The Hard Work Starts
Before Musicians Take the Stage
By Robert White
By the time the musicians play their first chord, a team of people have already worked hard to get the concert in place. For people like Paul Kelly of Unite Productions and Mike Bowman of 145 Live Solutions, their joy comes from
connecting musicians with audiences or causes.
“I love pulling the pieces together to make a live event,”
says Kelly, who got his start in high school as the “guy
who brought bands into the school.”
He honed his skills while working at Crossroads Com-
munications and David C. Cook Distribution, travelling
the country building relationships that would prove bene-
ficial when he started Unite Productions.
While on loan from Cook to CMC Distribution, where
he oversaw the worship music division, Kelly realized,
“If we’re to engage and connect with the next generation,
music had to be a component.” By 2001 Kelly took all he’d
learned about the music business and the connections he’d
made, and started promoting concerts and artists.
Unite – both the name and the purpose – came from
a sermon preached by A. W. Tozer Kelly came across at
Toronto’s Bayview Glen Alliance Church. The sermon tape
he bought was based on Psalm 133, which talks about
the blessings that come from God’s people living in unity.
“Tozer says if we do verse one, then God will do verses
two, three and four,” recalls Kelly. “If we come together,
we can count on God to bring the things we cannot manufacture or add to the gathering.”
Working with Canad- ian artists and minis- tries is important to
Kelly personally prefers “vertical worship –
songs congregations can sing,” which led him
to start booking concerts with worship leaders
like Brian Doerksen, Paul Baloche, Joel Houston and Matt Redman, among others.
“I was one of the first to bring Robin
Mark over” from Belfast, Northern Ireland,
he says. During Unite’s first four years he
didn’t book any artist with a Nashville-style
management. As the company grew, Unite
was noticed and contacted by Nashville-managed bands.
Kelly’s main challenge came in teaching
them about the economics of Canada. A band who could
charge a promoter $50,000 in the U.S. could only charge
$20,000 in Canada.
“It took me years to get Nashville to recognize the price
I was willing to risk was the right price for Canada,” says
Kelly. “We’re not as Christian a nation as the U.S., and
Canada’s Christian media is handicapped compared to
the American media.”
Kelly sees two trends developing in the next few years.
He was recently approached by Live Nation, Canada’s
largest concert promotion, management and ticketing
company, to develop annual Christian music festivals in
Toronto, the Maritimes, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.
The other trend is to get musicians and promoters more
involved with charities and foundations.
Ottawa’s Funkiest Christian rocker
Dubbed “Ottawa’s funkiest
Christian rocker” by a local
newspaper, Scott Towaij finds
his musical influence in the
R&B of Stevie Wonder and jazz
of Steely Dan. “I really connect with a lot of the Motown
artists,” says Towaij whose
second CD, Freedom Train, is
up for two Covenant Awards
this year: Collaboration of the
Year and urban/R&B/Soul
Album of the Year.
“There was such a groove,
such a musical intelligence
there that doesn’t exist with so many other artists,” he says of
musicians like Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson.
Towaij’s musical career started as a teen in an acoustic duo
before forming a band. He spent nearly 30 years on the road
playing every type of music possible from bluegrass to rock
to funk. Living the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll life took its toll,
and after surviving a severe trauma 23 years ago, made the
break to live a clean and sober life.
He became a Christian six years ago. His past experiences
with addictions and his current experiences as a worship
leader, teacher, and a certified trauma and addictions counsel-
lor often find their way into his songs like “visiting Day” and the
title track “Freedom Train.”
“The key is to have lyrics that are theologically sound, but to
literally sing a new song to the Lord,” says Towaij of his own funk,
rock, blues and soul brand of music. “I’m very much into music
that has some sort of rhythmic quality to it. It makes it interest-
ing to play, interesting to sing and interesting to listen to.”