“Gospel music isn’t reaching our youth anymore. It’s dying out.” Have you ever heard that statement before at a Gospel music event? I heard it more than my share of times, both as an attendee and as an artist. Each time, I would cringe inside because it hurt to hear that as a young person involved in gospel music.
I grew up on this music. I was in the audience at the Cathedrals’ Campmeeting Live taping under the tent. I’ve walked the halls of Louisville, Kentucky’s Freedom Hall and heard the echoes of great young talent from the main stage of the National Quartet Convention. I’ve seen the lines of teenagers at a concert who have lined up to take a selfie with their favorite singer, or to have that CD signed that they just bought from the product table, so it’s hard for me to swallow the statement that gospel music is dying, and it doesn’t reach young people anymore.
This month’s cover (April 2016) features a family group full of young people serving in many different capacities more than just musically. They’re truly paving a new road for Gospel music lovers all over the country, and the results are astounding. They’ve signed with a record label, released their new project, exploded onto the main stage of the National Quartet Convention, and even sung at the Dove Awards! I’m talking about the Erwins, from the great state of Texas.
The Erwins’ ministry began many years ago, with their father, Dennis Erwin answering the call to preach the gospel. “My dad, Dennis Erwin, began preaching the gospel at the age of 20,” Keith describes. “He traveled to every church, rescue mission, and jailhouse that would have him. Seventeen years into his solo ministry, as a 37-year-old single man, he met Tiffany Duke at a tent revival he was serving in. A year or so later, they got married, and the rest is history! I was born two years later and when I turned 18 months old, Dad had me in the studio to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and “The B-I-B-L-E” on one of his recordings. The same story goes for all four siblings. As soon as we could talk, we were singing. As we all grew, we began to sing harmony, and my brothers and I formed a trio. When Katie started singing harmony, we added her and our ministry became what it is today.”
Their family continues that evangelistic ministry today with their patriarch, Dennis. The Erwins sing and their dad preaches. “We could never express the joy that we have in watching our kids sing for the Lord,” says Dennis, when asked about what it’s like to see his children on stage. “When you raise your kids to love the Lord and then you see that as they have grown, they have put into practice all that we tried to instill in them, there are truly no words. Our children are our heroes. When they were younger they had no choice but to travel with us. Now, however, they’ve all chosen to do this. We stand in awe and give all the glory to glory to the Lord. It’s His ministry!”
Keith adds, “For the past six years, we have not had a year where we were on the road less than 265 days. In that same time span, we usually served in 35 to 45 Sunday-through-Wednesday revival meetings and Bible conferences per year. To us, the spiritual awakening of the local church is and will always be one of the most important fruits of our labor. Being on the road all those dates doing revivals and Bible conferences certainly molded us to keeping Christ at the center of everything else.”
Being on the road as a family full time can present its own challenges. The Erwins are team players, though, according to Kris. “Keith is definitely the talker of the group; thus, he is in charge of all the public relations. He does a lot of the ministering on stage and off the stage. He is always helping others with their jobs, too, but primarily he takes care of those responsibilities. Kody is the quiet one. He keeps up with all of our sound and technical issues. He also keeps our sound system updated and running effectively. I handle all of the product, setting it up, tearing it down, and reordering product.
“Dad preaches during revivals, services, and Bible Conferences, and drives the bus to most of our concerts. He also works with Michael Davis on our bookings and our Mom answers our emails, works with radio requests, and makes sure everything gets done. Then there is Katie… ‘the princess!’ She takes care of our social media.
“The Lord sent wives at just the right time. Lindsey, Keith’s wife, handles all of our phone and internet orders, and all of our correspondence. She also runs the screens during our concerts. Cayla, Kody’s wife, is learning to run sound and also runs our tracks during our concerts. She also helps keep our mailing lists updated and helps Mom and Dad with the business aspects of our ministry. Everyone has a job and truly takes everyone to make it all work.”
The Erwins have a distinct family sound, and that sound comes from a lot of work, and a lot of listening to influential artists. People like the Cathedrals, the Rochesters, the Mid-South Boys, Jeff and Sheri Easter, the Crabb Family, the Greenes, and others were influences named by the Erwins as artists that helped mold their sound. Now, with the great success of their debut StowTown records release, Ready To Sail, they’re poised to become as successful as some of the groups they credited to helping mold their sound.
Kody shares, “It’s a dream come true to get to work with people like Wayne Haun and Ernie Haase at StowTown. Wayne is one of the greatest arrangers, writers, and producers. We had always wanted to work with him, but we never dreamed that it would happen so fast. And then to have Ernie as a supporter and mentor, from inviting us to be a part of StowTown, to being able to sing next to him on different stages and on Ready to Sail, it’s been an amazing opportunity.
“The guidance these two men have given us is truly amazing and we’ll never be able to thank them enough for everything they have done for us as a group.” Kris adds, “Wayne is a genius, so it was such a cool experience to be able to work with him. He definitely brought us out of our comfort zone and it ultimately allowed us to grow as artists. Wayne actually wrote our title track, “Ready To Sail”, with the thought of us just beginning our journey of serving the Lord. Wayne’s work ethic really pushed us to be our best!”
Ready To Sail did exactly what is was supposed to do; launch the Erwins onto the mainstream Gospel music scene with great force behind it. They’ll have their work cut out for them to continue to build on this success. “We’re preparing right now to go into the studio for our second StowTown project. We’re listening to songs and actually trying to write as well. Ready To Sail has done extremely well for us so we are feeling the pressure to go above the bar that that project set for us through the songs, arrangements, and messages”, says Kris.
Kody continues, “We’re gearing up to start the process with arranging, tracking, and vocals. Also, we’re looking forward this summer to be able to sing in some new concert events, and some familiar ones as well that we’re always excited to be at.”
Part of this early success was culminated by being tapped to perform at the 2015 Dove Awards in Nashville. Keith says, “To be honest, there’s no way I could put that opportunity into words! We met musical influences that night that we thought we’d never get to meet. We not only got to meet them but we sang to them, as they were on their feet applauding, not appreciating us, but appreciating our specific brand of Christian music. This is a genre that a lot of people think is dying. Those people may have thought differently if they had been there that night!”
The Erwins have been given a special opportunity to be a light to young fans and young people all across the country. “I think it’s awesome that there are quite a bit of young people on the road today,” explains Katie, the youngest member of the group. “I feel like we have an opportunity to maybe reach a different audience that some of the older groups may not be able to reach. We have made it one of our goals to reach our generation for Christ.”
Kris adds, “We are honored by the recognition that our group is getting. We have a huge responsibility, not only with the music itself but the message we sing is vital today. We are having a blast singing as a family, and we’re thankful for the stages God is allowing us to be on.”
Says Keith, “Maybe God is preparing us for something even bigger, which is something we couldn’t comprehend. Today, we are placed on stages we never dreamed of, and singing with amazingly talented people that are musical heroes to us. All of this has happened so fast that it’s crystal clear that only God could be the One opening these doors.”
I can tell you from experience that these folks are some of the best you’ll ever get to be around. Their music is fantastic, their spirit is fresh, and their vibrant personality will warm your heart and bless you at their concerts. The Erwins are paving a new road, and their fans are glad to be on it with them. You will be, too.
By Matt Baker
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