians a fixture on TV talkers and award shows.
FKC took a different approach to touring last summer, staging a series of drive-in theater shows. Though Joel said that was a blast, he is looking forward to more traditional concert stages – and a return to Western New York.
“We’re still early in the whole process of what it really means to hit the road properly. We just announced a tour, the ‘Relate’ fall tour ... and we’re announcing another one for later in the year,” he said in a phone interview.
Smallbone explained, “There’s so many layers of loss from last year. But one of them is the fact that, while we’ve been walking through so much socially and racially, politically, spiritually and beyond, that we haven’t had the chance just to link arms and rub shoulders with people who look different, or think different, or act different from us. And that’s partly the function of live shows. You set aside your differences for a minute; you came together because you love that song, or that band or that comedian, whatever it was; that church service. And so, to get back to that, I think it’s really important for all of us, really, as a human race, to get back to this live presentation.”
At the Erie County Fair, “We will be bringing a new show; we’ll be bringing a new design; we’re bringing at least one or two new songs,” Smallbone said.
He teased, “Provided that the roof can hold them – spoiler alert – we’ll be bringing two, we call them elevators, or portals, that will sort of go up and down from the bottom of the stage to the top of the roof.”
Read the full Q&A below. For tickets or more information, visit https://www.ecfair.org/p/entertainment/gustograndstand. for KING & COUNTRY is online at https://www.forkingandcountry.com/.
Stephen Stanley (Image courtesy of Kingdom Bound Ministries)
Talk about a rollercoaster of a year. Not long after Stephen Stanley signed with Capitol Records, the pandemic kicked in and life was turned upside down.
“As soon as I signed a record deal, we’re all excited. I’m going to Nashville and writing songs with some folks, and we’re getting ready to go. And it’s like, ‘Nope. We’ve got to stop now (laughs),’ ” the Georgia-based singer said. “Which we didn’t stop; I kept writing on Zoom, and I did do some trips, and we wrote some songs and stuff.”
Stanley recently released his debut, self-titled EP.
“I started making covers on TikTok and Instagram, and they really took off,” he said. “And what I saw happen was it wasn’t just this platform that just kind of landed (Christians) in my lap; there was a lot of nonbelievers that showed up. And I sort of felt this responsibility, all of a sudden, to be able to try and speak to them about Jesus as well.
“And obviously I love encouraging the church and making songs like that, but my heart is in a place of ministry, you know, trying to reach lost people – at least planting a seed for maybe them to be like, ‘Hey, what’s this all about?’ And I told the label that, and management, and just been like, ‘Hey, this is where I’m at. This is the kind of music I want to make; and these are the people I want to reach.’ ”
Stanley said it’s been “awesome” getting out performing in front of a live audience.
“Actually, before the pandemic, I played a little bit around like the Southeast. But this is like my first time traveling with a band and playing music live – my own music live,” he said. “So, everything’s very, very fresh and new. … I don’t know what’s good, what’s bad. I just know I’m having fun.”
Read the full Q&A below. For more information on “A Night with Kingdom Bound,” or for tickets, visit https://www.kingdombound.org/july30. Stephen Stanley is online at http://www.stephenstanleymusic.com.
for KING & COUNTRY’s Luke and Joel Smallbone (Photo courtesy of The Media Collective)
Q: You and your brother are coming back to Buffalo in a couple of weeks, and we are super-excited about that – particularly because, unfortunately, we can't have Kingdom Bound this year. Let me ask you, first of all, how are you? And how is your brother? How's everyone feeling? What's the health report these days?
Joel Smallbone: Well, for the record, we are equally as happy not only to be talking about live music and playing live music again, but also one of our favorite spots is to come up to Buffalo and that whole area. And so, you’re right: Kingdom Bound’s been one of the most steady events we've done throughout our whole career. So, the loss of that is sad. But the beauty of being able to come back up on our own accord is great as well.
As far as how we are doing, you know, I think we're making a real go of it, as they say, Josh. I'm sure we could trade a lot of notes on the severity and impact of the last year or so. For us, it has, in some ways, been very challenging; in other ways it’s been very beautiful in being home with family more and having a bit of an intermission for the band, in some ways.
We've been maybe more creative than we ever have been over the last year, which is even due to kind of looking at the reality of where we find ourselves as a country and a planet. But on a very kind of micro level, I think we're doing very well.
Luke had a vocal procedure done a month or two ago. He sort of really needed to have for a while, and he's doing much better. They’re very thrilled with his progress and process. I just celebrated my eight-year wedding anniversary with my wife last week and had a lovely trip and time doing just that. And so, I think we're feeling rejuvenated and ready to come up your way.
Q: Did you guys did you do any live shows last year? Or did you wait till 2021 to get back out and see fans in person?
Joel Smallbone: We wanted to be very aware and very sensitive to the layers of complexity surrounding COVID-19, and what both the national government as well as local government were asking of people. And I remember it was probably May last year, Vince, one of our band members, threw a phone in front of my face and showed me a chap in Denmark who had done a show at a drive-in theater. And I just remember thinking, “This is genius. You've got built-in seats, a built-in, socially distanced, closed-off area; you got a sound system in there; you got air conditioning in there; you got everything you need inside the car.”
And so, we proceeded from that day till the end of last year – I think we did about 60 drive-in shows – and some of the most rewarding touring we've ever done; and some of the most difficult, complicated touring we've ever done. But it was it was a moment we'll never forget.
And from that day to this, we kind of took about four or five months off and now we're just gearing backup for live events again.
Q: Yeah, the reason I ask is because, you know, every artist is different. Most of the artists I've talked to recently are just getting back on the road, and just seeing people in person for the first time. I do recall now that you guys did have the drive-in tour, which was nice of you guys to do that for your fans. So now getting back to a proper musical setting and a proper stage, I mean, what's it been like to get back out? And what kind of reaction are you getting from fans so far?
Joel Smallbone: People just seem elated, man. I mean, we're still early in the whole process of what it really means to hit the road properly. We just announced a tour, the “Relate” fall tour, last week; and we're announcing another one for later in the year this week. But what I'm sensing is just people being overjoyed.
I mean, think about it, Josh, you know, there's so many layers of loss from last year. But one of them is the fact that, while we've been walking through so much socially and racially, politically, spiritually, and beyond, that we haven't had the chance just to link arms and rub shoulders with people who look different, or think different, or act different from us. And that's partly the function of live shows. You set aside your differences for a minute; you came together because you love that song, or that band or that comedian, whatever it was; that church service. And so to get back to that, I think it's really important for all of us, really, as a human race, to get back to this live presentation.
But I am sensing everyone just being awfully excited.
Q: You're coming to the Erie County Fair. And the Erie County Fair is unique in many respects. It always has a great mix of musicians coming in. Of course, there's deep-fried Oreos and the goats with two heads and the whole deal. The Erie County Fair is ginormous; I feel like it's like a whole other state in and of itself. What can we expect from the live show; but then also, how much – if anything – do you adjust for the type of place you're at?
Joel Smallbone: We adjust where we have to adjust. So, we sort of dream big. And then there are just certain locations or, you know, roofs that can't hold elevators going up and down from the stage or whatnot.
So, we really want to make sure that we're dreaming big and bringing as much as we can, but you just have to naturally be aware. And, frankly, that's why we pay Matt Brewer, our production manager, to do just that. And he's excellent at it. My brother, Daniel, does all of our lighting design and whatnot.
So, as far as what we will be bringing, we will be bringing a new show; we'll be bringing a new design; we're bringing at least one or two new songs. And like I mentioned with those elevators – and I haven't told anyone this yet, Josh, but provided that the roof can hold them – spoiler alert – we'll be bringing two, we call them elevators, or portals, that will sort of go up and down from the bottom of the stage to the top of the roof.
Q: Nice. Very nice. So, one of the songs you guys are promoting right now is “Amen.” Another great collaboration. You guys are doing some merch off that as well, which is cool. What can you tell me about that song, how it all came together?
Joel Smallbone: (Laughs) Well, it's kind of an oldie but a goodie for us. We wrote it about five years ago. Luke felt compelled to be baptized again as an adult. We've been baptized in the Pacific by my granddad in Australia when we were children. And so, the song was written about that. But it really came back around late last year. We performed at the GMA Awards, the Dove Awards, and we presented that song. And we invited Lecrae and The WRLDFMS Tony Williams to join us on stage. In the thick of everything that was going on, it was such a beautiful, collaborative, communal moment that we thought, “This song needs to have sort of a greater life.” As the world comes sort of, I think, from death to life, if you will, coming out of the pandemic, how about offering a song that talks about that.
And so, that was really the heart behind it. And we were so thrilled, particularly in the first half of the year, at response from people and the song. It has a special place in our heart as well.
Q: You know, there's an old cereal saying, “How do they cram all that graham into Golden Crisp?” I bring that up, because, whether you guys are working just as the two of you and your team, or you have another collaborator come in, there's always so many interesting things that you add to your songs. Of course, they're very accessible. It's not like they're overly complex or complicated. But there are so many interesting, fun things in your songs. And there’s such great musicianship, whether it's the vocals or the instruments. Is that something that came to you guys naturally? Was it a progression? How did we get to the point where you guys are acing these songs?
Joel Smallbone: We work really hard at making it look and sound really easy, hopefully. But, man, don't be fooled: Every sound, every vocal, every breath – it has all been scrutinized and analyzed and questioned. Because that's really the kind of art that we just feel compelled to put out into the world. We're not at the point of wanting – nor God willing will we ever be – we're not at the point of wanting to phone it in, or just kind of give you a pat answer. We want to go deep. And what's been beautiful about this last season of creating is that, because we have been home for half-a-year, we've been able to really go deep: new music and new ideas and new thoughts. And so hopefully, in just a short while, you'll hear something that is new and fresh. And you'll make the same statement.
But look, when you get down to the ground level of this whole thing, Josh, the greater reason is because we believe that art has the power to change heads and hearts and lives, and we want to be a part of that – and we want to do it as well as we can.
Q: It's been interesting for me over the past five or 10 years to sort of see the evolution of Christian music and the acceptance of Christian artists more into the mainstream. And you guys have obviously been on a number of different nationally televised shows, award shows and talk shows and things of that nature. I am just such a big fan of your family. Your family has always been fantastic to work with: you, your brother, your dad; your sister, Rebecca, is one of my heroes in life. But you guys have never said “no” to me. You've never big-timed it. And I find it remarkable because you guys have had so much success.
I don't know if you expected to have this level of success, this level of acceptance in the mainstream media, but how do you sort of process all that's happened to you guys so far – and the degree of success and acceptance that you have had, not just with Christian audiences, but worldwide audiences?
Joel Smallbone: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head, Josh. It's a family affair, man; it's like we stand on the shoulders of giants. Dad's been in the music industry for almost half a century, I think it is. And Rebecca, really, in many ways, showed us the ropes of what it looks like to present live, and write a song, and meet your supporters and listeners where they are.
And so, I think the thing that we all bear in mind the most is that this is a public servant job. The whole nature of being a musician is to serve the listener and those that are coming to your show. And the moment that that becomes inverted, and you start feeling like, “No, no, no; I'm the center of attention here. And this is actually all about me.” I think music is such a spiritual, profound thing that, when music starts – if you will, if you want to personify it – starts realizing that you are turning this thing around and making it about yourself, I think it loses some of its potency. I think it runs out of the room – at least the beautiful spirit of music does.
Look, go back to the most ancient versions of tribal chants and dances: It was always meant to be a community thing. Who came up with it? Sure. But it was always meant to be given away.
I love what Bono says – and it was this beautiful moment he was talking about – I think it was “With or Without You,” which was one of my favorite songs – and he just said at one of his live shows, he said, “This song is no longer my song. It's your song. I give it away to you.” And I just thought, “Man, that's awesome. That’s the center of music.”
So, honestly, if you have family, and you have God, and then you have that mentality of being a public servant wrapped up in it, I think you're able to – by the grace of God – keep your head screwed on reasonably straight. Reasonably.
Stephen Stanley (Image courtesy of Kingdom Bound Ministries)
Q: Have you been to Buffalo before or is this going to be your first trip out here?
Stephen Stanley: I have not. I've been to New York and some parts of Connecticut, but I have not been to Buffalo.
Q: So, when you were growing up in Georgia and you were thinking about making a career as a musician, did you ever think about the fact that, ‘I'm going to probably have to play in Buffalo someday,’ because we've got Kingdom Bound and it's actually a pretty good market for Christian music?
Stephen Stanley: (Laughs) No, I don’t think I ever did. But I'm excited now! It’s going to be great.
Q: We are in an area where we've got the Canadian border, so we get a lot of Canadian music, obviously. We're also a very big market for country music, because we've got a lot of rural areas. And then, because we have Kingdom Bound, we're a very big Christian market. We get sort of an interesting mix of music out this way, I have to say.
I've been listening to your music. Your music it's very modern. The mix is great. The fact that you were in an accident – that you're deaf in your left ear – how did this all come together as well as it did?
Stephen Stanley: (Laughs) I was in the accident, and I lost hearing in my left ear. And because I was like 9 years old, it really threw off my inner ears and my balance. So, that's when I started playing music. My mom, you know, instead of giving me a PlayStation – we didn’t have iPhones or anything – but instead of a PlayStation she gave me her old guitar. And that's when I started playing music. And then, yeah, I grew up in church and all that.
I really appreciate you saying that about the music, man (laughs), that's really nice; and that's kind of where my heart's at, you know, as far as making music. I started making covers on TikTok and Instagram, and they really took off. And what I saw happen was it wasn't just this this platform that just kind of landed in my lap, there was a lot of nonbelievers that showed up. And I sort of felt this responsibility, all of a sudden, to be able to try and speak to them about Jesus as well.
And obviously I love encouraging the church and making songs like that, but my heart is in a place of ministry, you know, trying to reach lost people – at least planting a seed for maybe them to be like, ‘Hey, what's this all about?’ And I told the label that, and management, and just been like, ‘Hey, this is where I'm at. This is the kind of music I want to make; and these are the people I want to reach.’
Q: You know, the “secular artists,” when we talk about other musicians, obviously they have no restrictions – they can make whatever kind of music they want; they can use whatever language they want; they can swear; they can talk about sex – they can do all that stuff, because that comes with the territory. Right? There's no guidelines or restrictions; they can sort of do what they want. But when you're in the Christian genre – like you said, you want to make music that reaches everyone and not just Christians – but you do sort of have those parameters. Inasmuch as you want to reach everyone, you also don't want to necessarily offend the Christian. So, what is the challenge in making music that checks all of those boxes, but also lives up to the expectations you have when you set forth to create it?
Stephen Stanley: I sort of made this decision a while ago, I was like, “The best music seems to come from people that, no matter what their message is, they truly believe it.” And you can tell that they're being real.
So, I was like, “If I'm going to make music about Jesus, and I want to reach people in my personal life, then I just need to at least try my best to live up to the standard.” I don't personally use bad language. I personally read my Bible every day, and try and have my heart in a good place. So, when I make music, it's this pure thing where it feels like it's real.
And I feel like, just for me, that's important to at least try and be real with people so, when they hear me talking about Jesus, I actually really believe that. I actually believe that Jesus is the answer to our issues and problems.
And I talk about things like mental health. I have to deal with mental health, so it's not like I'm just making it up, but I'm just saying things to encourage you. Because I know lots of people struggling with mental health at the moment. It's something that I go through.
Q: Well, it's interesting, too, that you say about mental health because, obviously, that's something that everyone sort of experienced, to some degree, in the past year-and-a-half.
Now, I'm wondering about your record deal. I understand you signed your record deal right before the pandemic. So, what was – speaking of mental health – what was the rollercoaster of emotions, if you will – you know, the high of signing the record deal and then the low of the pandemic? What was it like to have those two things sort of in juxtaposition with each other?
Stephen Stanley: It was kind of a bunch of things all happening, too, because the social media stuff happened like in March or April or something like that. So, we signed record deal in 2020 – like Jan. 10 I think it was. And, as you know (that) was when the lockdowns happened.
So, as soon as I signed a record deal, we're all excited. I'm going to Nashville and writing songs with some folks, and we're getting ready to go. And it's like, “Nope. We’ve got to stop now (laughs).” Which we didn't stop; I kept writing on Zoom, and I did do some trips and stuff and we wrote some songs and stuff.
Honestly, when I signed the deal, I felt this, like, deep encouragement, all of a sudden. I was like, “Am I delusional for wanting to do this?” Like, “Is this really what God wants me to do, or am I just crazy to think that I can even do it?” Which, I don't think that's a good way to think about things, but I was kind of just down on myself. And then when I signed, I was like, “OK, this is the sign; this is what God wants me to do. This is what I'm where I'm supposed to be. I’m supposed to write songs; I'm supposed to sing and make music.”
So, up to that, that was a really encouraging experience. I didn't feel a lot of pressure. You know, the people at Capitol are really, really great to work with. They're really, really easy to get on the same page with. Immediately, as soon as we started working together, I was like, “This is a God thing.”
Now, the pandemic, obviously, I don't think anybody survives the pandemic without some form of mental health problem, you know, being stuck inside and looking at social media and the news and Netflix all day. It's just not healthy. But also for me, when the social media thing happened, people of my generation – I'm Gen Z, but Millennials, too – they want this sort of thing to happen where you have a big video on YouTube or TikTok or whatever, but it's actually a really, really stressful thing to happen. And it's hard to explain to people, because it's this like weird brain game that you're constantly playing, and that you really, really have to figure out and learn when to take a break and not be involved. And it's a blessing from God, because it’s people I can minister to now, and people that don't know Jesus that need to hear about him.
And so, yeah, there was just a whole bunch of mixed emotions coming out. Then the song comes out and it's on the radio. There's all kinds of stuff, man. It was very intense.
Q: So, the EP then, was that basically put together during the pandemic?
Stephen Stanley: It was. It mostly recorded here in Atlanta, in Georgia.
Q: I've been talking to a lot of musicians lately and they sort of were in the same boat where they had music that came out right before the pandemic, but then they basically had to sit on it for the rest of the year. I mean, they could do a couple maybe livestreams or whatever, but obviously it's not the same thing. Have you been back out yet? Have you had a chance to play these songs to a live audience yet?
Stephen Stanley: Yeah, we've done six so far.
Q: So, what's that been like?
Stephen Stanley: It's been awesome. Actually, before the pandemic, I played a little bit around like the Southeast. But this is like my first time traveling with a band and playing music live – my own music live. So, everything's very, very fresh and new. I'm just experiencing. I don't know what's good, what's bad. I just know I'm having fun.
Q: That's the most important thing, right?
So, along those same lines, because this is all sort of fresh and new to you, what can you tell me about your live show, and the presentation, and what we can expect from that when we see you up on stage?
Stephen Stanley: We're gonna melt your faces!
I've got a couple friends playing with me and we're like three-piece. And we spent a few months rehearsing and putting this thing together. It's going great. It's really fun to be able to just do this and be able to travel and do it. I'm excited.
Q: And when you come to Buffalo, you'll be opening for Zach Williams, which probably doesn't suck, right?
Stephen Stanley: No, not at all. Yeah, he's awesome.
Q: What can you tell me about that opportunity and what do you like about him as a musician?
Stephen Stanley: Yeah, so actually, I know him personally. We wrote a song together. And we also share a manager. But yeah, he's amazing. He's always someone that I've always really loved – his rawness in his music. Like “Fear Is a Liar.” I remember when that song came out, that was like one of my favorite songs that year. And yeah, I definitely look up to him; and he's a brilliant songwriter. After writing with him in the room, he's such an amazing dude – and exactly who you'd want them to be when you meet him.
Kingdom Bound Ministries Director Donna Russo said, “After going so long without Christian music in our region, we are delighted to welcome Zach Williams back to Western New York for this special outdoor concert. This will be a fantastic night of uplifting music. Join us!”
The evening will also feature food trucks, lawn games and other activities for the entire family. Tickets are available at www.KingdomBound.org or at the gate.
•Editor's note: On July 29, Kingdom Bound tweeted, "Due to an unexpected health issue, Zach Williams will not be able to join us tomorrow night. However, we're excited to share that We Are Messengers are stepping up to lead us for a powerful night of worship tomorrow night along with Reggie Dabbs and Stephen Stanley!"