Band Uses Music and Authenticity on Tour

Becky Thomton

Elvis wandered onto the stage, wearing white and occasionally swaying to the rock 'n' roll music. Strolling through the band members, Elvis was clearly comfortable on the platform, receiving smiles and nods from the band. Then Elvis sat down between the lead singer and the bass player and started to suck her thumb.

It wasn't an Elvis Presley impersonator, or Elvis Costello. This was 3-year-old Ellie FauntLeRoy, affectionately known as Elvis. The band is even named after her -- Chasing Elvis.

Her dad, Jimmy, is the lead singer for the band, and he wrote "a little ditty" in his Palm Pilot about chasing Ellie around the house.

"We had nicknames for each other, like Momis and Dadis, and we called her Elvis," Jimmy explains.

The name Chasing Elvis stuck with the 5-member band.

"Come back tonight; we'll be playing some more songs," Jimmy announces to students lingering in the balcony. Glancing at Ellie kneeling in front of one of the loudspeakers, he adds, "And there won't be any toddlers on the stage, so you don't have to worry about her long-term hearing."

"Jimmy is a nutcase. Certifiable," laughs Chris Zaugg, executive director for Keynote, Cru's music ministry. "But he's also a very deep thinker. He's a goofy guy with a deep heart."

Chasing Elvis is one of several groups in Keynote that tour the country to perform at colleges, high schools and military bases.

"Jimmy is able to put what students are feeling into words," Chris adds.

Blending humor and honesty, Jimmy's personality is a key ingredient to the way the band conveys the message of Jesus Christ.

Jimmy and the rest of the band were weary when they arrived at Kansas State University, the last stop on a nearly 3-week tour.

They had traveled through 14 states, and endured the last 3 days from Oregon to Kansas with no heat on their bus. But with their first of 3 concerts just a few hours away, a new energy quickly spreads through the band as several students help them unload.

The band pulls their equipment into Union Station, a separate room for students to eat and hang out, with a lowered stage for a club-type environment. Elvis and her 7-year-old brother, Nate, chase each other with a blue balloon, and their mom, Chrissy, tries to make sure they stay out of trouble.

The room appears chaotic, but the band's setup is actually quick and organized.

During the sound check, David Roux's sharp snare-drum taps make onlookers flinch involuntarily.

"Sing something," prompts sound technician Laura DeBettencourt.

"Something, something, something," Jimmy launches off into an improvised melody. "I've been looking for something but I can't find nothing."

When they're finishing setting up, Randi Gilbert, a Cru intern at Kansas State, explains the plan for the first concert.

"There's no dinner served in the dorms on Sunday nights, so we're offering free pizza, breadsticks and pop during the concert."

Two hundred and sixty slices of pizza later, with the volume cranked up, Chasing Elvis launches into a full concert of upbeat, danceable music. Starting with songs by popular artists Jimmy Eat World and Good Charlotte, Jimmy then pauses to introduce the band.

"We're from all over the place," he motions to the other band members, "but one thing we all have in common, and what we have in common with Cru [Cru at Kansas State], is that we're all about knowing God. I don't know what that means to you, but we'll talk more about that later. But now, more music."

A few employees from the campus bookstore venture out to see what's going on. A student saunters into the club area for the free pizza.

"I was coming to the union earlier to get food and I heard the music," he explains to a Cru student who greets him near the door. "I came back for the free pizza."

The flashing lights on the lowered stage attract his attention, and he stays to listen for awhile.

Over 100 students have come, and many of the Cru students have brought their non-Christian friends. Everyone talks and laughs while enjoying the music. But when Jimmy starts to speak again, the room grows quiet.

"I was amazed at how attentive the crowd was," Jimmy later commented. "I expected more idle chatter, but they were stone silent."

The 35-year-old tells about his life growing up and how he was confused about many things, like philosophy and love.

"I thought God was in a purple robe and sat in a rocking chair, just waiting to slap me with a big book that he had in his lap."

While he tells his own journey of faith, Jimmy explains to the students how they also can have a personal relationship with Christ.

"It's like Christmas," he says. "At my house we would just rip into any present under the tree that had our name on it."

He goes on to explain that you can receive Christ the same way you receive any gift: You accept it. "You don't rip the paper off, but you take it in here," he points to his heart as his voice softens.

"I started a relationship with God that has revolutionized my life," Jimmy emphasizes. "Have all my problems gone away? Nooooo. The river of garbage in this world has not stopped. You know that; you're in school," he adds.

Laughter of acknowledgement ripples through the crowd.

"I hope you have a good time tonight, but I also hope that you connect with God," Jimmy says, beginning a song he wrote called Between You and Me.

Some students close their eyes; some are still focused on Jimmy. Everyone is listening.

"I close my eyes, and I could not sleep,
I'm waking up from the longest dream.
This is between you and me.
There's blood on the hill, there's heaven in the sky,
There's a prayer on my lip, and a thousand questions why."

"Jimmy was very easy to identify with, even for a non-Christian," says Trevor Angell, Kansas State senior and Cru student leader. "He wasn't someone you'd be taken aback by when he started to share about spiritual things."

"This is such a healthy thing for our students to see," says Brent Watson, director of Cru at Kansas State. "There are so many ways to share your faith."

"You tear down walls with music," adds David Roux. "Then you have a platform to say something significant."

Although music tears down the walls, the band never forgets that it is God who opens students' hearts. So before every concert, the band prays as a group. Just before their final concert, Jimmy asks for prayer for himself.

"I'm just tired," he says. "Each concert is like a workout."

But during the concert, you could never guess that anyone was tired. A group of guys in the back corner booth dance in their seats, and when the band finishes, there is yelling and cheering as the final notes echo.

"You guys rock!" someone shouts from the back.

The band has given away all their CDs, but even those who didn't get one are taking home the concert experience. They might have missed seeing Elvis, as she wanders around doodling on the back of the band's poster, but they haven't missed the message of Christ.

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