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New drive-in tour rescues Williams’ concert plans

Zach Williams originally had about 130 concerts on his 2020 schedule.

He’s played seven dates since Thanksgiving.

“I’m not wired to sit at home,” the Grammy-winning contemporary Christian artist said from his home in Spring Hill, Tenn. “It’s tough to feel like you’re not doing anything to contribute to society … It can get you in a funk if you let it.”

Williams returns to the road tonight for a drive-in tour with Big Daddy Weave that will stop at Skyway Drive-In in Warren Township on Sept. 17. The tour is organized by Awakening Events, which has promoted a few other drive-in tours with Christian acts since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Man, we’re looking forward to it,” Williams said. “They’ve done this with three or four other bands and made some improvements. It’s running pretty smooth at this point. They have it pretty well figured out. We’re pretty fortunate to be able to do this. If this is the new normal, it’s what we’ll do.”

Williams has a long history with his tourmates. Williams grew up in the church, and it always was a part of his life, but he also fronted a southern rock band, Zach Williams & The Reformation, and battled addiction problems.

During a tour in Spain in 2012, he heard Big Daddy Weave’s song “Redeemed” on the tour bus radio, which inspired him to quit the band, come home and embrace his faith.

“I was lost, but I knew I was lost,” he said. “I knew there was something better. God had a better plan … It’s the best thing for me, at the end of the day, when you give your life to the Lord. I’m playing for an audience of one.”

He stopped making music for a while, but soon songs started coming to him. He would take a break from his construction job to sit in his truck and sing melodies or type lyrics into his iPhone.

One of the songs he co-wrote (with Mia Feldes) was “Chain Breaker,” which became the title track of his 2016 debut album, winner of the Grammy for best contemporary Christian music album. He also won Dove Awards for new artist of the year and pop / contemporary recorded song of the year and picked up three Billboard Music Awards nominations.

Williams paid back Big Daddy Weave for helping him turn around his life. He co-wrote “Alive,” which was a No. 1 hit for BDW last year.

“I wrote ‘Alive’ with a buddy of mine,” he said. “It was one the first songs I wrote driving to Nashville when I was still living in Arkansas.”

A friend told him he thought it sounded like a Big Daddy Weave song, and he should send it to frontman Mike Weaver, but Williams didn’t know the band very well at that time.

“For a couple years, the band would go out and try to play that song, but it never felt like our song. Someone would always mess it up … I gave it to Mike and they ended up recording it. I didn’t specifically have him in mind, but it’s funny how God does things.”

Williams’ initial success as a contemporary Christian artist is enviable, but it also increased expectations for his follow-up, and the music business is one industry where performers often succumb to the “sophomore jinx.”

“I put more pressure on myself than anybody,” he said. “Those thoughts were in my mind. ‘What if this is awful?’ ‘What if I never write a song as good as the first record?'”

Jonathan Smith, who produced “Chain Breaker” and Williams’ 2019 follow-up “Rescue Story,” gave him a valuable piece of advice.

“He said, ‘Here’s the deal — write the best song for that day. Whatever’s in your head, write it. Do that enough times, and we’re gonna make a good record.”

Once he wrote one song that he thought was worthy of the second album, more followed. He had about 30 songs for the “Rescue Story” sessions, and the song that started the writing spurt didn’t end up making the cut.

“If it didn’t make the record, that meant the other 10 that beat it out were better,” he said. “It still might be a single. It’s a special song to me.”

One song on “Rescue Story” was good enough to attract a high-profile collaborator. “There Was Jesus” is a duet with Dolly Parton, and that pairing may lead to Williams writing with Parton for a gospel album she plans to do.

“You never know if you don’t ask. When I wrote the song, we had a girl sing on the demo, and I remember thinking her voice sound like Dolly. It would be cool if we could get her to sing on it. We tracked down her management, got her the songs and from the first second she heard it, ‘I love your voice, I love what you’re saying. I want to be a part of it.'”

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