Janesville's Freedom Fest spotlights band with local roots

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Thursday, June 26, 2014

JANESVILLE—They're the messengers, not the stars.

That's an odd perspective for a band that has had so much success, but Citizen Way isn't an ordinary rock band.

On Saturday, June 28, Citizen Way will join Mandisa and The City Harmonic at Freedom Fest, held on the grounds of New Life Assembly of God in Janesville. 

The festival opens at 10 a.m. and features free admission, carnival rides and inflatables for children, as well as reasonably priced food from eight local restaurants and vendors.

A Day of Compassion will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., offering a free health clinic, eye check-ups for children, and clothing and grocery giveaways.

Citizen Way will start the evening's music lineup.

The band consists of two sets of brothers: Ben Blascoe on bass guitar, David Blascoe on drums, Ben Calhoun on vocals and guitar, and Josh Calhoun on guitar, keyboards and vocals.

Ben and Josh Calhoun are the sons of Lanette and the Rev. George Calhoun of Milton, and the boys grew up there.

The band members met when they were students at Judson College in Elgin, Illinois. Their first band, The Least of These, morphed into Citizen Way. They recently toured the country with Big Daddy Weave, the Dove Award-winning Christian band.

The group's 2013 album, “Love is the Way,” reached No. 22 on the Christian Albums chart and No. 4 on the Heatseekers chart.

A single from the album, “How Sweet the Sound,” peaked at No. 11 on the Hot Christian Songs chart.

The group's sound falls into the contemporary gospel, Christian rock/alternative rock category. The music is accessible but sophisticated enough to have more staying power than ordinary pop.

The lyrics pull from the best poetry of the Bible. “How Sweet the Sound” uses lines from Psalm 23 and from “Amazing Grace” to create a tender alternative-rock hymn.

Ben Calhoun, who does almost all of the songwriting with his brother, Josh, said his inspiration comes from many sources, including the joys and struggles of daily life. Still, Scripture is always a crucial part.

Often, the passages are recognizable. If not, Calhoun's CD liner notes provide the information.

That's just one of the ways Citizen Way sees itself as the messenger rather than the star of its musical world.

Calhoun said the band tries to be a conduit for God's message while on stage. It's not just about bringing people to God through music; it's about sustaining them when they get there.

Along with touring, Calhoun lives on the Judson campus with his family. He runs the recording studios he built and helps students pursue their musical goals.

The brothers have come a long way, and sometimes they're still a little startled by their success. 

“There are always moments when I pause and reflect and then am just so thankful,” Calhoun said.

His earliest musical experiences were with his mother, pianist Lanette Calhoun. He also credits Bill Schrank, the now-retired Milton High School show choir director, and band director Ken Devoe for his musical education.

“Milton really had an excellent music program,” Calhoun said.

After Citizen Way, the musical lineup includes:

—The City Harmonic: This contemporary Christian group has had three albums reach the Billboard hot albums charts. Four of the band's singles—“Holy,” “Mountain Top,” “I Have a Dream” and “Manifesto” have spent time at the top of the charts in the past two years. “I Have a Dream” reached No. 15 on Billboard's Hot Christian Songs chart.

—Mandisa: The star of the night will be Mandisa, the contemporary Christian and gospel singer who rose to fame after appearing on TV's “American Idol” in 2006. Her album “Overcomer” hit No. 1 in 2013 on the Christian Albums chart. A previous album, “What if We Were Real,” peaked at No. 2.

She's had several songs in the Top 100 Christian songs chart, including “Stronger” and the title track from “Overcomer.”

Last updated: 7:50 am Thursday, June 26, 2014

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