The South Carolina rock band Needtobreathe has become part of the in-crowd since late 2011.
They were hand-picked by Taylor Swift to open a string of dates for her during her sold-out 2011 world tour.
The band’s fourth album, "The Reckoning," debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard album charts when it was released in September 2011, and was named the best album of 2011 by The Salt Lake Tribune.
And the band performed on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in June — its second time on the show in less than a year, a rare honor — and had the opportunity to meet the talk show’s featured guest, Katy Perry.
Perry and the two leaders of Needbreathe, Bo and Bear Rinehart, all come from strict Christian households and first became known as Christian artists before entering the mainstream. But while Perry has gone on to become the vampish poster child of the zeitgeist, the Rineharts aren’t convinced of their acceptance into a world of stardom.
The Rinehart brothers each have a matching tattoo that is not only the name of their third album, but their world view: The Outsiders.
"I don’t know if that perspective will ever leave us," said Bear Rinehart (named after the famed football coach Bear Bryant).
Bo agreed. "Even though we’ve gained more fans, we don’t feel a part of what’s popular."
That view comes from where they grew up, and where they reside today, in South Carolina. The brothers, along with bass player Seth Bolt, all grew up in the imaginatively named small burg called Possum Kingdom. The Rineharts remember the first time they learned of Bolt. He was an eight-year-old school mate who rapped Vanilla Ice songs to the Rineharts’ sister in a curious attempt to woo her. And the band’s former drummer, Joe Stillwell, who left the band amicably this summer to focus on his family, had been a friend since the three met him in eighth grade.
"We are a band with the only musicians we ever knew," Bear said.
After college, the band played throughout the Southeast and earned a well-deserved reputation for its intense, emotionally charged live shows that reflected the band’s Christian beliefs of temptation, hope, sin and salvation. In 2005, Atlantic Records noticed them and signed them, and immediately marketed them in the growing Christian market, despite some unease in the band about being pigeonholed.
"The last few records, we weren’t trying to make the record a certain thing," Bear said. "Faith keeps coming up in the songs, and we’re trying to find the most earnest way to say it. Our ideas in what we believe in haven’t dwindled."
"It’s important for me to make art that’s important for me," Bo added. "Of course, you want to have as many people as possible to hear it."
Since 2009, the group has won nine Dove Awards, awarded by the Gospel Music Association of the United States in an attempt to recognize outstanding achievement in the Christian music industry. This year, "The Reckoning" won the award for Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year, although you won’t find the word Jesus in any of the band’s lyrics. More typical are themes expressed like those in the band’s single "Drive All Night":
Beg the book to turn the page
‘Cause I get stuck where the villains get away
Somewhere in this wretched tale there must be a line
Where the victim gets his way
Just one time, I’ll get mine
So, is it a Christian band, or a band that happens be manned by Christians?
In a sense, being an outsider means being a touring band that straddles the line between the Dove and Grammy Awards, and in the end not caring about what others think of them. There’s a freedom in that, Bo said. "I’ve always been a guy who sticks to his gut," he said. "The most important part is, Did we do what mattered? That is the supreme end goal. The only regrets we have are when someone persuaded us to do something we didn’t want to do ... What we’re trying to do goes against what people expect us to do."
To Bear, the band’s ethos is inclusiveness, but not pandering. "People sing along with their own meanings," he said. "What’s important is holding on to what we think is important."
The two warm-up acts for Needtobreathe are Good Old War and Matthew Mayfield.
The Philadelphia-based Americana band Good Old War takes its name from the band members’ names: Keith Goodwin for Good, Tim Arnold for Old, and Daniel Schwartz for War.
The trio began its life in 2008 when Days Away, the former band of Goodwin and Arnold, dissolved when the other members of Days Away wanted to go in a more prog-rock direction, while Goodwin and Arnold wanted something simpler, said Arnold. Arnold knew he wanted to stick with Goodwin. "We’re best buddies," he said. "We’ve always wanted to go in similar directions."
Good Old War’s most recent album, "Come Back as Rain, was released in March, and it is full of sad stories backed by what Arnold calls "happy" instrumentation. While the band harmonizes about serious themes, the music is always up-temp and almost upbeat, reflecting the natural optimism of the members. "None of is are very religious, but we all use something spiritually in our music," Arnold said.
Matthew Mayfield’s solo acoustic set will open the night. "I will be fighting the good fight with just an acoustic guitar," he said.
The Birmingham native and resident was in a band called Moses Mayfield that was signed to Epic Records in 2005. "All I ever wanted to do was to be in a rock and roll band," the gravelly voiced Mayfield said. "I was 21. There were a lot of big wigs telling you that you’re the next big thing."
The band, as it turned out, was not the next big thing. "Now those castles have crumbled," Mayfield said.
Mayfield retreated back home and has released two albums on his own. The first, 2010’s "Now You’re Free," was a rock album backed by a full band, and 2012’s "A Banquet for Ghosts," was more stripped-down and intimate.
This will be Mayfield’s fourth or fifth tour with Needtobeathe, who once opened for Moses Mayfield. Mayfield can never sleep in a moving van, so the boys in Needtobreathe offered Mayfield a bunk in their bus, which he happily accepted.
That’s called good ol’ fashioned Southern hospitality, or perhaps its just outsiders letting others in.
Needtobreathe will perform with guests Good Old War and Matthew Mayfield.
When • Friday, Oct. 26 at 7:30
Where • The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20 at SmithsTix
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