Christian rockers MercyMe bring a worship experience to their shows. Their music is straight-ahead pop and rock and suitable for all ages. - Photo courtesy of CMA Media Prom

Pop and rock with a good message

Contemporary Christian band MercyMe was inspired to write music and lyrics for its 2010 album, "The Generous Mr. Lovewell," after a trip to the Dominican Republic.

"We were horrified by the conditions that the people were living in," says keyboard player Jim Bryson. The band members were in the republic to meet children they sponsor through Compassion International. "And that visit took place before the Haitian earthquake."

Craterian Performances will present MercyMe at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

After their visit to the Dominican Republic, Bryson, singer Bart Millard, guitarists Mike Scheuchzer and Barry Graul, bassist Nathan Cochran and drummer Robby Shaffer returned to their home state of Texas determined to write poignant new music about kindness and generosity for their sixth studio album. The project led them to a fictitious character bent on bringing out the best in people.

"We came up with the name Lovewell for him, but it just sounded too plain," says Bryson. "We decided to try something different. The Generous Mr. Lovewell is a kind of Sgt. Pepper character. He's kinda quirky."

MercyMe's new album, "The Generous Mr. Lovewell," captures a breezy style that is part Beatles, part Electric Light Orchestra and matches the band's idea of who its title character is. The album bowed in at No. 3 in the nation on Billboard's Top 200 SoundScan Chart — coming in behind Godsmack and Lady Antebellum — and No. 1 on the overall Contemporary Christian SoundScan chart.

"It's straight ahead pop and rock with catchy melodies, good hooks and a good mix of ballads and fast songs," says Bryson. "We all have a hand in writing the music. Bart writes the lyrics. All of the songs on the new album include the theme of encouraging love based around the cross."

"The Generous Mr. Lovewell" may turn out to be the most recent in MercyMe's unbroken streak of successful recordings that began in 2001 with a No. 1 single titled "I Can Only Imagine."

"We sold around 75,000 copies of that single ourselves," says Bryson. "That opened the door for us to work with a label."

MercyMe released six independent albums before signing with INO Records, the label on their past eight gold and platinum records. The band has garnered 22 hit singles on Christian radio.

As for the fictitious, red balloon-toting, Generous Mr. Lovewell, he has garnered followings on Twitter and Facebook. He's more like a movement toward random acts of generosity toward strangers — doing little things that can add up to change — and leaving behind notes that say "courtesy of Mr. Lovewell."

"We have a guy that does all of our Internet stuff," says Bryson. "We told him we wanted to treat Mr. Lovewell as though he were an actual person who would encourage people to help each other. Fans can share stories and photographs at the websites."

Through the Twitter and Facebook sites, national radio stations and nonprofit org-anizations, such as God's Pit Crew in North Carolina, the band and its managers have built houses, repaired cars and helped families in need — with the help of Generous Mr. Lovewell.

The members of MercyMe met through ministry groups in the mid '90s before finding their calling to become a Christian rock band.

"Most of us had been playing music for a while," says Bryson. "I'd gone to Full Sail Center for the Recording Arts based in Florida and worked in a recording studio for a while. Barry and I are the only two that played in professional bands before MercyMe.

"Our shows are a great time for all ages," says Bryson. "It's a worship experience and something that has a message."

Christian guitarist and songwriter Phil Wickham will open the Craterian show.

Tickets cost $42 to $48, $30 to $36 for ages 18 and younger. Tickets are available at the new Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St.

The box office will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from noon until show time on performance dates. Tickets will be held for will call at the new box office and taken at the door of the theater. Call 541-779-3000 or see www.craterian.org for information.

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