Shiny Happy People
by Steve Blanchard
St. Petersburg, FL | Four years ago, Mel Wilkinson, David Lee and James Blanchard knew they had something special. The three strangers combined their vocal talents at a fundraiser and changed the course of their musical careers. Now the three have added the talents of Amy Black and Tami Gordon to fill out the sound of Canaan Band, which just recently put the finishing touches on its second album, Shine, due out in September. The Christian band is made up of three lesbians and two gay men. They rehearse at Christ the Cornerstone Church in Pinellas Park “The Land of Canaan is the Promised Land, and the reason the original Children of Israel didn’t make it to Canaan was because they lost their vision, their dreams,” says Wilkinson, who by day is a contractor at TECO Energy’s human resources department. “I thought Canaan Band was the perfect name for our group because we want to share that God’s love is for all of us, and we all are trying to get to that Promised Land.”
The members of Canaan Band are getting used to the varied reactions from churches, individuals and members of the GLBT community when they announce their Christian message along with their sexuality. But the band’s outreach has opened doors and some minds. The group performs in venues as diverse as the band members themselves, from GLBT Pride events to mainstream Christian churches. “I get so tired of hearing gay people say that they can’t come hear us perform in a church because they’ll burst into flames,” Lee says. “Give us a chance. Listen to the message and enjoy the music. We’re not out to change anyone-only God can do that.”
Canaan Band’s musical style is more contemporary than Southern Gospel, Wilkinson indicates, and it instills a message of acceptance, God’s love and community. The 11 tracks on Shine have a different sound and feel than those on the group’s first album, Serious
“There’s a lot more collective writing, and our vocal bonds are tighter and stronger now,” Blanchard says. “Shine came more natural to us than the first one, and we sat down together, talked and birthed each song and our ideas.” That has made an incredible difference in the group’s sophomore album, says Lee, who works as a financial analyst during the day.
“It’s a totally different sound for us, and adding a new guitarist and drummer has really brought us to the next level,” Lee says.
The album’s title track is what lured Gordon into the band, the full-time musician says. The Gulfport resident had been part of the all-female group Karmic Tattoo before Canaan Band approached her about playing with them. “They told me they were a Christian rock band, and I told them, ‘Good for you,’ and went on my way,” laughs Gordon, who considers herself spiritual but not religious. “But when I did finally listen to them, I heard ‘Shine,’ and it sealed the deal. I’m not a crier, but that song moved me to tears.” Gordon then convinced Karmic Tattoo bandmate Black-a network analyst-to bring her percussion skills to the table. “I was hesitant at first because I had done the church band thing before,” Black says. “I grew up in a Methodist church, and 20 years ago, you just didn’t play the drums in church. I’d maybe play twice a year: a patriotic piece on the Fourth of July and the timpani at Christmastime for Handel’s Messiah.”
When the quintet collaborated for the first time, the chemistry seemed to light up the room, the bandmates agree. So far there has been a lot of interest in the upcoming release of Shine, Wilkinson says, and the new sound for the band is suitable for the radio, she believes. “Face it, you turn on any of the Christian radio stations and you’re not hearing Southern Gospel anymore,” Wilkinson says. “It’s progressive, contemporary music, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. It just so happens we’re a gay Christian band.”
Each song tells a personal story of either a single band member or the whole group, Lee points out, and during concerts a kind of “behind-the-scenes” testimony accompanies many of the original songs before they’re played. Anyone listening to the stories-whatever their faith or orientation-can fuel the spirit, the group contends. And that is the whole point of Canaan Band.