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Christian artist Mark Lowry mixes stories, songs

WANT TO GO?

Mark Lowry, with special guest William Barfield

WHERE: Charleston Municipal Auditorium

WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $25 INFO: Call 800-745-3000 or visit www.charlestonciviccenter.com

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Christian singer/songwriter and funnyman Mark Lowry has a really basic message he brings to all of his shows.

"I want people to know that God is good," the 55-year-old said. "He's really not mad at them and that life can be a lot of fun."

That's what he wants people to take away when they come to his show Sunday night at the Municipal Auditorium.

Perhaps best known for his long association with Bill Gaither and the Gaither Homecoming tours, Lowry mixes gospel music with some family-friendly humor. He's either a singer who tells stories or a storyteller who happens to sing a lot.

"I usually know what my first song is going to be," Lowry said. "I tell Stan Whitey, my piano player, right as I'm walking out."

Whitey has all the music on his iPad, and he can usually figure out what Lowry's going to do next based on the stories he tells.

"He's always listening," Lowry said.

What he says and what he sings can change from night to night, but the only song he's guaranteed to play every night is one of his own: "Mary, Did You Know?"

Outside Lowry's show, the reverential gospel song is usually heard around Christmastime in one form or another. It was first recorded by Michael English in the early 1980s, followed shortly thereafter by Kathy Mattea. Since then, it's been re-recorded by dozens of others, including Clay Aiken and most recently, Cee Lo Green.

"I've lost count of who else has done it," Lowry said, although he added that he's heard some unusual versions over the years.

"Actually, there's a disco version by an artist named Kristine W. -- and it's actually very good."

His favorite is the version done by the Christ Church Gospel Choir, from Nashville.

"It's epic," he said. "It sounds like a movie soundtrack. I cried the first time I heard it, and I don't cry at nothing."

To this day, Lowry said doesn't know how he wrote the song, exactly; he called it "a fluke."

"It was a God thing," he said. "Personally, I think God threw me a nugget that day, and Bill Gaither wasn't there to catch it."

Lowry joked that he's been working on a follow-up for years.

"I tell everyone I'm working on 'Joseph, Did You Know?,' 'Moses, Did You Know?' and 'Jesus, We Know You Knew,'" he said, "but those aren't panning out so good."

He does have a lot of other songs, though.

Lowry got started in gospel music as a singer, performing at independent, fundamental Baptist Churches.

"That was my training ground," he said.

And those audiences were tough. Lowry said they could be awfully quiet.

"They wouldn't clap because that was giving glory to man," he explained. "They wouldn't shout because people might think they were speaking in another language [speaking in tongues].

"But they would laugh, and if they were laughing, they were listening."

So he began dropping funny stories into his sets between the songs. Seeing the sillier side of things has always been easy for him.

"I can't go to a funeral without trying to make someone laugh," he said.

Mostly taken from his life, the stories get weird and silly, but there's often a moral behind them, he said, which is never explicitly pointed out.

"If they can't see the moral of the story," Lowry said. "The story is no good to tell."

Lowry said the funny stuff comes from everywhere. It's not that he spends his days cruising for new material. He just pays attention and tries not to take life too seriously.

"Life can't bother you if you don't take too much interest in it," he said. "You have to step back and look at the big picture."

He's got a pretty wonderful life. Lowry has some nice things that have come from success, but he also has time.

"I have the luxury of sitting on my back porch and just thinking," he said, "all day long, if I want to."

The things he thinks about, he said, he wants to share with people who don't have the kind of time he does to see what's funny and uplifting about the human experience.

"I'm trying to get to the cookies on the bottom shelf for people," he said. Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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